Leaving with Erasmus: at the school of difference?


Students who have benefited from the Erasmus mobility program are happy to use the terms “adventure” and “travel”. But they are far from being like bohemian characters portrayed by writers or filmmakers. Often mentioned as the main reason for going abroad, learning a foreign language is generally seen as a way to increase one’s chances of gaining access to selective sectors or to better fit into a qualified labor market. very competitive, because of school massification. For a large number of students, the desire for mobility is often directly related to the construction of ambitious academic and professional projects, sometimes well-planned.

Behind this desire for academic and / or professional success, there are different ways of experiencing the Erasmus experience. If the students themselves who have gone abroad often present themselves as more “open” than their “sedentary” colleagues, they are actually variously prepared for these new contexts of learning. The behavioral scale thus goes back to its original culture, with little or no reinvestment and the absence of new mobility, until the assimilation of the culture of the host environment and the desire to do so. to reside permanently.

Various strategies

These attitudes are not the result of chance and come largely from the hoped-for “reinvestments” of acquired skills and professional aspirations, which are themselves dependent on the socio-economic situations in which Erasmus students find themselves before their stay. By crossing the students’ representations at different moments of the mobility process, from the decision of the stay to their return, here is the typology of the postures that can be established.

    • The first ideal-type, the “defensive” student, during the stay, seeks to build himself fully in “foreign”. It therefore stands “at a reasonable distance” from members of their host country while maintaining strong links with those of their home country. Often referred to by others as the living representatives of their countries, spokespersons of morals and practices, these students live the experience “Erasmus” as a simple “parenthesis”, not necessarily calling for new mobility.
    • The second ideal-type is the “opportunistic” student, seeking above all to adapt to his environment. He has a special ability to synchronize his behavior with what he grasp of a typical conduct approved by the natives. Back in their country of origin, these students will try to reuse their skills acquired often late, including language, in distinctive projects and enroll in new mobility, whether academic or professional.
    • The third ideal-type, the “transnational” student, calls for plurilingualism and a “cosmopolitan” spirit. In many cases, it is the birth of a mixed family and / or the international job mobility of one or both parents who have opened these students to “international socialization”. The test of the journey is perceived as an accomplishment of old depositions. These students will therefore return to careers that will allow new expatriations, while keeping their national benchmarks, because the international does not abolish the national.
    • The last ideal-type is the “converted” student, whose repulsive factors in society and / or university or city of origin were decisive, much more than the attractive factors of the host country. Even if this student did not have a specific professional project before his departure, the “Erasmus” stay is for him a revealer, a moment of bifurcation, which breaks with the passivity, the policy of negative choices and the “laissez-aller” who previously ordered his schooling. Experience entails for him the desire to reorient or stop his studies.

    Another report to know

    This typology, based on an international comparison by case study, when the Erasmus program concerned only higher education, makes it possible to distance the idea of ​​a uniform Erasmus group. Talking about “Erasmus generation” also makes little sense, even though today Erasmus + brings together several devices at different educational levels. Depending on the segment of the education system and the institution in which the learners are enrolled, the Erasmus program is not at the heart of the same issues or the same expectations. In massive university programs, it helps build a personal relationship to knowledge.

    It is interesting here again to see that, with the widespread idea that the Erasmus visit transforms everyone in a radical way, the students, when they express themselves freely and at length, themselves recognize the limits of such a revolutionary process. The changes are thus more in the way of thinking, than in the way of being. In any case, they stage their experience, adopt strategies of self-presentation essential to legitimize their choice and consolidate the social value of international mobility.

    An accompaniment to build?

    The Erasmus program, in its form, places the student at the center rather than “bi-national” pedagogical teams around common “cognitive” projects. In this way, he ideologically dedicates the theories of learning that make the subject the actor of his own knowledge. “Experiential learning” is consensual. But this consensus is malleable, even manipulable: we can agree on the objective, without giving it the same meaning. In this context, how to evaluate it? Would institutionalized mobility contribute to the redefinition of the University’s missions?

    The daily confrontation with forms of otherness, lying on the sidelines, within socially homogeneous “Erasmus circles”, can induce an abuse of culturalist explanations. These emptied cultures of their complexity, their historicity and their internal conflicts. For many Erasmus students, others are apprehended without considering the processes related to social diversification and socio-cultural diversity. There would be a real work of reflection on the training that should accompany mobility.

    Delivered only to the good intentions of the participants, whose “capital” possessed varies, the exchanges risk very much if not to widen the differences between the beneficiaries of the stays abroad, in terms of apprenticeships. Academic exchanges are too often an opportunity to point out differences between major entities to the detriment of similarities or internal plurality. Does not apprehending a culture go beyond a fragmented vision, reduced to the enumeration of cultural facts, to a collection of rites and myths?

    Author Bio: Magali Ballatore is an MCF in sociology, researcher at the Mediterranean Laboratory of Sociology at Aix-Marseille University