Not studying abroad could be your biggest regret

The Erasmus programme presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover the perks of international mobility, says Brian Bloch

December 18, 2014

Through the Erasmus scheme and other mechanisms, thousands of Germans study for a semester or more in the UK every year. In 2012-13, 14,500 German students enrolled at UK universities, the largest number from any continental member state of the European Union.

Some of these German students in the UK write about their learning adventure online. Many of these reports reveal extremely positive responses, not only to a sojourn in the UK but also to the broader experience of being a foreign student and expanding one’s horizons.

The greatest barrier for such students, particularly those wishing to go to London, is the cost. But for those who can raise the funds or can subsist on the cheap, it certainly seems worthwhile.

Jelena, who spent a semester at what is now the UCL Institute of Education, raves on a website that encourages school pupils to study at university about her “valuable six months outside Germany” and urges others to follow her example. For less than €400 (£316) a month in rent, she shared a house with students from Spain, Italy and France, all of whom had great fun communicating with each other and with the locals in their “feeble English”.

Students also lavish praise on English universities, emphasising the genuine interest of academic staff in the learning-related and other activities of their foreign guests, generally good lectures, relaxed group discussions and great social outings and events.

A German student in Sheffield, writing on an academic law website, found the local accent a challenge at first but tuned into it quickly and clearly enjoyed being called “luv” in the supermarket. She also liked the “tandem learning”, which entailed English students helping Germans with the local language and getting an opportunity to brush up their own German in return.

Various student, university and subject-specific websites contain countless “experience reports” of study semesters in the UK. The general sentiment is extremely positive, the message being that any disadvantages, such as cost, language hurdles or cultural differences, are substantially outweighed by the many advantages.

My own students here in Münster cannot say enough about how much they gained from their trip to “the island” (die Insel), and indeed, the linguistic benefit they have gained is unmistakable to a native speaker like myself.

I can only concur with all this from my own personal experience of international mobility. A couple of decades ago, I visited the University of Göttingen on an academic scholarship from New Zealand, where I was a lecturer at the University of Auckland. I was just amazed at how interesting, exciting and informative it was to be improving my language skills and, at the same time, sharing the experience with like-minded people from all corners of the earth. In any event, for British students considering a semester here, German universities now offer many courses in English.

Furthermore, one of the blessings of being a student, particularly a foreign and temporary one, is that there is less pressure to perform or compete (although this may depend to some extent on whether you are paying tuition fees and, if so, on how much you are paying). This combination of factors often makes for a relaxed but nonetheless productive time that rivals or even beats the best of holidays. It is a unique opportunity that most likely will never again present itself in a lifetime.

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