Written by: 
Iona Murdoch Thursday, 13 January, 2022 - 14:18

Channel Your Travel Bug Energy Into Something Larger - Your Community!

ESNers and students with an international mindset have something in common: the love for travel and learning about new cultures.

Whether they are a regular traveller, a mobility student, or local student passionate about internationalisation, joining ESN allows them to develop their skills and knowledge 

There is something that all ESNers and internationally-minded students have in common - an interest in the world; specifically, to learn about the world as they travel to new countries and socialise with people from different cultures. They have an inherent interest in how the world works and how different people from different backgrounds interact with each other. And, they ache to be part of an international community.

This is what ESN offers to the world - a family made up of internationally-minded people. Whether a student is going on their mobility exchange or coming back and trying to readjust to life in their home university town, they gravitate towards ESN. Even those students who didn’t get the opportunity to go abroad during their degree seek ESN out as a means to have contact with internationally-minded students. In a nutshell, that is what the Erasmus Generation is: A family of internationally-minded people.

 

What ESN Can Give You At Home

During the lockdowns that came with the pandemic, many of those part of the Erasmus Generation felt restricted, unable to travel. This may still be the case for some, and is unfortunately the reality of others for many external reasons, such as home responsibilities or financial restraints. These people may struggle to find an opportunity to engage in mobility, and for the short term, must find something to help scratch their curious cultural itch, their desire to learn about new cultures and countries. 

By engaging with ESN, either as a volunteer or simply by attending events, these individuals get to engage in what we call internationalisation at home - experiencing an international feeling without having to leave their area.

Having the ability to meet and socialise with international students and internationally-minded people gives them a taste of what others may take for granted after going on a mobility exchange: intercultural communication. Developing an awareness of other people’s cultures and backgrounds and actually being able to communicate with them as you would with any other human, is an extremely useful skill in our globalised world. So many people have different realities, and having that cultural awareness and lack of judgement will put them at ease around you, and make you easier to approach and talk to in the long run. We're sure you don’t need someone telling you that this is an extremely employable skill!

Photo by Mike Kilcoyne on Unsplash

One of the easiest ways to engage in internationalisation at home and intercultural communication is joining a buddy network. Many universities and sections in ESN organise such programmes, where a local student is matched with one or more incoming exchange or international students. They act as a support and a friendly face around campus. 

And, of course, another way is getting involved in your local section. You work in a team of like-minded internationally-focused people who care about the same thing: international students. Whether you want to organise events or be in chargeof the section’s social media pages, each role has its own important tasks, and each task helps these international students to understand their new home and feel integrated into the community. Indeed, you may even feel at times that you are forming your own community - a community of students who share the same values and ideals and  help others, all while having fun people focused on supporting mobility and international students, while having fun.

Never forget, ESN is built upon the phrase of ‘students helping students’. Without people volunteering their time and working in a section or any other position in ESN, our network would not be the same.

 

What ESN Can Give You On Exchange

Just as ESN is there for fostering internationalisation at home, it is also there for international students coming to a new country. As an international or exchange student, going to live in a new foreign country can be a pretty scary experience, especially if going alone. It is like the first year of university all over again, not knowing anyone. 

Luckily for all of these incoming students, ESN exists! By finding a local section and attending events, these students can meet new people and end up forming a network that experiences the exact same situation as them.

ESN is often described as a family away from home, and that is for good reason! Although you may be living in a new and unfamiliar place, surrounding yourself with people experiencing the same things as you, is only natural, and creates the safety bubble that most likely popped as soon as you crossed the border of the country you came from. Forming a family of exchange students is made all the easier thanks to ESN.

However, never forget that you should never entirely stay in an exchange bubble. There is always something positive to be achieved by integrating yourself into the local community, and creating social impact.  

Again, ESN makes this easier for you to do. Local students who are interested in engaging in an international environment at home tend to join ESN, and this is a great way to meet local people in your host country. In many cases, there are also events and activitiesplanned around trying to integrate international students into their local communities. Whether it is a project focusing on going into high schools and educating children on the benefits of intercultural awareness, or something as simple as getting involved in a local charity, there are endless opportunities for students to get involved in and integrate themselves in their community. Thanks to ESN, it is so much easier than before.

 

What You Can Learn From ESN

When travelling, we are challenging ourselves to survive and thrive in a new environment. Naturally, because of this, we develop a number of skills, soft and hard.

‘What do you mean by this?’ 

Well, before your exchange or ESN, how brave were you to travel solo? How brave were you to approach someone you don’t know and start a conversation? 

Engaging with ESN really pushes you outside your comfort zone. You are forced to learn quickly and effectively, as you are often juggling your responsibilities around studying, work, and other things going on in your life. You cannot spend a few days researching and planning out an event for your section, as you are not employed by your section and simply cannot afford to spend that much time. Because of this, you learn the skills of planning and efficiency.

You also develop a lot as a person, with your self-confidence growing. Going to events and interacting with international students on a regular basis pushes you to be able to approach people more easily, as well as making them feel like they can approach you. Doing this regularly and forging friendships with interculturally-minded people, helps you decide who you want to be, and how to present yourself. Introducing yourself on repeat does that to a person. This feeds into understanding who you are, and being in contact with all these different people can show you different outlooks on life, as well as many different paths you can take. It is often seen in ESN that ESNers end up taking a completely different career path. Having the opportunity to meet new people and try new things, gives you that opening to do so, and more often than not, you are shown that despite what you may be told in school or by family, there are ways to do the things you love while getting paid.

Finally, travelling solo. Getting involved in ESN will sometimes mean getting sent on international trips and events by your section where you won’t know anyone. Planning your trip by yourself, building up your confidence to actually do the travelling yourself, and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone to different countries you would never otherwise consider going to. 

ESN pushes you to travel alone, and in exchange gives you friends for life from all over the world. You may have the curiosity and urge to travel, but not feel safe enough or brave enough to go alone, and cannot find anyone to go with. ESN will provide you with the opportunities to travel and meet new people, in a safe and structured environment that will also provide you with opportunities to grow. The organisation really does foster intercultural curiosity, and by giving you the opportunity to be mobile and brave, it gives you something that nothing else could do. You become part of the Erasmus Generation.

 

Categories: 
Erasmus, Travels, Culture, Volunteering
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