Why the Erasmus grant is essential

By Roseanna Conway

One potential and very serious consequence of Brexit is the abolition of the Erasmus grant
which supports British students, who seek to broaden their language and cultural horizons by
spending a semester or a year abroad in a European country, learning a foreign language.
I am currently on my year abroad working as a teaching assistant or an ‘auxiliar de
conversación’ in a primary school in Madrid. This is part of my English Language and
Spanish degree programme from the University of Birmingham.
My year abroad has provided me with an enriched outlook on life, one that no textbook could
ever provide. Not only has Erasmus allowed me to work abroad in Spain and integrate with
Spaniards but it has also given me the opportunity to meet other students who have travelled
to study or work in Madrid. From Canadians, South Americans and Eastern Europeans, I
often find myself thinking that these people I’m meeting, from Ecuador, Argentina, Germany
and Russia etc. are the first people I have ever met from those countries. Living with,
socialising among and talking to these new friends, with their many international traits is
fascinating, eye-opening and fun.
English remains the common language spoken among Erasmus students, but I am still taken
aback when speaking to other students, for whom Spanish is their third and sometimes fourth
spoken language.
In comparison, the number of foreign language students is diminishing in the UK. This, of
course, is of no surprise when there is no compulsory language teaching in primary and
secondary schools in the UK, which is embarrassingly deficient when compared to countries
just twenty-six miles away.
How impressive it is to hear foreign football players and managers give interviews in fluent
English after just a short while in this country. Compare that with Gareth Bale’s reported
hesitant spoken Spanish after six years living in Spain.
One of the fantastic people I’ve met whilst being in Madrid is a young woman called
Emmanuela, from Amsterdam. She spoke English with total perfection and was fluent in
Dutch and Spanish. We went for a meal in an Italian pizza restaurant and there she,
completely spontaneously, started speaking Italian to the waiter. If there’s one thing which
can inspire lethargic language students, it’s listening to our European friends, for whom
learning languages is considered as important as learning sports.
In an ever-saturated graduate jobs market, we are told from the moment we write our UCAS
forms to ‘differentiate’, ‘diversify your CV’ and ‘stand out from the crowd’. What better way
to do so than by learning a language, a multifaceted skill which is so useful in life? The
benefits are endless, from enhanced career prospects, to building a network of worldwide
contacts, increased confidence and the ability to overcome challenges, a year abroad is so
advantageous I only wish it had become a virtual rite of passage in the UK’s university
system.

The danger of losing the Erasmus support is that year abroad opportunities will become the
reserve of the wealthy, upper middle-class families who can afford to financially support their
offspring. The year could become an optional, expensive extra at the end of a language
course, rather than an integral part in the middle.
Brits wishing they’d learnt a language is a broken record. Imagine a veterinary student denied
the opportunity to work with animals, or a nurse who is denied the chance to work in a
hospital?
A year abroad forms a compulsory part of a language degree. 75% of my overall degree mark
is taken from my final year, so much is the value the university places on a year abroad.
I was nervous about coming abroad to live for the year. I am somewhat of a home bird, and
instinctively risk averse.
However, five months in to my year in Madrid and I’m not just surviving but I’m thriving,
conversing fluently in Spanish, and reaping the benefits of living in this fantastic city I have
come to know so well. I have become an integrated madrileña in the golden metropolis of
Spain’s capital city and I can only hope other students get to experience the wonders of a year
abroad like I have.

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