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In the spotlight: Erasmus+ is worldwide

30 years of mobility under the Erasmus programme – now Erasmus+ – have provided Europe with thousands of bridges of trust to study, train or volunteer abroad. Today, Europeans can freely cross borders to learn more from each other's views and perspectives; exchange experiences and ideas; share values; and start joint projects. Wider horizons, a broader common understanding and a larger toolset define the Erasmus+ generation.

What started in 1987 as voluntary cooperation between 11 European countries has developed into a unique global network. Under Erasmus+, it is now possible for students, staff and young people from all over the world to come to Europe, just as Europeans can go to other parts of the world. As Bart Merci, project coordinator of an Erasmus Mundus Master Degree programme explains, ‘for the students, as much as they learn about other countries they also learn to reflect about their own country.'

The benefits go well beyond individuals: universities and youth organisations from partner countries also benefit from the transfer of ideas and expertise that help build the skills and capacities Europeans need to embrace the challenges of a globalised economy. The people-to-people contact that Erasmus+ projects create is a perfect match for the EU's foreign policies, which aim to improve Europe's standing and relations with the rest of the world. This way, Erasmus+ forms part and parcel of the EU's foreign and diplomatic policy, such as in the new EU-Africa strategy, where higher education and youth cooperation play a key role.

With about 17% of the Erasmus+ budget going towards projects and scholarships with a worldwide focus, the period stretching from 2014-2020 will see this funding translate into 180,000 students and staff moving between Europe and the rest of the world; 1,000 capacity building projects for higher education; and 30,000 scholarships for students worldwide to take part in Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree programmes.

The stories you can find in this month's newsletter, focused on the global dimension of Erasmus+, show the different ways in which the programme is driving forward international cooperation. We are certain that they will not only appeal to you, but inspire you to get involved, take action and make a difference, wherever you are in the world!

Read our spotlight stories from Erasmus+ participants

Maryia Vidzevich – 24 – Belarus

Maryia Vidzevich – 24 – Belarus

Erasmus Mundus – Spain, 2013-14

‘Only by participation and engagement a true change may occur. Thanks to EU funded projects our young people learn about democracy, get to know their neighbours, become more tolerant and open minded.’

Maryia was studying tourism, but everything changed in 2013 when she received an Erasmus Mundus scholarship to go to the University of Deusto in Bilbao. 

Amazed by the opportunities her European peers had, Maryia became a true Erasmus+ enthusiast. Once she returned to Belarus, she changed her focus from tourism and started an internship at the Office for Initiatives Promotion, an NGO running some of the Erasmus+ funded programs relating to education, culture and social development.

Soon she became a full-time EVS project manager. She now works with youngsters aged 11 to 17 and adults by organising forums, conferences and training courses 'to promote democratic values of active citizenship, tolerance [and] diversity'. She’s also behind the Minsk International Model of United Nations - a simulation of United Nations where students can discuss world problems, get to know the international decision making process and feel part of the global community.

Maryia says: ‘Programmes such as Erasmus+ really bring a change to our country by spreading democratic values, business know how and creating new development opportunities.’ After all, 'being European is not about the country you live in, it's about the values, your beliefs [and] your actions'.

Lusiana Mailaj – 29 – Albania

Lusiana Mailaj – 29 – Albania

European Voluntary Service – 9 countries, 2013- present

‘To all youth out there: Be open to new possibilities. Don’t hold back because of prejudices and stereotypes – be the one who breaks them instead.’

A youth exchange trip in 2011 to Serbia made Lusiana’s family and friends raise their eyebrows. For her curiosity took her to a country that had a troubled history with her own.

Yet this experience was so profound that she started to look for other Erasmus+ opportunities. She found out about the European Voluntary Service (EVS) and was accepted for a month-long project at the Turkish city festival in Mugla. That’s where she met Mijen, her new best friend from Serbia.

Lusiana’s placements have taken her inside and outside the EU. ‘Bringing together people from different countries, social backgrounds and with different abilities helps to build an environment of mutual understanding, tolerance and solidarity. It helps to challenge stereotypes. That’s why I got so close with Mijen,’ she explains.

More than 6 years and 14 Erasmus+ projects later, Lusiana shares her experiences of overcoming stereotypes anywhere she can to help people understand that diversity is valuable. That’s why she joined the EuroPeers network and started her own NGO, People First Association to promote opportunities created by Erasmus+.

The International Master in Adult Education for Social Change (IMAESC) – United Kingdom

The International Master in Adult Education for Social Change (IMAESC) – United Kingdom

Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters Degree – 5 countries, 2016-20

'We are looking at adult education as a critical tool for social change. We believe that adult education is key for a sustainable and just future.'

A group of 24 students from 18 different countries has just completed their first year of the Erasmus Mundus International Master in Adult Education for Social Change that spans across 5 different countries: Estonia, Cyprus, Malaysia, Malta and Scotland. The students come from places as far afield as Pakistan and China, but they have one thing in common: they all ‘want to change the world’.

