“Why have I done this?” This is the question that comes to my mind every day at 7:34 AM, the time when I leave for my lectures after having about five hours of sleep. The reason is not that I do not like the subject of my studies. It is because I am an Erasmus student.
30 years ago, the Erasmus programme was created. Since then, each year thousands of students have had the experience of their lifetime. However, after 30 years of a very successful programme it is high time to consider the difficulties that many students face when going to an Erasmus exchange as a result of its distribution.
As students, we have this idyllic idea of how Erasmus is. Everyone that you know has an incredible experience, few people answer negatively to the question “would you do it again?”. I have now arrived to the conclusion that this is probably because 1) most working class people still do not make it to university and 2) those who do probably never think of doing an Erasmus. I was in this last group until just about my very last year of university.
My mother works as a cleaner, my father is a handicapped, undocumented immigrant and my brother is, like many others, a 30-year-old unemployed Spaniard. As the first person in my family to go to university, I never thought that I would end up doing my last year as an Erasmus, but I convinced myself that I would be able to make it work.
In previous years, I had always denied myself even the thought of doing an Erasmus year. Sometimes, my brother would come and ask me: “Why don’t you do an Erasmus?”. My answer was constantly the same: “What if the grant does not arrive on time? I cannot do that to this family”. At that point, he always conceded.
Our little family, whose only income is the ridiculously small salary of my mother and part of my grandmother’s pension, cannot afford to send me the necessary money for my living expenses every month. As an Erasmus student you have a grant (€300 for countries such as France plus €100 on top for people with lower incomes in the case of Spain). Even the most frugal student could never live on €400 per month in a country like France.
The idea behind the grant is that the European Union finances the difference between the cost of living your in home country and in your host country. However, this ignores the reality of many students like me, who struggle to finance our studies in our home countries even if we live in the parental home. Working and studying at the same time, we still have to live with our families until we finish our studies and, in some cases, even after we have graduated.
For me, doing an Erasmus means waking up ridiculously early for having the classes that allow me to go to work in the afternoon, arrive in the evenings to my home, make dinner, eat, do all the work required for university and the NGOs that I am involved with and then going to sleep very late to prepare myself for another quite unwelcome day.
I do not have time to socialise, to go partying, to make new friends, to create memories that I am never going to forget, and not even to learn the language properly. And even if I had the time, I would never have the money to do so.
This is tremendously unfair.
I wish that I could go for a beer with my mates every day, that I could arrive home before 7:00 PM, that I could have a reasonable sleep, that I could make friends that will last forever. I wish that, in the years to come, I would be able to say with love “Once Erasmus, Always Erasmus”. But I fear that this is never going to happen.
It is time to rethink Erasmus grants. It is not fair that the difference of money received between someone like me and a person with a wealthy family to support them is only €100. It is high time to ensure that every student can sincerely say “Once Erasmus, Always Erasmus”.
Written by Zahia Guidoum Castiblanque, AEGEE-València