Why a year abroad might not take you quite so far from home
9th February 2011
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Erasmus schemes claim to give students the best chance to learn a new language. However, an increasing number of students are returning to Leeds dissatisfied and questioning the cultural exchange the Erasmus scheme claims to offer. ‘It is the best chance you will ever get to learn a language and experience a new culture’, replied study abroad coordinator Burkhard Hauder, when asked why anyone should go on an Erasmus year. However, after hearing some students’ talk about their experiences, it can be questioned the extent to which the Erasmus year really offers the cultural exchange it promises. Erasmus is a scheme which enables students who do not study foreign languages to study for a year in another European country as part of their degree. Learning a new language is one of the main attractions for many who apply and it is an essential part of discovering a new culture. ‘In short, I'm choosing to do the Erasmus year mainly for the purpose of learning Spanish’, said Second Year English Literature student Laura Valdez, who is going to Valencia this September; one of Leeds’ most recently acquired European links. ‘Being honest I am not particularly choosing to do an Erasmus year because I wish to study English in a different environment. It is rather that I am keen to learn the language and study at a Spanish university!’ Students are strongly advised to obtain at least a basic grasp of the language of the country they chose before they leave, with many choosing to do language electives and signing up to courses such as the EILC (European Intensive Learning Course). However, upon arrival in their new destinations, students are increasingly finding that developing a language and integrating into a new culture is becoming more of a challenge due to the structure of the Erasmus scheme. Although the overall mark may not count towards a final degree, Erasmus students are required to obtain a number of credits at their host universities to pass the year. For students who study English Literature this often requires attending classes which are taught in English. Recalling his time in the University of Lille, fourth year English and Philosophy student Patrick Ibbotson commented: ‘I found this quite frustrating. Being in a French city I was keen to learn French and found it strange being taught something I could learn at Leeds.’ Despite this aspect, others have found the University to be an opportunity to integrate with other students who share similar interests: ‘Although the majority of my classes were in English they were the place where I met most of my German friends,’ said Phoebe Phillips who studied in Munich. Undoubtedly, meeting people who speak the language is the best way to practice speaking. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) identified housing to be one of most enabling factors in allowing students to experience a new place and encourage students to live with speakers from the host country.
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