Erasmus is a 30 year old scheme funded by the EU to support the mobility of students around Europe. Erasmus is the chance to experience life and education in another country, while practicing your networking skills internationally. For pharmacy students, it’s a semester abroad in fourth year where we can complete our Masters’ research project.
I was introduced to the idea of studying abroad very early on in my university career at a pharmacy open day, which peaked my interest. We were given a detailed lecture in third year, showing us how the scheme works, how to apply and all the potential places we could travel to (there were quite a few). This was the perfect way to do what I love — travelling — while gaining a rich and worthwhile educational experience. One of the best decisions I made in the past was moving away to an international boarding school. The challenge of becoming more independent helped me settle into university earlier than most of my peers, who hadn’t had this opportunity. I therefore knew that pushing myself to live abroad alone for my Master’s was another great opportunity for personal and professional growth.
The requirements at my university were a 2:1 or above, and a short application process. I had to submit my CV and a maximum one-page document explaining why I was interested in applying to the Erasmus scheme. I had to rank a maximum of three universities from a long list that was provided. Within a month, I was contacted to discuss how to choose a project at the University of Helsinki in Finland, which was my first choice. I scrolled through the numerous research projects on offer and sent an email detailing who I was and my interest in their project.
I was accepted for a place in their research lab and everything was set. An added bonus was the £400 per month allowance from the Erasmus traineeship scheme.
Even though I like a challenge, I was suddenly apprehensive about leaving my friends at university. I would have to repeat the process of coming out of my library cocoon to make new friends. Nevertheless, I was open to building a new, more outgoing mindset.
I was working with the 3i Regeneration Project, where I was researching the role of Protein Kinase C on hypertrophy of HiPSC-cardiomyocytes. For this project I acquired multiple practical skills, such as culturing stem cells in an aseptic environment and professional lab conduct.
My project was very hands on and challenging but I loved every minute of it!
You’re probably wondering if there was even any time to explore — the answer is yes. The key is organisation, to be able to plan and conduct your project in an efficient manner to make time for socialising. Supervisors are usually understanding of Erasmus students and if there was something in particular that I wanted to do, I could request a day off, as long as I got my work done. I went on road trips across Finland, completed breath taking autumnal mountain hikes, visited St Petersburg in Russia, and of course explored Helsinki. There were also many other affordable opportunities to visit neighbouring countries and even Lapland with the Erasmus Student Network.
Erasmus is great for your CV, but the real advantage of a semester abroad is the connections you make. You become part of a global network of pharmacists that can have a real impact on the world. Putting yourself in the challenging position of living in an unfamiliar environment strengthens you as an individual. You make friends that will last a lifetime.
Getting used to another culture will increase your cultural awareness and enables you to become a more tolerant, understanding individual. Today, being culturally aware helps you to engage with people from different backgrounds. I grew more patient and aware of how I spoke when interacting with others whose first language was not English, which will undoubtedly help my future practice.
Studying abroad does have its negatives. The obvious one is missing home, especially during the first month, when you are getting accustomed to a foreign place, but there are so many opportunities to socialise with other students who are feeling the same way. The thought of making friends can be quite daunting but it is easier than you think and it will help you feel settled quickly.
Everything around you may seem completely different from home but remember that you have this wonderful time to be more than just a tourist. Perhaps you can go in search for that perfect coffee spot to write up that dissertation? Don’t forget to make the most of everyday as the time away goes by so quickly!
About the author:
Reesha Solanki is a fourth year pharmacy student at the University of East Anglia. She will be undertaking her preregistration year in an independent community pharmacy in London.