The Masters offers classes and guest lectures from some of the world’s leading adult educators. Students are also involved in work-based learning placements in each of the partner countries. Some students taught English to migrants in Rosemount Learning Centre in Glasgow. After working in Glasgow’s Women’s library, one student plans to open a library in Nigeria and another student has been active on LGBT+ issues in Europe.

In addition, each summer the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning hosts up to 6 students to work on important policy issues related to global adult education.

Canadian native Dr Bonnie Slade, heads up the course and feels that her Erasmus Mundus experience has been extremely rewarding despite the challenge of launching the programme from scratch. She feels that the impact of the programme can be profound: 'Anything we can do to engage people and open dialogue could help make positive social change.’  The students involved in the programme 'work across the world and become aware of global issues'.

Mattea Capelli – 47 – Italy

Mattea Capelli – 47 – Italy

Erasmus student mobility – United Kingdom, 1991

‘My students today know they have to think broadly and globally … and this is what they get from Erasmus+.'

Mattea is a true pioneer of Erasmus+, both as a student and as a professional. Years after her own Erasmus experience in Brighton, Mattea and her colleagues at the international office in Sapienza University launched mobility programmes with non-EU countries from scratch.

With her Erasmus memories in mind, Mattea proactively expanded the scope of international partnerships. Her university in Rome has recently hosted students from Myanmar as a result.

Today she sees her tireless work paying off, as other international offices are ‘popping up everywhere’ and Erasmus+ tools and conversion schemes are rapidly developing in far-off places, such as Senegal and Latin America.

The internationalisation of universities in Europe and across the world has been enormous and this is because of student mobility’, she said.

Mattea hopes that Erasmus+ will continue to help students across the world: ‘Every student should get involved in Erasmus+. I feel it would open their minds and shift attitudes.'

International Master of Science in Fire Safety Engineering (IMFSE) – Belgium

International Master of Science in Fire Safety Engineering (IMFSE) – Belgium

Erasmus Mundus – 6 countries, 2010-Present

‘Academic programmes are very important because they can adapt to ever-changing conditions in the world. You need people who can assess the risk involved with new innovations.’

The Erasmus Mundus International Master of Science in Fire Safety Engineering (IMFSE) is a 2-year joint degree administered by the University of Ghent (Belgium), Lund University (Sweden) and the University of Edinburgh (UK). Students have the opportunity to study at those 3 universities and to prepare their Master’s thesis there or at 3 other establishments: The University of Queensland (Australia), ETH Zurich (Switzerland) or the University of Maryland (USA). Each university offers their own speciality to participants.

The aim is to train ‘top-notch fire safety engineers’, says Bart Merci, the coordinator of the programme. Students learn, for example, to evaluate how new building materials behave in terms of fire safety or how an open space workplace needs different security measures than traditional offices. ‘There is a clear societal need to reduce casualties, reduce economic loss and to improve global welfare in a sustainable way.

100 students, mainly mechanical and civil engineers, have completed the programme so far. Several have received awards for their thesis work, or work for high-level projects.
 
The programme offers scholarships to students worldwide, including those from Latin America and Asia who could otherwise not afford to study abroad. The mixture of different backgrounds enables students and lecturers to get different perspectives from each other. ‘They can start to become more critical of certain rules in their home country,’ adds Bart. ‘If you have strong international collaboration your view is broadened … and this is really important to stay well-equipped in tackling today’s and tomorrow’s challenges and situations.

Lia Vania Dewi and Maximilian Hertanto – both 29 – Indonesia

Lia Vania Dewi and Maximilian Hertanto  – both 29 – Indonesia

Lia: Erasmus Mundus Masters – Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom, 2011-13
Maximilian: Erasmus Mundus Masters – Sweden, Belgium, 2012-14

‘Erasmus+ is a perfect solution to facilitate international cooperation between Europe and other regions. Through personal contacts, unforgettable experiences and skills sharing it changes the way how Europe is seen.’ – Maximilian

‘Erasmus Mundus is the best way to improve international cooperation between Europe and the rest of the world. [The experience] really stays with you and impacts the way to perceive Europe… It empowers young people and bonds us together above the borders.’ - Lia

Who would think that a Master’s in forensic science or aeromechanics opens doors to a career in diplomacy and international business? Yet that’s what happened to Lia and Maximilian, from Indonesia, who undertook Erasmus Mundus programmes in Europe and received internationally recognised diplomas. They have since used their acquired skills in a very creative manner.

The knowledge I gained during the program is very useful in my every day work – I can have deeper discussions with my clients, I have learnt to appreciate diversity and live harmoniously with people from other countries,’ said Lia who is now a business advisor at the Danish embassy in Jakarta.
 
Maximilian works as an enterprise resource planning consultant in a global technological company and says Erasmus+ changed the way he ‘approaches difficulties and solves problems’ and he learnt how to ‘adapt to a fast changing business environment’.

They both believe that the program contributes to improving Europe’s relations with other parts of the world and empowers young people by creating opportunities. Maximilian explained: ‘Erasmus Mundus was an amazing career booster. We want to share it with others to encourage them to try. It’s worth it.

