"I spent the whole academic year (16 months) as a student in the Cultural Studies Faculty at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, on the German border with Poland. I can honestly say that my year abroad was one of the best things I’ve ever done, in so many ways. Although German-for-ERASMUS-students classes were available, I threw myself into the deep end and signed up for a full battery course with regular students. Although the first few lesson passed in a confused blur, I managed to get to grips with the material and enjoyed the much broader selection of modules available to me than at my home university. Due to the differences between the German and English systems, many of the courses I attended were technically for Masters students so I came back well prepared for my final year.
It was at the partner institution on the Polish side of the border that I was introduced to the study of Eastern Europe, which paved the way for my current PhD on Russian cultural ‘soft power’ influence in Ukraine at the University of Birmingham. The dynamism and engagement of the students here inspired me, and I still feel part of a wider European student community and made fantastic personal contacts during this time. Living abroad has made it much easier to build empathetic and fruitful relations with foreign colleagues, and gave me insight into German and wider continental European cultural reference points which have tended to set me in an advantageous position.
Having a strong grasp of foreign languages has also meant that I can participate as a true equal among colleagues, while helping to combat the unfortunate stereotype of the monoglottal Brit! This also helped raise the esteem of my company while on business trips, for instance in my first job as a Research Officer at UK NARIC, the national agency for the recognition of overseas qualifications. Feeling like a European person and having the languages to go with it opens up the European job market as well, and I would certainly consider a post abroad if I can’t find a position that suits me in the UK. Given the apparently deteriorating state of the UK Higher Education employment scene, this is of considerable comfort to me. I also travelled regularly to Berlin to use the library and make the most of great social scene, as well as trips to Krakow and Auschwitz, and my first taste of skiing in the Slovakian Tatra mountains.
All in all, I have been and still am thoroughly grateful for the opportunity to study abroad as an Erasmus student, and the fact it was obligatory was one of the factors that attracted me to the course at Aston University. As well as being personally enriching, I believe the experience laid a solid academic, intellectual and professional foundation that I continue to benefit from and enjoy."