Since its inception, the Erasmus programme has been hailed by students and academic institutions across Europe as being a rite of passage. One of the programme’s centrepieces is its support network between students and the institutions involved, be it through the flagship Erasmus grant, networking events for overseas students or language learning opportunities directly from the programme itself. As an Erasmus applicant for 2021/22, the public health crisis surrounding Covid-19 was an unnerving blow to my study abroad ambitions. It is welcoming then that Erasmus seems to be pushing ahead, despite the present circumstances.
The choice to take a year abroad is not an easy one to make. The sheer number of factors involved and decisions to be made is enough to turn people off studying in another country. These factors are all the more complicated due to the ongoing pandemic. Hot zones, testing capabilities and ease of travel are only the first of many considerations that students need to take into account, at least for the near future.
“Hot zones, testing capabilities and ease of travel are only the first of many considerations students need to deliberate on for at least the near future.”
The support systems already in place should carry on regardless of the current situation with Covid-19. These are vital to keeping students informed, financially stable and, perhaps most importantly, content that they have made the right decision to study in a different university. These supports alone, however, are simply not enough. For Erasmus to continue next semester, student support must be of the utmost importance to all parties involved, be it through physical support or measures geared towards ensuring that students’ mental health is prioritised in these worrisome times.
Physical supports are of critical significance to a student’s immersion in their host country and host institution, but they also keep them tied to their origin institution. The networking events most Erasmus alumni will be familiar with, such as pub quizzes, receptions and discussion panels can easily and perhaps have been easily transferred into digital form. I hope these continue as an accessible method of social integration that may otherwise be lacking due to the pandemic.
I would, as a prospective Erasmus student, also advocate for the unilateral option to return to the student’s origin institution should circumstances allow. Given this option was extended to students out on Erasmus exchanges this semester, I see no logical reason why outbound students in Hilary Term should be denied this invitation home. A sense of familiarity might be a welcome sight for many abroad, especially given the present situation.
“For Erasmus to continue next semester, student support must be of the utmost importance to all parties involved.”
Many students might consider postponing their Erasmus exchange, given the uncertainty the pandemic has caused. I believe that this option should also be available to all students scheduled for departure in Hilary Term, whether they are experiencing extenuating circumstances or not. It must be said that Trinity, along with other universities across Ireland, have taken precautionary measures in light of Erasmus exchanges taking place next semester. For example, they have made integrated Erasmus exchanges, such as those for language-based subjects, voluntary. This will undoubtedly provide an extra level of comfort and reassurance to many students in these subject areas.
The European Commission, the agency running the programme, has already offered financial backing through relief packages. These are aimed at making courses digitally accessible, even while studying abroad. The Commission has already authorised the possibility of refunds being given out for travel expenses to those who might have to cut their exchange short, and this will definitely ease financial burdens that some might experience.
With regards to mental health services, it is excellent that Trinity students abroad can still avail of the college’s wide range of support services, such as student counselling, Student Learning Development (SLD) and other resources. I believe this could be extended further, perhaps through the organisation of dedicated Zoom workshops and check-up sessions for those abroad. It is no secret that the imposition of national lockdowns has had a negative impact on our mental health. In broadening these already exceptional services, which have recently been boosted by government-backed funding, College would further emphasise its focus on taking care of students’ well-being.“With regards to mental health services, it is excellent that Trinity students abroad can still avail of the College’s wide range of support services, such as student counselling.”[/pullquote
At a time of global unpredictability, it would be reassuring for colleges across Europe to implement some of these policies in time for next semester. It would definitely ease students’ anxiety knowing these support networks are being bolstered due to Covid-19, while also strengthening existing systems in the long run. Trinity, for its part, has noted that “the Global Relations Office is in touch with all of Trinity’s partners worldwide, working closely with them to establish an approach that prioritises the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff.”
The opportunity to study abroad, to experience a new way of life and to see the world in a different light should not be robbed from any student. Equally however, there should be a commitment from the institutions involved that, in this time of crisis, choosing to embark on Erasmus is not considered a dangerous move, but a safe choice.