“Enriching lives, opening minds”
The Erasmus network has a long history to look back at. It was founded in 1987 and Finland has been part of it since 1992. I cannot even recall a time when Xamk (or previously Kyamk or Mamk) would not have received or sent out exchange students in the Erasmus framework. Yet another painful sacrifice this pandemic has forced us to make.
There is a leaflet of the Erasmus+ program with the headline: “Enriching lives, opening minds”. It pretty much sums it up: Erasmus exchange is a win-win situation not only for students and receiving institutions, but also for the increasingly united and interconnected European community.
When people have the opportunity to meet others – to exchange ideas, and learn about each other’s culture – they often find similarities that create lasting bonds.
Friendship, solidarity, tolerance, self-confidence, adaptability, openness and mutual understanding are only a few examples of what can be gained through an Erasmus+ experience. It is often called a life changing experience. In fact, I can personally confirm this, as I myself came to Finland as an exchange student 20 years ago.
Diversity in the classroom
Erasmus exchange students enrich also the classrooms by providing new perspectives, different approaches and attitudes.
What I have realized with my roughly 15 years of teaching experience is, that even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think.
Not only is a culturally diverse group more creative and innovative, it is also a lot more fun to teach.
Study hard, party hard
Speaking about fun… Like stated above, the Erasmus program provides students with the life-changing experience of studying abroad.
However, while studying and gaining credits is the primary motive, getting to know people from all over the world and making friends is an essential part of the exchange.
And take it from someone who has been an exchange student: this means traveling and partying with your newly found friends.
Unfortunately, many Finnish universities had to find out the hard way, that receiving exchange students in the current pandemic might not have been the best idea.
Exchange student parties as Covid-19 clusters
Xamk´s decision to cancel all international exchanges was expected, as there have been several cases lately where Erasmus exchange students have been linked to a string of Coronavirus clusters.
In January 150 students attended a party at a bar in Jyväskylä, with more than 100 of them later being diagnosed with Covid-19 infections. The same happened in Helsinki in February, where at least 100 were exposed to or contracted coronavirus infections at a party. In Lappeenranta, infections appeared after a spa trip, with more than a dozen exchange students falling ill. In Tampere, at least 26 people became ill in an infection chain involving exchange students. And the list goes on. The latest outbreak in Turku has caused a serious spread of a mutated virus variant and took days to contain it with surveillance help of the police.
In light of these events, it is very likely that Xamk is not the only university putting Erasmus exchanges on hold for the rest of the year.
Luckily, we still have our international degree students to rely on for diversity. Only at the Kouvola campus, we have more than 100 foreign students from all around the world studying in the Digital International Business and Game Design programs.
Nevertheless, we need the Erasmus students back in our classrooms. One can only hope that international activities bewildered by Covid-19 will be back on track in 2022.
One thing is sure, in times of global interconnectedness and global challenges, more and deeper internationalization is the only way to go. Everything else would be a step backwards.