Monday, 14 April 2014

Erasmus and its Stereotypes

Talking about Erasmus means talking about and in stereotypes. Before I left for Budapest there were lots of jokes about how I would party hard and study little. I can think of a whole bunch of stereotypes about Erasmus students, and most of them have a pretty negative connotation. 
  • Erasmus students drink and party. All the time. 
  • Erasmus students rarely visit university; if they do, they are probably still drunk. 
  • Erasmus students get credit points for showing up at university rarely and in wasted condition, and don't have to work hard for receiving them. 
  • Erasmus students travel around more than they explore the city that they temporarily live in. 
  • Erasmus students stay foremost with the other Erasmus students, forming a huge and homogeneous mass of international students, who all like to party. 
  • Erasmus students are not too involved with the culture and politics of the country the live in. Instead, they like to “meet new people”, which means: to meet other international students. 
  • Erasmus students take a massive amount of pictures: any party, sight and activity – they have been there, done that and they will share the proof with you. 
 Stereotypes are not exclusively negative:
  • Erasmus students are adventuresome and curious. They love to explore and change location.
(Can you think of anything else? Let me know and comment below!) 

What exactly is a stereotype? 

The term 'stereotype' means a way of representing and judging people according to characteristics that are alleged to a wider entity: “Instead of being considered and treated as particular and distinctive [individuals, AK], they are represented simply through their category assignment and the essentialized and naturalized attribute this is made to carry” (Source: The German Wikipedia article stresses that stereotypes are memorable and rather visual (read here). Stereotypes often operate without conscious awareness. 
An 18th century engraving of the people of the world
One way of explaining their formation is that they are a consequence of intergroup relations: group members are motivated to behave in certain ways, e.g. in order to stress their differentness to an out-group. The behavior is then reflected by stereotypes. For me, this is a very controversial explanation that should not be applied blindly – as it “is possible for a stereotype to grow in defiance of all evidence" (Allport 1954: 189). Believing in the undoubted accuracy of stereotypes can do a lot of harm.
Anyhow, stereotypes also make life easier: “(a) Stereotypes are aids to explanation, ( b) stereotypes are energy-saving devices, and (c) stereotypes are shared group beliefs” (McGarty et al. 2002: 2). 

How is a stereotype different from prejudice?

Now, the difference between stereotype and prejudice is that the first occurs on a cognitive level, whereas prejudices are loaded with affects. Discrimination terms the behavioral part of prejudicial reactions. “In this tripartite view of intergroup attitudes, stereotypes reflect expectations and beliefs about the characteristics of members of groups perceived as different from one's own, prejudice represents the emotional response, and discrimination refers to actions” (Wikipedia: Stereotype). 

How does all this apply to the stereotypes about Erasmus students?

I guess the more you hear and repeat stereotypes such as the ones I started this post with, the more you are likely to “believe” them. Even if unconsciously, they can affect you in a strong way. 
As I wrote, one way of explaining how stereotypes come about is to trace them back to intergroup relations. In this case, there is probably a high motivation in all Erasmus students to have a great time; they are similarly motivated. All the partying and traveling and picture taking might be their common definition of 'having a great time'. By doing these things, the students can distinguish themselves from any out-group, anyone who is not an international student, and gain a stronger in-group experience and sense of belonging and identity. 

On the other hand, stereotypes disregard individual traits, behaviors and self-concepts by definition. The stereotypes do not consider individual thoughts about partying. Even if they hate it, but still do it, they will be regarded as 'typical of'. Another problem is that the discourse of what 'having a good time' means is highly prescriptive. If someone prefers meditating to partying, this person will not be regarded as 'typical of'. I am not sure whether such an exception is more likely to prove the rule, though. 

And of course it is easy to refer to stereotypes when you talk about your experiences abroad. They aid you in explaining why you partied hard, and they save you time and energy because you can simply rely on the character of Erasmus instead of evaluating your actions according to your personal values. The 'essentialized and naturalized' nature (see above) of the stereotype plays an important role here. Behaving in a certain way is seen as normal for the group that the stereotype refers to. Hence it is easier to behave accordingly. 
The concept of “self-fulfilling prophecy” works similarly. In this context it means that “one's inaccurate expectations about a person's behavior, through social interaction, prompt that person to act in stereotype-consistent ways, thus confirming one's erroneous expectations and validating the stereotype” (Wikipedia: Stereotype). 

Another point is that meeting people that like meeting people is incredibly easier than meeting people who prefer soleness. In addition, I estimate it possible that Erasmus students have a lot in common: they chose to live abroad for a short period of time and by that are open to new experiences. I am not able to judge how homogeneous the group of Erasmus students have been, are and will be. In the end, does it matter? 

1.; cited on the 14th of April 2014.
2.; cited on the 14th of April 2014.
3. Allport, Gordon W. (1954). The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley. p. 189.  
4. McGarty, Craig; Yzerbyt, Vincent Y.; Spears, Russel (2002). "Social, cultural and cognitive factors in stereotype formation". Stereotypes as explanations: The formation of meaningful beliefs about social groups. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–15. Read and download it here: Link
5.; cited on the 14th of April 2014.
6. Image: 



  1. Here is another one for your list: erasmus students have lots of sex with lots of different people.

  2. Thanks! Actually, I have been asked to write about that several times, so there is definitely a post about Erasmus & Sex coming up!