My ERASMUS experience – 15 years past

Institute of Education lecturer Dan James recalls his own study abroad experience and how it has positively impacted his career:

So, if you are worried about doing the ERASMUS programmPhoto of Institute of Education Lecturer Dan James in a lab during his German Erasmus experience as a student.e and what it will be like living in a foreign country, that’s the very reason that you should do the ERASMUS programme.  My experience was many moons ago but having started writing about it has brought back many great memories.  Quite simply, living in Frankfurt, Germany for 3 months carrying out my research project was c.  Let me explain why:

The language:

In my first two weeks we undertook an intensive German course and this really helped (I had previously studied a German GCSE). Here I made friends with students from Portugal, Spain, Italy, America and many more countries. During weekends, we would often visit local towns and visit other attractions such as the outside ice skating in Frankfurt. The common language of the group was English which made it easy to communicate.  So, if you are not fluent in a language, don’t worry.  If you are keen to learn and immerse yourself in it, you will soon be able to have basic conversations with people.  I carried a dictionary everywhere I went, and would read all the signs I could. as well as picking up free newspapers to read on the train journey to the university.  German TV often has English subtitles so you quickly pick up words (I watched a lot of German MTV!).  At first, the response from the other person would instantly be, “Woher kommst du?” (Where do you come from).  My reply, “aus England” would then mean that they would then use it as an opportunity to practice their English.  By the end of the three months, I could have a conversation with someone in German and although they could usually detect that my accent perhaps wasn’t local, they wouldn’t instantly divert to English.

Living in a house with international students:

I was living in a house with two other German students.  This was a new experience for me as before then I had been living in halls.  I asked them to speak to me in German but when I didn’t understand we spoke in English and their English was so good.  They introduced me to many German delights such as Gluhwein and Bratwurst at the German Christmas markets. To say thank you for their patience with me, I attempted to cook them a ‘full English breakfast’.  However, doing this was not quite the same thing when using German sausage and bacon!  You quickly learn to translate the cooking instructions (or not) on the side of packets, although that doesn’t excuse me cooking a pizza with the plastic bottom still on!

The lab:

I was working in a lab with a very international mix of students and in my first couple of weeks there we went to the Alps in Austria for a team conference.  I say conference…there were some talks from the group and then in the afternoon we would hike a mountain or play volleyball, followed by lots of weiss beer.  Again, this was an opportunity to make friends.  It was a really great experience working in a proper research lab and learning new techniques.  I would have also been working in a lab in my home university but here I had one-to-one supervision from my supervisor.  I don’t think I would have received this level of support from my home university.  I want to stress, this one-to-one supervision was unique to this situation and helped me learn so much but not something you should expect as part of your ERASMUS time.

Travelling / the Oktoberfest

Photo of a public square in Frankfurt, GermanyOne of my new lab friends, Jin (from China) and I, decided to travel to the Oktoberfest in Munich.  As we couldn’t afford the rail fare for the intercity we took the local trains.  10 hours later at about 9pm, we made it!  This was our first mistake.  As we were so late all the beer tents were packed and we couldn’t get in.  Our second mistake was not booking any accommodation (and there wasn’t any available).  We ended up sleeping (or trying to sleep) on a park bench in a freezing cold October night.  I don’t think I have ever been so cold!  However, it was nothing that a couple of pints of pilsner and a weisswurst for breakfast couldn’t sort out. And I still remember the song that people were singing in the tube on the exit from Munich!

Activities outside of studying:

At the time, I was also a competitive trampolinist. I found a club in Frankfurt that was coached by the German National Youth Coach.  I was trampolining with a Ukranian international who I was in awe of as well as some kids who used to go, “schau mal” (look at me).  I was invited to a German squad demo exhibition.  Here the best German trampolinists were competing inside a ferrari garage in Frankfurt.  It was surreal.  I had to pinch myself.  I was watching elite athletes in my sport, surrounded by expensive cars, in a different country.

