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Published: 2019-02-08

Open doors to Europe

FEATURE Thanks to Erasmus+, Umeå University students have good chances to study a term in another European country. Alexandra Sandström and Christian Esselin — are two of the students that have grasped the chance to see more of the world. Both of them chose rather unusual countries to study in. But why is it remarkably more popular to travel from Europe to Umeå for your exchange than from Umeå to Europe?

The European exchange programme Erasmus recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Nowadays, it goes under the name Erasmus+. Since its start, the process of travelling on an exchange has been simplified and exchange agreements with other universities have multiplied.

Heidi Hansson is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of education and internationalisation. For her, studying abroad is of great importance to both the individual student and the University in general.

"The first benefit is the new perspective. When completing your studies, you can't have gone through with blinders on and only have one dimension to your training. You need to have seen more of the world and look at your training from various aspects," she says with determination.

"There are various way to achieve that. But one pleasant way is by travelling."
For the University, the positive effects are noticed more gradually," says Heidi Hansson.

"In the long term, this changes our culture of educating students, both by integrating the international perspectives that students bring in and through the process of what happens when students travel out and then come back."

Western Europe most popular

Over half chose an exchange in an English, French or Spanish speaking country

Per Nilsson is an international strategist at Umeå University's International Office. He has long followed the development and sees evident differences between student generations.

"The students who have now started studying at Swedish institutions of higher education were primarily born around the turn of the millennium. In general, they seem to have a much lower interest in Erasmus exchanges compared to those born in the 1970s."

In the Umeå University overall statistics of exchange students, there are currently three incoming exchange students for every outgoing one. Per Nilsson does not see any easy solution to breaking this trend and increase students travelling.

"From a Swedish perspective, I think it will be difficult to increase the number of outgoing students studying at least 90 days abroad, which is the prerequisite for Erasmus+. A certain level of increase is possible, but trebling the number would be hard," says Per Nilsson. "Although, we see an increased interest in internships abroad."

Who was Erasmus?

Desiderius Erasmus, also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch humanist who lived 1469–1536.

Heidi Hansson lays out a wider perspective on the issue, and suggests that Sweden has long had too much focus on programmes.

"The main focus has been for everyone to take a degree programme, complete your degree and get a job. Based on that, exchanges not always deemed important."

Some claim that it can be difficult to receive credits for your Erasmus exchanges in their Swedish education. But Heidi Hansson contradicts this strongly.

"I claim that's a myth. It's so rare."

Christian Esselin

studies Business Administration and Economics with an international specialisation

What made you study in Croatia?
I'd heard good things about Croatia in general, what a beautiful country it was and its comfortable climate. And when I decided to train for an Iron Man, I thought Croatia would be an optimal place.

What did you study in Zagreb?
I studied at Zagreb School of Economics and Management. It was a very small and cosy university. Teachers had good English and you could get plenty of help and support should you need it.

What benefits do you see from studies abroad?
It's great to experience these cultural differences, meeting people who may say "Why would you think that? That's not how we think. We see it in this way instead ..."

Alexandra Sandström

studies Public Administration

Where did you spend your exchange term?
I spent it in Istanbul, Turkey, at Sabancı University. When I was scouting for places to go, this was the most different one. Istanbul is a cool city with lots of history. Since I'm studying public administration and have a vested interest in politics, I thought Turkey was particularly inspiring due to the political situation.

Are you pleased with your stay in Turkey?
It was incredibly rewarding. Particularly socialising with my fellow exchange students. I grew particularly close to students from Spain, Hong Kong and Singapore. And there's so much to see and do in Turkey. It's a country with many sides to it.


Erasmus+ is the EU programme for inter­national cooperation and exchange. Higher education is one of the fields. Students are provided an oppor­tunity to study and practise in another European country, and teachers and staff are offered a chance of skills enhancement and exchanging experiences with col­leagues in other coun­tries. There is also a section for studies and practise in countries outside of the EU.

Sources: ec.europa.eu and Wikipedia

Text: Jonas Lidström
Translation: Anna Lawrence
Photos: Mattias Pettersson
Map: FreeVectorMaps.com
Outgoing exchange students from Umeå University in the exchange programme Erasmus+ over the last three academic years, categorised according to destination (academic year 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18).

This article was first published in the magazine Think no. 1 2019.