Erasmus+: More than a programme, a lifetime experience

Original text (in Portuguese) at Magazine "Pontos de Vista" 62 - page 32

If 30 years ago one would have told us that getting out of the comfort zone was synonymous of personal and even professional development, we would hardly believe it.

However, we are from a generation and a country that now has the opportunity to live the great Erasmus adventure.

Started in 1987 as a foreign exchange program, for students in higher education, Erasmus+ is nowadays known for offering thousands of opportunities each year to those who wish to spend a mobility period within or outside Europe for learning purposes, internship or training. Despite the program is more and more popular and the amount of information available, no one is, actually, prepared to embark on the great adventure which is Erasmus. And that is what makes it so special.

It is impossible to put into words the anxiety felt by young people when they receive the confirmation that they will leave their comfort zone. Between documents and bureaucracies that insist on not finishing, their heads will be far away, thinking about where they will live, if they will understand what they are told in a language which they may never have had contact, if they will like it and if they will not regret. All of this while making a countdown of the days left to live what will be the experience of their life.

It is precisely in the midst of these fears and yearnings that they will end up crossing with those who live with Erasmus: the volunteers of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN).

Present in 40 European countries, the largest student association in Europe has around 15,000 volunteers who dedicate themselves in the integration of more than 200,000 young people who have decided to participate in the Erasmus+ program or other mobility programs. In Lusitanian lands, ESN Portugal currently has 14 local sections (Algarve, Aveiro, Bragança, Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Covilhã, Leiria, Lisboa, Madeira, Minho, Porto and Tomar) in 15 cities. Those are composed by about 500 young volunteers working daily to create a more flexible learning, supporting youth mobility at different levels and providing an intercultural experience for those who cannot participate in exchange programs ("internationalization at home").

Disregard those who think that these volunteers do nothing more than to promote the culture "Erasmus is only party". Because Erasmus is also party, but not only. Going on Erasmus means being part of a new society, discovering new habits, reeducating ourselves as human beings who will open their minds, become more tolerant, and enjoy life better. To be Erasmus means to rediscover a better version of ourselves. For ESN volunteers, Erasmus is a transformative experience through which young people challenge and surpass themselves, knowing other realities that allow them to grow as citizens of the world capable of contributing to the development of society. Therefore, they ensure that the Erasmus experience is not reduced to academic success. In addition to cultural activities where it is possible to visit and learn about our country or to learn other languages, ESN Portugal volunteers develop initiatives of a social nature that allow the Erasmus+ participants to use their free time in a productive way, by volunteering for social causes. In fact, ESN volunteers enrich the mobility period of other young people, by contributing to the expansion of their horizons through learning outside the classroom context. Inevitably, the contact with other Erasmus participants that ESN's activities provide turns into an additional cultural offer that otherwise young people could not have access to it. On the long run, this international experience is a privileged door for the job market.

With almost 28 years of existence, ESN has been making efforts not only to accompany the Erasmus+ program but also to contribute positively to its development. Showing that Erasmus is not only about traveling or studying abroad, ESN has been collaborating in the affirmation of the program as a key factor for the active involvement of the participants in the local communities. Thus promoting a better cultural understanding and inspiring the young people to return to their countries of origin with the desire to be also agents of change there. Furthermore, at ESN we cultivate the idea that it is possible to live and identify ourselves with the same values of solidarity and tolerance.

It is possible to build a common identity - the European identity. And the fact that these young volunteers are united by the same goal, under the same values, proves that all those involved in the Erasmus+ program are not only to be congratulated for its 30 years, but also for making this program one of the greatest successes of the European Union's heritage.