ESNsurvey 2008 - Exchanging cultures is already the fourth edition of the annual project of Erasmus Student network. Discovering foreign cultures, integrating with local people and adapting to new cultural conditions are key aspects of any exchange. The main aim of the survey was to investigate if such processes are really taking place during the time spent abroad – be it a short-term study abroad, a full-degree mobility or a working experience in a different country. Moreover, impacts of living abroad while studying or working were analysed, dealing with topics such as intercultural and social skills, cultural shock and its implication or integration in the local community.

Understanding better what students are experiencing during their mobility period will enable both them and international relations officers at universities to be prepared for possible difficulties related to the cultural diversity of Europe and prevent negative feelings or drop-offs. In the end, it is the international students who act as ambassadors of other cultures in their home environment and who may well spread the word of the richness and opportunities other cultures offer.

Key findings

Students’ characteristics

Most of our respondents were exchange students (72%). 19% of the respondents studied in a foreign country as regular students and 9% of the respondents did an internship abroad. Among the exchange students, 91% did it through the Erasmus Programme and 51% of interns through Erasmus Placement. The respondents were more often female and on average 23 years old. The most frequent area of study was business and management studies in all three groups, although in general exchange and regular students showed similar interests, while interns were more oriented on other areas. The majority of regular and exchange students were Bachelor (BA) students while interns were mostly Master (MA) students. Usually the stay abroad for exchange students lasted from 4-6 months (55.2%). Regular students either stayed from 4-6 months or 9-10 months. 75% of interns stayed abroad 3-6 months. In terms of socio-economic background, most of the respondents declared that none of their parents had a higher education degree. Generally, the family financial situation was in line with the country’s average. The majority of the respondents came from a town or a small city.

Exchanging cultures

Respondents felt quite informed about the host country’s culture before exchange e.g. they knew what kind of food is typical in the host country, knew about the main differences regarding contacts with other people, knew the stereotypes of the host country. Exchange students created more contacts with exchange students and other foreigners, spent more time with them as well as more other worked or lived with them, while interns had more opportunities to work with people of the host country and created local networks. International students, due to the period of their stay which usually is for the whole degree, abroad created widest networks. Even if they stay abroad is a very sociable period of life, some students faced feeling of isolation or felt they did not have a person to turn with personal problems to. Wide networks can help prevent a student against the feeling of isolation and negative attitudes towards local culture. Exchange students most often participated in the classes with both local and foreign students, but the situation differs among the countries: in the countries were Erasmus usually participate in the courses for Erasmus which are taught in English, students more often studied just with other foreigners. Exchange students a bit often than other groups of students stayed with other foreigners, international students – with people of their own nationality, interns lived alone or with local people. Students communicated in different languages during their period abroad. Exchange students more often talked in English than other groups, and international students more often spoke in a host country language. At the beginning of the stay, the knowledge of English was on average much higher than the knowledge of the host language – 2 compared to 3.5. Still, the average progress made in the knowledge of the host country language was bigger the progress in English.

Personal Development

Respondents mainly felt that their personality had changed during the stay abroad and before the end of the stay; they felt that the host country had become their second home. Most of the respondents after their period of stay abroad would consider moving somewhere in Europe or in the world. The stay abroad has made them feel more flexible, self-confident, open to dialogue and more tolerant. They learned how to communicate with the people of different cultures and they had experienced teaching methods of a different university.

Satisfaction with stay and study

Students’ overall satisfaction with their studies or internship and with their stay was high. Students evaluated most positively their satisfaction with the atmosphere and the social life of the city and of the host country, and the lowest satisfaction was associated with, both, the information they received before the departure, and their finances.

Satisfaction with ESN and other student organizations

41% of the respondents participated or used services of ESN or another student organization. Students declared that help of ESN and other student organisations was most important in helping them to get in contact with other exchange students and providing them with information. Around 70% of students were satisfied with ESN and/or other student organisation at their host university.

Authors

Simon Bauwens, Walter Bonifazi, Veerle Boomans, Ewa Krzaklewska, Nacho López, Tajana Nikolic, Danilo Pederiva, Marketa Tokova.

Note: ESNSurvey 2012 was renamed to 2013 according to the year of publication of the booklets and not to the publication of the questionnaire.

The Project

The ESNSurvey is the biggest regular European research project planned and carried out entirely by students for students. It is conducted annually and surveys students at higher education institutions. ESN shares the results with the main stakeholders in higher education and mobility programmes.

ESNSurvey aims at:

  • Exploring current issues connected to academic and non-academic mobility and education.
  • Gettting a better insight into student issues in order to represent their real needs.