… and why this choice has a huge meaning.
As an Erasmus student, you will find yourself answering the same questions all the time: Where are you from and why did you come here? It is indeed interesting: Me and a lot of other young adults from all over Europe chose to spent a semester or two in Budapest. Here we meet, and we have various reasons.
I tried to make my decision as easy for myself as possible. For a simple reason: I suck at making decisions. Therefore, I restricted myself strictly to the given partner universities of my faculties. From that point I used an elimination procedure: At first I eliminated places where I could not speak or want to learn the language of teaching. Also, there were several places I just wasn't interested in because I have lived there before or just didn't “feel like it”. As a last step I made some research on the choice and variety of courses taught in English or German. This left me with four places: Amsterdam, Budapest, Dublin and London.
Money makes the world go round
All of these are exciting, vivid cities. How could you possibly choose between them?
In the end, it's money that makes the world go round. Life in Amsterdam, Dublin and London is super duper expensive. I read many experience reports written by other Erasmus students that my university supplies on its website. That helped me a lot.
In the end, Budapest was the perfect choice for me: there were lots of courses in English and even some in German; finding a flat seemed to be easy, rent and living expenses were affordable and I had never been there. A close friend of mine had been enthusing about the beauty of Budapest for some years, but that was pretty much all I knew about it.
So you can say I chose some kind of security in financial matters. The Erasmus scholarship is not really high in my university (160€ per month).
I talked to a lot of Erasmus students that I've met here about their reasons for choosing Budapest as a host city. Above the reasons that I mentioned, the said they chose Budapest because
- they have never been there and wanted to do something adventurous, choosing an unknown city.
- they wanted to go somewhere “different” (especially compared to the 'classical' exchange countries Spain, France and the UK).
- they explicitly wanted to get to know Eastern Europe (if Budapest really is Eastern Europe is a topic you could probably argue about... ).
- have heard it's a beautiful city.
- they had a particular interest in the Hungarian culture. This only applies for a few people I've met who have personal relation to it: they have relatives, partners or acquaintances from Hungary or they study Hungarian culture or language.
- it was the only option allowed by their home university or the only place they could get a placement.
(It is palpable that these reasons contain a lot of assumptions about Hungary and its culture, regarding it as “different” and “Eastern European”.)
Eventually, the decision-making process is probably highly individual. As I said, I applied some financial and practical considerations, but only after eliminating the places I was not interested in. I was lucky to have these options, because in my faculty there are far more places for the exchange than applicants. I know that other students were not as fortunate.
The good news is that the Erasmus program has just been renewed to Erasmus+, which “represents a 40% increase compared to previous spending levels and shows the EU's commitment to investing in these areas” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus%2B). Future students might be lucky to have more places to choose from or better chances to go to exactly the place that they've dreamed of.
I am not sure though if they might also get a scholarship that actually covers the living expenses in the city they want to go. Personally I can only afford this Erasmus semester because I have another scholarship (totally independent of the Erasmus program) that pays my rent. Otherwise, I would not be able to embrace this amazing chance. This brings me back to my analysis of the official goals of the program, that is supposed to offer these possibilities also to underrepresented groups. To be quite frank, I don't feel I have a lobby that tells the EU to increase the funds for the individual students. I don't feel like anybody doing Erasmus bothers at all that this program still is elitist and excluding for students from “underrepresented” groups. Students (like me) who come from the working class and receive no financial support from their families (or might even have to support their parents!) face a huge difficulty in participating in the Erasmus program. How should I be able to find a job abroad? How should I be able to work so much in advance to pay my bills in Budapest, while on the same time trying to pay my current bills in Frankfurt? How on earth should I be able to do this if I didn't have this scholarship?
I would have love to go to Amsterdam or London. I could not. Still, I consider myself really lucky. I think I am living an extraordinarily convenient life compared to students from countries where the unemployment rate for young people beats 50%.
But I also think that this is not being talked about enough. If one praises the Erasmus program for the chances it gives, one should also reflect its shortcomings.
(Picture source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Credit_cards.jpeg)