This is the reason why they’ve recorded a song together about their experience called 'Build our Dreams'.

Geline Alfred Fuko – 37 – Tanzania

Geline Alfred Fuko – 37 – Tanzania

Erasmus Mundus – Italy, Hungary, Germany, 2010-12

'I now have the skills to understand issues in a bigger picture. I can do something very small… but I will see the big impact coming out of it. This is because of the interdisciplinary approach and the understanding initiated during my Erasmus Mundus Master’s degree.’

Geline is more than just a lawyer, she uses her knowledge to help young people and women in Tanzania become more involved in political and social life, both locally and nationally. ‘You learn about what is going on in other parts of the world, but there are things that you will take back with you that you wish to see happening in your country,’ she explained.

During her interdisciplinary Erasmus Mundus programme, Geline learned how to address societal problems by taking the approaches of different disciplines into account and became more confident in expressing herself with people of different origins. Her views were broadened – and she came to realise that it is ‘important to not only focus on providing education but to think of why we want the education in the first place. What do we want to address with education?’

Following her Erasmus+ experience, Geline founded an NGO that works to contribute in local development in Tanzania among other things, promote democratic governance and rule of law. The organisation encourages young people and women around Tanzania to take up leadership roles. Through their online platforms, citizens can participate in the law-making process of the Tanzanian parliament and legal experts can have a closer relationship with policy-makers.

Gratian Mihailescu – 38 – Romania

Gratian Mihailescu – 38 – Romania

Erasmus Mundus – Italy, Hungary, Serbia, 2010-12

‘I always wanted to make a change in the world, even if on a very small scale. The Erasmus Mundus experience gave me new perspectives and a sense of belonging to a global community.’

Gratian doesn’t break promises. So when Sayed, his Bangladeshi friend, shared his dream of building a library in his hometown, Gratian knew he would get involved.

They both met during their Erasmus Mundus studies in local development which took them to 3 European universities – in Trente, Budapest, and Belgrade.

After countless crowdfunding campaigns, calls and conferences, 4 years later, Gratian and Sayed opened Masud Parves Library in Soalia, northwest Bangladesh in cooperation with EduCab (Education Capacity Building in Local Libraries). The newly constructed building equipped with books and laptops serves the needs of 30,000 people. This year another library in Bangladesh is to be opened and there are plans for similar projects in Uganda, Senegal, and Tanzania. 

Gratian says:  ‘In global projects, we gain a true cultural understanding, broaden our perspectives and create personal bonds with people. By this kind of cooperation, we can make the world a better place’.

He now runs a start-up dedicated to sustainable and smart cities, UrbanizeHub, and teaches at West University in Timisoara, Romania.

Tarynne Swarts – South Africa

Tarynne Swarts – South Africa

Erasmus Mundus – Belgium, Spain, 2011

‘Erasmus+ has inspired me to do everything on a larger scale. Erasmus+ has made the world smaller and more accessible.’

Some people find that having one job just isn’t enough to lead a fulfilling life. South African native Tarynne Swarts is one such person.

During her Education Science studies in both Belgium and Spain, she worked closely with professors, researchers and students from across the world. But Tarynne was also keen to embrace her passion of music, and soon immersed herself in the local arts scenes, making valuable contacts and even recording her debut album Pachamama.

After Erasmus+, Tarynne had a yearning to return home to Nelson Mandela Bay to ‘give something back to my local community’.  She combined the knowledge gained through Erasmus+ with her love of music by setting up a live music events company, PachamamaProject Productions, which helps emerging African musical talent thrive and boosts the local music industry.  She also founded the Imibala (Colour) Arts festival, bringing together local and international music talent. Her Erasmus Mundus experience helped her create connections and networks between Europe and South Africa.

Asked about future plans, Tarynne would like to continue to grow the Imibala festival, finalise her PhD and continue pursuing her music career. ‘For me, music and education combined are powerful catalysts for change.

Tateh Lehbib Braica – 28 – Algeria

Tateh Lehbib Braica – 28 – Algeria

Higher Education Mobility – Spain, 2014-15

‘Before getting the grant to improve the situation in which we live in, it was a dream that seemed hard to reach. But when I got the grant, I discovered that nothing is impossible.’

Growing up in a Saharawi refugee camp with harsh weather conditions in southwest Algeria, Tateh dreamt of finding a way to improve living conditions for refugees. Tateh’s dream came true when he received an Erasmus Mundus grant to study energy efficiency in Spain and devised a weather-resistant shelter using sand-filled plastic bottles. His project was praised by the UNHCR who contributed funds for 25 more shelters.

Tateh has also launched green initiatives in several refugee camps, schools and youth and cultural centres to raise awareness about the benefits of recycling plastic bottles. Associations involved in the yearly Sahara Marathon have agreed to collect the plastic bottles used in the competition and to donate money for the cause.
 
Tateh has big plans for the future: ‘My dream is to build a house for every refugee family. I want to build schools and hospitals as well.