“The best experience”: Czechs doing Erasmus reaches over 400,000

Charles University

Over 400,000 Czechs have availed of the opportunity to take part in Erasmus, the EU’s academic exchange programme, since Czechia signed up in the late 1990s. But what specifically do students get out of the experience? I spoke to some former participants.

According to data recently published by the Czech National Agency for International Education and Research, no fewer than 411,000 Czechs have taken part in the Erasmus Programme since the country joined it in 1998, just over a decade after the scheme began.

Erasmus+, as it is now referred to, also includes stays abroad for academics, and even offers opportunities to secondary and primary school children.

But it is mainly third-level students who sign up for the programme, people such as Veronika Kührová, a Film Studies student in Brno who did her Erasmus in the Germany city of Jena in 2007.

Erasmus Centre | Photo: Daniela Honigmann,  Radio Prague International

“I really, really enjoyed it. I was worried a little bit to go to Germany, because I didn’t speak German well. But I was offered the best internship at my department, because I was one of the best students. And I did Film Theory there [in Jena] for five months. Honestly I didn’t learn much from Film Studies, as they were doing really the basics. But what I benefitted from was I got to know a lot of people from different countries, I got to learn how to live in another country – and that was really the best experience for me up to then.”

Linda Harwot studied experimental biology in Belgium’s Antwerp in 2002. She says she enjoyed getting to know people from other cultures, exploring the city and its surroundings – and a different, less formal approach to academic life.

“Most science is the same anywhere, so that’s OK. But the treatment of students, the dealings between professors and students was, at that time, a bit different from in the Czech Republic. They were much more open and friendly. Nobody used any scientific titles, like professor or doctor – it did not matter. It was very much at the level like, We are all colleagues.”

Veronika Kührová says that though she values the experience, doing an Erasmus was almost a given once she went to third-level.

“That’s something you should do in your life. It's the step before you start your professional career, before you start a family. So for me it was nothing unusual or uncommon. I took it as something that is granted for us as members of the European Union. I didn’t really think it’s something special.”

Illustrative photo: Lucie Fürstová,  Czech Radio

Architect Tomáš Horalík was actually doing his Erasmus, at Brighton in the UK, at the moment Czechia joined the EU nearly 20 years ago. He says the scheme can help reinforce a sense of being part of something bigger.

“I think it’s one of the best ways how you can actually show young people that Europe is one big region, or how to say. That we’re all the same. We’re from different countries and have different experiences of cultural background, but I think it sort of destroys prejudices. When you experience that as a young person then travelling and working abroad is not such a problem for you afterwards. I think destroying the barriers between nations and stuff… I think it does work in this way.”

Horalík also says he is still using insights he gained on Erasmus in his architectural practice, two decades later.