Erasmus: six tips to be at peace with your exchange (and wallet)

With Brexit looming over it, it is no surprise that the idea of going on Erasmus feels both unique and scary.Add up the financial burden that living abroad can involve, and getting on that plane becomes a lifetime challenge. But who said there are no ways to make things run more smoothly on many levels? Welcome to Source’s guide for those Scottish students ready to take over Europe!

1. Research!

Funnily enough, the possibility of living in a sunny or unusual place sometimes affects our selection of destinations more than our plans for the future. Nevertheless, the studying options at the host university should be the number one priority, and looking up for them among 27 states and 3,600 participating partners can be daunting if you don’t start in advance.

Your university’s international mobility webpage is your first port of call to browse exchange agreements. Generally, the Scottish application process closes around November/December, so that forms are shortlisted before February, but make sure you check this information out in advance. In any case, it is important that you understand when you are allowed to take a year abroad depending on your degree requirements, and what courses would be suitable for progression to honours once you return to Scotland.

One rule only: never, EVER leave it to the last minute! Paraphrasing Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the more you procrastinate research, the higher the chances that this will overlap with your in-course assignments. Start out at the end of August and read as much as you can about your potential alma mater, including blogs from returning students, so you will not feel dazed when the autumn assessments hit you.

Some universities may also ask you to draft a budget too as part of the application. The same golden rule is valid for this aspect, and platforms like Erasmusu are your best friend to research living costs.

2. The learning agreement

Once you have listed your favourites, it’s time to get down to business and give shape to your studies abroad. As long as you match the number of credits required for your year and obtain permission to replace and/or postpone essential method classes, Erasmus gives you great flexibility on which courses to pick.

It is a true blessing for those students willing to specialise in a certain area that is not taught at your home university, so take full advantage of the exchange course list on the host university’s website. Just make sure you have a clear idea of how those credits are defined in each system (sometimes mobility offices expect you to find out independently), as that may vary enormously among countries.

In this instance, your subject academic coordinator is the one, as well as the relevant person who approves your plan. Visit their office as often as you need, instead of waiting until the very last minute and find out you had forgotten to mention you will catch up on compulsory quantitative analysis classes in the fourth year (true story).

3. Send it earlier

Whatever the deadline, do not dare wait till the last day. I am so grateful now  I have secured my place that I uploaded my exchange form three days before the actual date. You do not really know what relief is until you receive e-mails from mobility managers talking about IT breakdowns, coupled with the exam diet approaching. Your mental health is too precious for such stress!

4. The second application

If you managed to get a place, welcome to the second phase. Since the timing of these formalities usually coincide with other commitments, I suggest you find information on your host’s confirmation requirements immediately, so you can collect documents and write CV, personal statements and other supporting files.

The partner university usually gets in touch with you around March or April, but be wise: computers are a curse for humankind. I was supposed to receive my credentials to complete the partner’s direct application, but I found out their servers were not compatible with the .ac.uk domain, also thanks to a returning student’s experience from two years before. While other students struggled to write everything one or two days before their exams, my dossier had been ready for a month and a half already, so I saved myself from anxiety.

It was a lucky idea that I decided to e-mail their nomination office and check with them, but the lesson is: if you see that things happen too late compared to the timeline provided in the GoAbroad page, always contact all the parties involved and prepare the documentation earlier. Do not let the Internet and bureaucracy get into your way.

5. That precious grant…

The European Union is a kind of political grandma willing to throw money at you, and the Erasmus grant is a great Christmas present to which every EU exchange student is entitled by citizenship – except for stays in Switzerland, as this country is only member of a EU trade partnership.

The monthly rates depend on the destination, but for this academic year you can get up to 350 euros a month, plus an extra 120 euros if you belong to a low income family and apply for the extra sum separately. Except for a few unis which want a separate application, most of them will automatically e-mail you the grant contract in summer, after you have sent a final learning agreement filled in by you, your home coordinator and the foreign partner coordinator.

There may be a long e-mail chain before you get the thumbs up from everybody: some courses you had included in your draft may have either changed or been cancelled, or they overlap between one other. Once you have defined it and got everyone’s original signature, send it to your mobility office, sign the grant contract, and obtain a confirmation of start in the host country when you move abroad. That is the last step to receive around two thirds of the final sum, with the last installment hitting your UK bank account around the end of the exchange. Yay!

6. … and how to top it up!

If you feel like you may need a bit of extra cash, here’s a wee list of other sources of income that may be useful…

SCHOLARSHIPS

Different country, different philanthropy: it is worth having a look on your uni’s website and see what prizes and scholarships are awarded to people in your course or in a similar exchange. Many of them will accept candidates from all over Scotland, and some assess on the basis of merit and not just income. Get two referees on hand who are willing to support you in this journey, as that seems to be the case for most bursaries.

Not knowing where to start from? The Stevenson Scholarship aims to favour relations between Scotland, France, Spain and Germany. The Scottish-Italian Scholarship has a pretty clear name, whereas each campus will list some subject-specific awards for the best performance or essay, look out!

OTHER GRANTS

Although this does not always happen, some host countries are renowned for financing foreign students in their short time there, especially in areas where the cost of renting out is too high not to call for a state grant. France’s Allocations Familiales are famous, as they do not discriminate any students as long as the flat or studio is eligible for it and you are not in a subletting lease.

Others are a bit more picky and prefer to prioritise their own students, but the European Funding Guide is a good starting point to know more about this.

INTERNSHIPS

Thanks to your EU passport, you are allowed to work in any member state by just being a regular taxpayer – and internships’ lower wage and length normally imply that you are exempted. Getting a part-time placement abroad can give you financial security, and an opportunity to boost your CV and practise a language in a professional setting.

If you are interested and have enough time alongside your studies, there are endless ways to access them. Look at the host university’s career portal, and make sure you take advantage of networks like Linkedin, Target and Prospects.

STUDENT TREATS

As in the UK, a student card and your student registration letter are a beacon of hope to get freebies and discounts, from transport to short trips to food and entertainment. Besides your new matriculation card, investing in an ESNcard s worth every penny: that is the way to get money off Ryanair flights and Hostelling International – what would an Erasmus be without some continental sightseeing?

Now get your luggage and books ready and dream of Erasmus!

Words by Lucia Posteraro

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