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Europe may be tottering on the brink of economic recession and may have fears for its place in the world. But it has one thing going for it: Its Erasmus student exchange programme. Former Indian student Ankit Khandelwal thinks that India - diverse just like Europe - needs it
I thought about this while I was studying in Europe.
The ease of mobility with which European students at university level move across the 27 member countries of the European Union. Many students take the so-called ‘Erasmus’ programme, which provides them a chance to do one or two semester exchanges in a country other than their own.
‘Erasmus’ is a programme launched by the European Commission with the concept that “cultural understanding cannot be read from books, it has to be felt within us,” as it says in the programme guidelines.
The programme has been running for 25 years now.
As an Indian, I believe that promoting mobility by launching a program similar to Erasmus could significantly enhance the understanding of Indians about each other. It will completely modify the way future geminations of India will think about their own country.
To know how it works and how it helped students to develop their mind-set towards thinking more European than their own region, I have spoken to a few of my friends who have undergone the Erasmus Program at some point during their Studies.
Take Micro Keller, from Switzerland for example. He told me that the programme enabled him to get into a different context: “It has helped me to understand other people’s views and to learn how to work in a group of a variety of cultures and backgrounds. It helped me to understand different study approaches and other ways of solving problems.”
The exchange changes matters at an institutional level, he told me. The host institutions can learn from each other. The programme helps to unite the universities in all the countries and to set common objectives and standardise levels of learning and the qualifications attained.
Estonian student Edda Nömmela did her exchange in Finland.
“The Erasmus exchange programme can change you, not just because it is in another country, but what I have felt here — and also heard from my friends — is that Erasmus has the same kind of amazing atmosphere no matter which country you do it in. It is about getting new friends, having fun, opening yourself to new people and experiences. It makes you view your own country in a different light once you return back.”
Asli Oznan came from Turkey to Denmark: “The mixture of languages and cultures teach you. I have learned about the other end of the world simply by meeting people who came from there. Besides all this, it represents a big challenge on the academic level. I feel as if a door opened for me where good opportunities are waiting on the other side,” she says. According to her, the programme makes it easier to find a job once you are through with your studies.
Jorge Lopez, who is from Spain but has undergone Earsmus in Finland and Denmark, was able to understand Europe, and what Europeans have in common, through the programme.
“Before joining Erasmus, I really did not identify with the idea of Europe, but only with my own country. The programme has helped me open my mind and changed my thinking about life, and my relationships with others. Europe is composed of different countries that, in most of the cases, do not share common language or customs, and I believe that the Erasmus programme is the most effective tool we have to build a common and strong European identity and a powerful European Union.”
For Selin Yilmaz, who is from Turkey and did her exchange in France and Denmark, the programme changed her whole life.
“During the Erasmus exchange in a different country, I developed deeper friendships with people from other countries which I still continue to have with them after I moved on. We tasted each other’s food, we talked in the kitchen for hours and hours about politics, hobbies and our futures, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not. At the end, learning that everybody has similar problems, experiences and feelings, no matter which background they have, made me grow up, and it made me even begin to appreciate those differences,” she told me.
Europe and India are similar in the sense that they consist of different states with great diversity in languages, customs and climate. The different nations in Europe can be compared with the different states in India. The many different languages in Europe are similar to the different languages we have in India. Thus both places share similar sets of problems and advantages. It can still be debated to which degree the European Union has succeeded in creating a Pan-European identity among all of its 500 million inhabitants, but it is initiatives such as the Erasmus exchange programme that pushes such a movement forward.
Considering India’s similarities with its diversity of languages and cuisines, it would be a good idea to promote co-existence by cultivating a Pan-Indian identity. With what my student friends had said, such a programme can become a life-changing milestone to the individual, which translates into benefits to society as a whole.
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