“What you’re doing an Erasmus placement! But you’re not a student?!”
That was pretty much the reaction I got from everyone I spoke to about my Erasmus+ Training Mobility Placement, whether at the University or outside.
Last year, that would probably have been my reaction, although I knew that academic staff could take part in teaching exchanges, I didn’t realise that Erasmus+ was open to professional services staff. I consider myself very lucky to have realised this and therefore to have applied to participate.
My interest was first ignited when working on a project to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Erasmus scheme at our University. We decided to tell 30 stories to commemorate 30 years of Erasmus, including from students, international students who came to Sheffield, academic staff and a handful of staff working in professional services. You can explore their stories here. For the staff and students who took part in the scheme, the experience had been formative, eye-opening and for many, life-changing.
As soon as I knew I could participate, I was sold. I must say this is Erasmus take two for me. As an undergraduate of French, I had spent the most amazing year living, studying and working in Paris. I knew it wasn’t going to be the same this time given it was only a week, but I am an avid traveller and like nothing better than exploring a new place and meeting new people. On top of this, like many of us in this sector I was concerned about what Brexit might mean for the UK’s continued participation in Erasmus+. So I wanted to do it as soon as possible.
For staff, the application deadline is the end of November/early December. It’s a fairly straightforward process, but before you apply you need your manager’s consent. At this point you also need to have a rough idea of where you want to go and what you want to do. There is so much choice! Literally, not only are there the 27 EU member states to choose from, but countries such as Norway, Turkey and Iceland, amongst others are part of the scheme. Then you have to decide on the University. For me, it wasn’t too difficult, although I would have loved to use my French and Spanish, I was in the throes of a full-blown love affair with all things Scandi and Nordic. They have universities with fantastic reputations and a quick scan of their websites and social media channels showed that they knew what they were doing when it came to effective communications. So I put a long list of universities in Northern Europe on my form, at that stage you don’t have to be specific.
Once you’ve been selected to take part, you then need to sort out your placement by February time. There are different options you can pursue. To make your life easier, you can take part in a ready-made scheme at an institution as advertised on iMotion. These conferences draw staff from across participating countries to attend talks and workshops relating to their field of work, often with plenty of time for socialising and activities laid on. If you’re very busy, or you can find a specific course that suits your needs and interests, or you like the idea of participating in Erasmus+ with other international staff from across Europe, this is the option for you.
For me it was a fall-back option, because I couldn’t find anything that suited my needs and those of my department – whom I wanted to represent during my placement. The alternative was to approach partner institutions themselves asking whether they would host me for a placement. I looked through the list of Sheffield’s partners and wrote an email to every university in Northern Europe on the list. It took a bit of searching on their web pages to find suitable people to contact, but I mainly chose Comms managers cc-ing Erasmus+ coordinators at the institution. I sent the emails just before Christmas.
I probably heard back from around half of the people I contacted, all of which were ‘no’s’. Luckily, towards the end of January, I received a response from Aalto University in Helsinki Finland and to my surprise and delight they were happy to host me! What followed was a pretty straightforward exchange, I told them what I wanted to get out of it, and they sorted out my programme for a week in April. I was very keen that it shouldn’t just be me who benefited from the week, I wanted to represent my department and pick up as many ideas and tips as I could for teams.
A little too close to the placement perhaps, I booked my flights and accommodation. You can get the costs of both covered through your department who can then claim it back from the Erasmus+ Programme funding. One of the many and considerable benefits to Erasmus+ is that you get a generous amount of funding towards your travel and subsistence costs for the week. This was much-needed for me travelling to a Nordic country.
Before I left, I went to the Income Office who gave me an advance of currency – in my case euros, to go towards, or if you’re lucky cover, your subsistence outgoings while you’re away. Again this means you’re not out of pocket when you’re travelling. The cash is then reimbursed by the Erasmus+ programme.
I decided to stay in Helsinki a weekend either side of my week at Aalto, to get the most out of my time there. Erasmus+ isn’t just about going to work in an international work-place, it’s also about living and experiencing daily life abroad, so this was really important to me. It would also give me time for proper sight-seeing and time to get to know Helsinki a bit more.
Read more about my trip in my next blog ‘The exhilaration of travelling alone‘.