“I now feel that I belong to a generation, the Erasmus generation”, asserts Kostis Giannidis, President of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). Kostis, originally from Crete, did his Erasmus at Durham University in the United Kingdom, therefore he particularly regrets that UK has not only left the EU but also the Erasmus+ programme.
Before he went abroad, while he was completing his studies at his home university in Greece, he heard from former Erasmus participants about the unique, transformative experience they had while participating in this EU programme. During his Erasmus stay, Kostis dived deeper into the British culture, met students from all over the world, gained new insights and thus became more open-minded, more empowered, more engaged and more tolerant of different opinions, cultures and ideas. In other words, he made the same unique experience he heard of. Finally, the Erasmus exchange inspired Kostis to be part of the EU Alumni Community and engage in ESN.
ESN is a pan-European student and alumni organisation that promotes mobility and supports students, mostly Erasmus+ programme beneficiaries. One of the most successful ESN-initiatives is the Buddy System, explains Kostis. ESN pairs one international student with one from the local community. The local "Buddy” shows the foreign student the city, guides them throughout the exchange while making sure the student benefits in the best way from the stay abroad. “This local student will become a sort of mentor but often also a friend for the other” explains Kostis. The Buddy System is one of the most impactful components of ESN, having created thousands of international friendships that last for years beyond the actual stay.
ESN goals are to support the experience of students during their exchange, “we know from previous studies that student networks like ESN boost the satisfaction of students during their mobility” explains Kostis. This is especially important for students who come from outside of Europe, “there ESN and different alumni networks are very helpful” as they contribute to the feeling that the EU and the programme they are participating in has benefitted them. “When they go back to their home countries, they will have a better experience of the European Union, and they will become cultural ambassadors”.
ESN connects the local with the global. Through its secretariat, consisting of 19 people working full-time professionally, ESN coordinates an extensive network worldwide engaging more than 15,000 volunteers in over 530 local associations. The local ESN chapters organise a variety of activities and events every week, supported by volunteer students exchange alumni. These comprise city tours (particularly for newly arrived students), cultural trips, or other leisure activities like pub quizzes. Engaging international students as volunteers for social purposes (e.g. in the work for refugees, elder people, or other persons in need) is another field of activities.
But what happens once an Erasmus student returns? “Usually, the people who have been abroad and had an exchange experience want to continue this when they go back to their country: they want to stay engaged with internationally minded young people”, confirms Kostis. “Our organisation is not only beneficial to students while they are abroad, but also allows them to continue the exchange experience after their return”, explains Kostis.
In the ESN community, youth find like-minded people who also studied and lived abroad and with whom they can therefore easily relate and share their stories. In that way, ESN offers international exchange students the possibility to become ambassadors of this mobility experience. Asked if the EU ALUMNI initiative could be beneficial to the work of ESN, Kostis is categoric: “Of course, the added value of the EU ALUMNI initiative is that it brings together alumni from many different programmes”.
Kostis particularly highlights that the EU ALUMNI initiative would create a single-entry platform where current and former ESN members worldwide could connect with other beneficiaries of EU programmes from all over the world. “For ESN, EU ALUMNI offers the possibility to support students before they come to Europe already. Our Alumni can send them information on how they can have an impactful exchange in Europe. I think that creating a bigger platform to connect all these people is a very important initiative!”
In that way, ESN and EU ALUMNI perfectly complement each other, both aiming at promoting and building trust and mutual understanding worldwide – valuable assets in a globalised world.
What is it?
The Erasmus Student Network was founded as an initiative by Erasmus alumni with the aim to support and develop student exchange contributing to a more mobile and flexible education environment. Ever since the beginning, the independent pan-European organisation works under the principle “Students Helping Students” offering services to 350,000 students yearly through the support of 19 persons working full-time in the ESN headquarters in Belgium and more than 15,000 active volunteers throughout Europe. Besides promoting student exchanges, ESN supports international students while they are abroad to integrate in the local communities and the culture of the country, as well as to facilitate their engagement with other international and local students.
When was it created?
Who can be part of ESN and how to become a member?
Current or former exchange programme beneficiaries, as well as internationally minded student and youth. In order to become an ESN member or volunteer, please read here.
Where is ESN present?
ESN consists of over 530 local associations in 42 countries and is active on three levels: local, national and international.
Why ESN is relevant for EU ALUMNI?
ESN provides services to students before they are going abroad, during their stay, and after their return in the reintegration process, when they become alumni. Click here to read more about the specific services.