Comment: Erasmus + scheme in jeopardy as Brexit looms, but why should we care?

British MPs have voted against continuing negotiations of the UK’s full membership of the EU’s Erasmus + scheme.

The Erasmus programme enables thousands of students to live abroad with ease each year, giving young people the opportunity to experience a different culture and challenge themselves in a foreign country.

Students participating in the scheme receive an Erasmus Grant, which helps them pay for accommodation, food and travel. This means students from disadvantaged backgrounds can afford to live abroad and reap the benefits of such an experience.

With Brexit set to take place at the end of the month, MPs are currently voting on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, with each clause being decided on.

344 MPs voted against a second reading on the Erasmus + scheme, 254 voted for. This straightforward vote has the potential to rob students of the opportunity to live abroad.

Well, so what? Nobody needs to live abroad, do they? Everyone speaks English, right?

These kinds of responses could not be further from the truth, as I discovered myself during my French and German degree when I studied in France and Germany for a year.

I cannot emphasise enough what the experience gave me: I significantly improved my language skills, learnt how to cope in challenging situations and made friends from across the world. It would be such a shame for future students to miss out on this opportunity.

The Erasmus Grant helped pay for the house I shared with four French girls in Lille. A place where I spent the first few weeks struggling to remember the words for ‘plate’ and ‘bills’.

A place where I listened to France Inter (a French radio station) every day, watched French TV with my housemates and spoke with their (rather stylish and intimidating) friends at their parties.

A place where eventually I had the confidence to speak this language (the fifth most spoken in the world) fluently as my housemates taught me how to make tartiflette and the best way to eat raclette.

I left France with a better level of French, a better understanding of a different culture and a better understanding of myself.

The benefits of the scheme don’t stop at languages. I used some of my grant money to travel throughout France and Germany and neighbouring European countries.

Without this money I wouldn’t have seen the WWII bunkers on the beach in Dunkirk. I wouldn’t have caught the train to Brussels and heard French spoken in a different way. I wouldn’t have visited Goethe’s Summer House in Weimar, the German equivalent of Shakespeare’s house. 

Thanks to the Erasmus Grant, I went to the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds museum in Nuremburg (or as the Germans more concisely call it Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände) and confronted Europe’s dark past.

It is invaluable to learn about the events that have shaped not just Europe but the world; we should not cut ourselves off from that.

Like me, other students who have participated in the scheme will have benefitted immensely from living abroad. And some of those students will have spent that time in the UK, learning our language, exploring our culture and visiting our landmarks.

It would be incredibly sad to lose such an enrichening opportunity. Wouldn’t you agree?

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