Jutta Schmid

Deputy Director at the International Office (IO) and ERASMUS Institutional Coordinator at RUB since 2001

In the course of her degree at the University of Bonn (Romance Studies, Political Science, Public Law, German as a Foreign Language) 1 year as an exchange student in Spain (Salamanca) with Pädagogischer Austauschdienst, 1 year studying in Madrid, as well as approx. 1 year in France for summer jobs

Lengthy trips to Argentina and Mexico, 2016/17 1 year in Jordan (Amman) for work

First encounter with Erasmus

I had unfortunately completed my degree, which I’d taken up in the same year that Erasmus was launched, namely 30 years ago, before that new exchange option had become widely available. In 1992, I had my first encounter with an ERASMUS student at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid – unaware that this freshly hatched programme would become part of my professional life many years later. At Madrid University, where I planned to spend my last academic year with a grant awarded by the Spanish government and where mysterious formalities kept piling up as a nigh-unsurmountable obstacle on the way towards immatriculation, a Priority Check-In for Erasmus students appeared all of a sudden. Erasmus? This way please, this is the person in charge of you! Erasmus seemed to be a magic word, an ‘Open Sesame’. As to other international students: each case was processed separately, red tape everywhere. Thus, I witnessed one of the invaluable advantages offered by the Erasmus programme: Europe-wide facilitation of access for Erasmus students. That was the first step towards a process that took off in the following years and to date has enabled more than 3 million students across Europe to embark on a lengthy academic and personal international experience. There are still many things that have to be dealt with if you wish to spend part of your degree abroad, and ERASMUS exchange is certainly not an all-inclusive holiday – but it’s miles away from the stony and frequently blocked ways of the past. In the wake of the Erasmus programme, many supporting structures have formed – Academic Exchange Offices (today commonly referred to as International Office), and faculties as well as institutes have professionalised and optimised their organisational services for exchange programmes.

At the Grenzenlos 2004 academic exchange fair in the Audimax foyer: the IO booth displays information on Sokrates/Erasmus

Erasmus in Europe and beyond

I have now spent many years working with and for Erasmus, the programme has changed and broadened, some bureaucratic stumbling block appeared and disappeared again, but the usefulness of the entire scheme was never questioned. And the task of promoting the European exchange programme never got boring – at three universities in Germany and last year at the German-Jordanian University in Jordan as part of the staff mobility scheme. Erasmus in the Middle East? Yes, the new programme Erasmus+ makes an exchange with universities outside Europe possible, to a limited extent. Last year, when we advertised Erasmus grants in Jordan online for the first time and the country's students were given the opportunity to go on an exchange to universities in countries such as e.g. Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Turkey, in addition to Germany, the International Office was beleaguered by interested students: Erasmus! The concept as such was kinda familiar; it had a promising ring to it and was the talk of the campus. Maps of Europe and information about its countries popped up on Smartphones everywhere: Where is Lithuania? Which language is spoken in Belgium? Becoming a member of the Erasmus student community is a huge incentive. Europe and its universities in their diversity were suddenly within reach. We sometimes wish a larger number of our RUB students showed such keen interest in the Erasmus exchange! To the outside observer, it is difficult to understand why not every European student is mobile, seeing as they have so many opportunities and the borders in Europe are open to them – unlike in many other regions of the Earth where it can sadly not be taken for granted.

The signing of the agreement for the Double Degree in Philology with the University of Oviedo at the Grenzenlos Fair in 2002

Erasmus effects

Experiencing the enthusiasm and admiration that students in non-European countries have for the Erasmus is a great motivator. Plus: I see and read time and again how our students change by spending time abroad. When they return, they are more grown-up and more self-confident, they have learned a lot about themselves and about others, have explored new perspectives in a different academic environment, tried out different approaches to their discipline, made new friends, experienced themselves in new ways within the context of a different language and culture. Not least, we also see the effects of exchange programmes in Erasmus students who come to Bochum. After more than 20 years working with Erasmus students, I have rarely met someone, neither Outgoings from here nor Incomings from abroad, who had regretted his or her step into the unknown. Typical statements express sentiments that echo the words of Italian student Sabrina Longo, who has put it in most emotional and moving terms (see her portrait); here a short quote: “Erasmus opens your eyes.”
When I came to RUB in 2001, a mere 150 students took advantage of Erasmus to go abroad; today, their number has increased to more than 500. Other grant programmes have grown, too. Still, this is not enough! It will never be as simple to spread your wings and get carried by a different wind. Off you go, all you need is a little bit of courage, and you’ll discover your own personal Europe!