The EU was founded more than a quarter of a century ago. A considerable part of Europe has been connected economically, politically and culturally since. By means of the exchange program Erasmus Plus, the EU has enabled more than 4.5 Million students to spend one or more semester in a different country. Since the program pays your student fees and supports you financially throughout the whole Erasmus semester, studying abroad has become possible for students who would not have the financial means to study abroad without the EU’s financial aid. Studying abroad for a certain amount of time can be helpful to improve your language skills, to broaden your knowledge in your field of studies, to crash cultural borders, to test your limits and to develop your own personality. University of Cologne hosts more than 1000 international students each semester. But how do exchange students assess their stay in Cologne? What are their thoughts on Europe, the EU and their stay abroad? We talked to nine students from all over Europe about Europe, about studying abroad as well as about their own identity.

The first student we talked to is Tomasz. He was born in Poland, but after spending a considerable amount of time in the USA and in Italy, he feels at home in these two countries as well. Niels from the Netherlands also feels at home in Germany and in the Netherlands.

Tomasz: „I'd say my home country is Poland but not only. USA and Italy are also my home countries.“

Catarina from Portugal, David from Spain, Luka from Croatia, Bruce from Italy as well as Mary and Vincent from France feel more connected to their home countries than to the EU. All of them emphasize the fact that they also feel connected to the EU, yet not as much.

Eszter: “Right now, I feel at home in Hungary, but also in the UK, and I felt at home also in Spain during my first Erasmus and probably this feeling will come soon here in Germany, too, when I get closer to the people here.”

When we asked them what being a EU citizen means to them, their answers were quite different. For Tomasz, it mainly means not feeling illegal or excluded in any country. According to Eszter, all other EU citizens are her brothers and sisters because all countries share similar traditions and the same cultural heritage.

Niels: “In Europe, everything is so densely packed together that you will encounter different people with different traditions just a few kilometres away.”

For Bruce, the EU is like one big country without borders. Luka considers it a privilege to be a EU citizen, because this way it is possible to travel to other countries, to live and to work there as well. “I think that

Catarina: “I think being an European citizen means to not see borders in Europe.”

One argument on which the student agree less on is their feeling of identity. We asked them whether they felt more as a EU citizen or as a citizen of their home country. Tomasz and Catarina consider themselves more as EU citizens than as citizens of their home countries. When it comes to Vincent and Luka, their stay abroad has largely influenced the fact that they feel connected to the EU and that they identify is EU citizens.

Luka: “Now that I am in Germany and after I met so many people whit who I share many values and ideas, I feel more European than ever.”

Niels is proud to be dutch, but he considers himself as a EU citizen. In matters of Eszter, David and Bruce their feeling of being connected to their home country is more prominent, even though they value the EU and feel like being part of it.

Mary: “Since my childhood, I have seen myself as a citizen of Europe because as I have family all over the world, we usually go to visit them and spend our summer holidays with them.”

According to all the students, the fact that it is rather simple to travel from country to country in the EU is one of the biggest advantages of the European Union,  especially in terms of studying abroad. It is quite easy to move to a different country, there are hardly any challenges, and forming part of the EU has simplified their semesters abroad enormously.

But which are the biggest advantages of the European Union? Each student lists the easiness of traveling and the possibility of studying and working abroad. Tomasz loves the fact that all of the EU countries are bound to teach English at schools so that an international linguistic and cultural exchange becomes possible.

Bruce: “European Union does a lot for us, so remember tob e always grateful, because we’re really lucky to be European Citizens.”

The economic Union and collaboration of all the EU countries lead to more equality and less discrimination of minorities and/or smaller countries, at least according to Eszter and Vincent.

Vincent: “I'd say that the EU is fully beneficial for educated people (people who have access to higher education).”

Estzer, who is from Hungary, is thankful for the financial support the EU has given to her home country in the past and present. All of the students agree on the fact that the EU leads to more unity, equality and stability. Economic and political cooperation, cultural exchange and a common identity are reasons why they do not want to miss out on being part of the EU in future times.

David: “In a few words the EU makes things easier for citizens.”

Each of the students that we talked to comes from a different country. Each student was born into a different culture, has experienced different traditions and manners, each of them learned a different language. The teaching system and the economic system differ from country to country. Yet all of the students agree on the numerous advantages and chances the cooperation of numerous European countries offers to their citizens. Erasmus is not just an exchange program enabling students to study abroad to enrich their CVs. Erasmus also means the get-together of students from different cultural and social environments. It means being open to new stuff, it means tolerance and a strong, young generation valuing the EU for exactly what it is: A powerful institution (mostly) enriching and simplifying the lives of its inhabitants. The young students agree: This Union should be kept alive and fostered in the future.

By Theresa Althaus