Erasmus is often associated with tales of self-discovery, crazy nights out, and minimal work. But there is another, less pleasant side we rarely hear about. The logistics involved in getting started can be overwhelming.
Consider the case of a couple of third-year Arts students, who are preparing for Erasmus during the 2021/2022 academic year but had second thoughts before even arriving. Alex and Rebecca applied in March. Their acceptance to the Erasmus program at Humboldt University of Berlin was initially met with excitement. It didn’t take long, however, for the process of wading through a gruelling bureaucracy to take its toll.
They describe filling out dozens of complicated forms, taking language tests, securing travel and health insurance, among other steps in the process. ‘I’m still not done,’ laments Rebecca, who explains that there will be more complicated paperwork to address when she arrives this month.
Keeping up with the paperwork was especially difficult due to the lack of information. Alex says, ‘It was difficult to stay on top of deadlines because it was difficult to figure out when the deadlines were.’
The two weren’t allotted the limited on-campus housing. They discovered this meant navigating the unfamiliar Berlin housing market in a foreign language. For that, ‘You’re on your own.’ Rebecca says she discovered after receiving no support from either University regarding accommodation.
UCD offered minimal support throughout. The information sessions that were held over the summer ‘were always during working hours,’ inaccessible for anyone working full-time. In any case, there was little relevant information or capacity to address questions specific to the programme. Sessions were conducted for students across many different courses in different countries and universities.
There were a few helpful people at the UCD Global office that tried to help, but students say they found it challenging to get the attention needed or specific problems addressed. ‘We’d have to shout for it and cry for it and stamp your feet and you shouldn’t have to do that,’ Alex says.
Even before arriving in Berlin, the lack of support and constant uncertainty made the Erasmus experience an unexpectedly stressful one. ‘I wish I had known how tolling it was going be on my mental health because I seriously would have reconsidered,’ says Alex. Rebecca affirms, ‘If I knew how much stress it was going to put me under, I would never have done it.’
Despite it all, they were still looking forward to arriving in early October. Both concede they were woefully unprepared for what they signed up for. They also say they wished that UCD had been more upfront with how much preparation would be involved and been more helpful overall.
For many students studying abroad will be their first encounter with the complexity of moving to a new country. Foreign languages add an additional challenge. The message from the two experiencing the process: UCD needs to do better to support their students.
Maeve Dodd – Campus Correspondent