The Netherlands, 1993

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My first experience within the Erasmus programme started in January 1991, with an ICP-meeting in Dublin, to which I had been invited by a Flemish colleague from Kortrijk (who will be better later on known as ‘Mother Europe’ in our area). It was the start of a network with institutions, most of them are still going on today, through mergers.

Our very small, newly created business school (150 students) could at once take profit of this network to build relationships with similar schools in (at that time a small) European Union.

So, we could start with this new type of experience : exchange students among institutions to allow them to learn another language and acquire new (life) experience. This was new and great !

For those students at that time, it really meant ‘ADVENTURE’ : how will I get there (no low cost flights yet) ? Where will I sleep (no accommodation facilities yet) ? Who will I meet and who will help me over there (no accommodation help, no buddy system) ? What kind of courses will I attend and how will they be recognised at my home institution? How will my lecturers accept these courses and evaluations ? Many and more of these questions did not refrain them from trying this new challenge.

I remember one student  from those early years, it was in 1993. She was a late candidate (she had to take exams again in August). She applied for an Erasmus grant at the end of August to leave early September to our partner university in the north-east of England. She had been in contact with an English Erasmus student who stayed at our institution during the spring semester the year before.

As there was a grant left over, we decided to send her out on Erasmus. She was our first Erasmus student going out to that Higher Education Institution and the course programme had been designed quite properly through previous personal contacts.

At that time, there was no WIFI, no Internet, no mobile phone, hardly a fax machine in our director’s office, if he was in. Application forms were not exchanged before the arrival of the student, nor any arrangement regarding accommodation.

We had been in touch with the Erasmus English student, who stayed with us the year before. She promised she would help our student and would look after her on arrival in the UK.

On the day (late evening) of her arrival, the English guest (who we would call today : her buddy) had been taken to hospital the day before for an emergency. No mobile, no internet, no text, no mail, … So, our student arrived at the railway station, as foreseen, and nobody was there to wait for her. She sat down and waited : no mobile, no text, no internet, just a phone number in the UK without any answer … She started crying and thought about getting back home.

When it was getting dark in the station, a young guy started looking at her. Who is he? Why is he looking at me? Can I trust him ? He was a friend of the English Erasmus student, who remembered of her arrival and asked him to pick up our Belgian student at the station and  bring her somewhere to sleep for the night. She went along with him and could rest for the night before meeting our English Erasmus student the next day in the hospital.

As our student related this story to me on her return to Belgium, this was the worst and the best experience she ever had : either she got back home (and there was a reason for it) or she stayed (and she had the best experience in her life). She stayed, passed all her exams (with great success) and went back the year after for a postgraduate degree (at the time that the fees were affordable).