When I came back / what happened afterwards.

I was able to do a German proficiency exam and scrape a pass which was added to my degree transcript.  However, some people go to Germany and don’t speak a word of German the entire time they are there.  You can survive without, but for me it was an important part of immersing myself in the culture.

Most importantly, it gave me a renewed energy for my studies.  After 3 years, I had become jaded and my final year, including my ERASMUS Autumn term was definitely my happiest and most focused year.

It is only through having this experience that in my later adult life, I decided to have a gap year where I went to become a ski instructor in Austria for a season.  I had to do the ski instructor course and sit the exam in German – it was hard work.  The best bit was a beat some of the native speakers in the theory exam!  Without my ERASMUS experience, I am not sure if I would have been happy to travel to a country by myself with no certainty of work.

 

This is the first time I have recounted some of these stories from 15 years ago.  That is what the ERASMUS programme gave me…unique experiences and an understanding of another country and its people.  I would absolutely make the same choice if I could go back in time.

 

As a result, I am now passionate about supporting the Study Abroad students in the Institute of Education and would love to hear from any of our home students from the IoE in Reading who are interested in talking about doing ERASMUS next year, whether that be in Germany or elsewhere.  I might even tell you the stories that I couldn’t tell here! 🙂

Erasmus Days (16 October 2020)

erasmus days screenshot

On 16 October 2020 the Erasmus & Study Abroad organised an institutional celebration of our longstanding participation in the Erasmus programme – part of the wider European Union #ErasmusDays celebrations (taking place between 15-17 October).

Students, staff and alumni provided testimony, images, videos and stories about their Erasmus experiences – both incoming and outgoing – highlighting what Erasmus means to them, how Erasmus has benefitted them and sharing information about their experiences.

The day included:

  • Live Q&A about the Erasmus programme
  • Loads of social media – quizzes, sharing images and stories etc
  • Our first Erasmus & Study Abroad podcast (with contributions from staff and students).
  • Video from our Pro Vice-Chancellor International talking about the importance of Erasmus and mobility schemes, in general.

Lots of information and wonderful stories shared on the day, much of which is still available on our website at: https://studyabroad.reading.ac.uk/erasmusdays2020/

Thanks to all who contributed to making the day an enjoyable success and reaffirming that mobility programmes such as Erasmus play an important part in student’s academic and personal development and growth.

 

Erasmus & Study Abroad team

#ErasmusDays2020 – We Need You!!!

Erasmus Days 2020Are you an ex-Reading student who participated on the Erasmus programme? Or are you a current Erasmus student, either studying abroad with or at the University of Reading? If so, we need you….

We plan to celebrate the University’s longstanding participation in the Erasmus programme on Friday 16 October 2020 as part of the wider-European #ErasmusDays2020 celebrations. Given the current global pandemic we need to do this virtually rather than physically, but this provides us with the opportunity to bring more people together online to celebrate and share their thoughts.

We looking for either:

  • Short video testimonials (no more than 20-30 seconds – from your camera or laptop)
  • Short written testimonial with photos (we love photos!)

on one or more of the following themes:

  1. What Erasmus means to you?
  2. What is your Erasmus experience like?
  3. How has Erasmus benefitted you?
  4. Why do you think other students (or staff) should participate on Erasmus?

Whatever you provide will be used on our social media accounts and our website (https://studyabroad.reading.ac.uk/ ) to promote Erasmus programme and study abroad at the University of Reading (hence we will need your explicit permission to use the material you provide).

If interested in helping us please can you email studyabroad@reading.ac.uk for further information. We need to hear from you by 12noon Tuesday 13 October.

We are proud of our long-standing participation in the programme (30+ years), the partnerships and connections we have made (and helped make), and the experiences we have helped provide to students and staff – both incoming and outgoing.

But it is your stories that we want to see and hear, as you have helped make the Erasmus programme what is it.

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Erasmus & Study Abroad Office