How to win Erasmus+ grant to study in Europe

In 2004, Ukrainians received access to the EU’s most successful education program – Erasmus+, which provides opportunities to study, train or work in many European universities. A Ukrainian student from Ivan Franko National University of Lviv tells how to win a grant and how Spanish higher education differs from that in Ukraine.

The Erasmus programme (exchange of students, teachers and scholars from EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Turkey and Ukraine) marks the 30th anniversary. During this period, more than
9 million people took the opportunity to study at the European Commission expense in one of the universities of Europe, take internships or work as a teacher (the Ukrainians gain access to the most successful EU educational program in 2004).

Student of the Faculty of International Relations of Ivan Franko National University of Lviv (LNU), Sofiia Yakovlieva, is one of the “generations of Erasmus.”  The girl is only 19 years old, and she is proficient in three foreign languages (Spanish, English and German), knows French and Swedish well, and has had a chance already to learn… in four countries!

SOFIIA is native of Oleksandriia (Kirovograd oblast). “I grew up in an ordinary family. My father was a military man, my mother worked as a seller,” the girl said. She studied at a specialized school with an in-depth study of German. For the first time she went abroad (to Germany) upon student exchange programme when she was 12 years old. In the 9th form, she won the FLEX (Future Leaders EXchange) –
an exchange program for future leaders. At that time there vied for one place… 40 persons!

The schoolgirl spent a year in the United States – she inhabited in an American family and studied at a local school. In 11th form, she was elected a representative of FLEX in Oleksandriia. And when Sofiia became a student – a representative of FLEX in Lviv.

About the opportunity to study under the “Erasmus+ programme” Sofiia got to know from the social network. Good luck smiled at the girl twice.

She taught for a week according to this program in Italy. A year later, she applied again. This time, she spent a busy week in Malta. She worked as a volunteer in Norway at the Olympics.

According to her story, she got into volunteering yet in the United States. She said that this helped her to pass selection for the Erasmus – the program of long-term exchanges.

She set her heart upon this idea on the second course of study. At the Faculty of International Relations site she has found a list of foreign higher educational institutions, with which her alma mater co-operates. Among them were the Spanish universities. At school Sofiia studied English and German. In Oleksandriia at that time there was only one teacher of Spanish. In the 5th form, Sofiia began to go to her for individual classes. The schoolgirl participated in the All-Ukrainian Olympiad in Spanish. She took the second place then. To win there was not enough 0.2 point. The winner of the first place was awarded a free trip to Spain. Then Sofiia promised herself that she would definitely accomplish her dream, but would go to Spain not as a tourist for her own money, but for free as a student.

She passed an External Independent Testing (EIT) in SPANISH. At the freshman year she passed examination for the international certificate DELE (diploma of Spanish as a foreign language) of level B2. Usually this level is considered sufficient to study in foreign universities. “My average score at university was not high – 4.3-4.4. But I showed social activity, I was engaged in volunteering. In addition, I had good Spanish. This is the main trump card. Universities prefer those students who can study in their own language, and not in English,” Sofiia says.

The girl hesitated, which university to choose – in Bilbao, in the north of Spain, in Cadiz, in the south, or in Valencia, in the south-east? She chose the south. The student began to collect documents – various extracts, statements, copies. Her CV took… 51 pages! “Paradoxically, the most difficult stage of competitive selection is to prove to the international department of the native university that just you should go to study. If they have chosen you, your documents have been transferred to a foreign university, and the competition there is small, there are all chances to get on Erasmus,” Sofiia says. They say, the hardest part is to qualify for the Dutch universities. In the academic ranking of universities in the world, reflecting the quality of higher education, these local higher education institutions occupy the top positions, so competition for a place is high…

In two months a positive response came. Then Sofiia contacted the coordinator of the Spanish university, looking for accommodation (the higher education institution did not provide the hostel).

The flatshare (Sofiia’s neighbours in an apartment became a Frenchwoman who came to study under the Erasmus programme, and a local resident) cost 250 euros. Scholarship – 800 euros. It is paid regardless of the country in which the student is studying. Sofiia spent less for food than in Lviv. A kilo of peaches in Cadiz takes worth… 1 euro (about 35 hryvnia).

She tells how her female friend who studied under the Erasmus programme in Finland came to visit her and did not know what to grab about. In Finland, the products are 2-3 times more expensive.

The training lasted for six months. The girl could study in English, but decided to challenge herself. However, she did not take into account that in the south, due to the proximity to the African continent and the influence of Arab conquests, the Spanish has a special pronunciation. In addition, she had to study another specialty.

In Lviv, Sofiia is studying at international economic relations. And at the University in Cadiz, only international political relations and the international economy are taught. The girl decided to study economics. “It was incredibly difficult!” the student recalls. “All subjects were mathematical and taught in Spanish, not commonplace for the perception by a foreign student. It took me a month to get a good understanding of the local language.”

The training SYSTEM differs from the Ukrainian one. You may not attend double classes – the student is not punished for this. Good marks for the tasks completed during the semester (for example, 4.2 of the possible 5) do not guarantee that the student will be scored a course on a particular subject. It is necessary to pass the exams on the lowest passing score (3 of the maximum possible 6). In case of fiasco, the points received during the semester are automatically cancelled.

It is impossible to have an impact on decision of the examiners. There was headache? You did not understand the task till the last because you taught the literary language spoken in Madrid, and not the southern dialect, with the adjectives of other languages? It does not interest anyone! The deadline cannot be tolerated. Nobody cares that you have disagreed with the boy or you have a dog died. In case of plagiarizing, the whole work is cancelled – even if the student borrowed one paragraph.

Sofiia also paid attention to the following feature: “A student can spend the whole night at a party, but in the morning he goes to study at the library, and not like ours – he/she passes double classes to make up for lost sleep. All students are motivated to study. There, nobody gets higher education “for a tick”, as we have: our girls attend the international relations, pay for studies, but do not attend double classes, and do manicures to clients.”

The Erasmus PROGRAMME assumes that the exams passed at a foreign university will be automatically enrolled in the Ukrainian university. But the problem is that such subjects, which Sofiia studied in Cadiz, are not taught at her native faculty. Returning home, she had to pass exam session under coupons No. 1 (issued for non-attendance exam by valid reasons).

Ukrainian students who come to study under the program are usually the youngest ones. Sofiia was 18 years old. Students from other countries are 20-25 years old. They efficiently combine learning and personal life, but are in no hurry to marry and start children. At age 30, they can understand they chose not the profession they like, and go again to study.

Under the Erasmus programme, you can study for 12 months under Bachelor’s programme and 12 – under Master’s degree programme. This includes both training and internship. Sofiia used only six months. She may file documents again, but realizes that her international department is unlikely to let her go, because it is necessary to give a chance to other students.

I’m interested in what she plans to do after graduating from the university. “I will travel a lot and work as a simultaneous interpreter from Spanish and English,” she says. This is one of the most advanced forms of interpretation, requiring high concentration, mental and physical endurance. Though, challenges never frightened the girl.

“Do not you plan to leave abroad, as many of our talented young people?” I’m interested. “I would like to work in Ukraine. But it’s also important for me to gain foreign experience. Therefore, as an opportunity occurs to undergo an internship abroad, I will definitely use it. Every trip outside Ukraine (not important of what kind – tourist, business, for the purpose of studying) expands the world, changes for the better,” Sofiia is convinced…

Photo from the private archive of Sofiia Yakovleva

The original article is published by Vysokyi Zamok