This article was originally published in Spanish on my own personal blog back on August 10th, 2013, as a way to tell my Erasmus experience studying and working abroad in Poland, and share some tips and recommendations for those college students who are interested in going abroad.
It has been over four years since I first published this article and I still get emails from time to time from students who are considering doing an Erasmus, asking for advice and recommendations.
Since I have been able to help these students over the past few years, I thought it would be a good idea to translate the information into English, for those of you who are considering studying abroad.
Disclaimer: This article was originally published based on my experience as an Erasmus student. For those of you who are not familiar with the term Erasmus, it is an exchange program financed by the European Commission in the form of grants which allows European college students to study in other European countries.
It has been, in my opinion, the best decision the European Government has ever made in its entire history. It has been so successful, that this year, in 2017, it celebrated its 30th birthday – and I hope it continues for many more years.
Anyway, even if you are not European, as long as you are considering the possibility of studying abroad, this article will help you figure some things out.
5 Ways To Take Advantage Of Your Erasmus Scholarship
Wroclaw University of Economics, Poland in December 2012
Meeting new people, traveling, learning a language, partying, studying… and working. This has been, in a nutshell, my experience as a (very lucky!) Erasmus student from September 2012 to February 2013 at the Wroclaw University of Economics in Wroclaw, Poland.
It has been an unforgettable experience. Although I decided to use part of my time doing an internship, and therefore I had less free time than the rest of my classmates, I feel very lucky that I was able to have this experience. Especially because, I not only came back home with all of my classes passed with flying colors, but I also came back with some interesting work experience (my first work experience, actually) on my resume.
Erasmus students tend to be very close to finishing their studies. This usually means that they are about to join the workforce. Back in 2013, things in Spain weren’t going so well in terms of employment. And sadly, they have barely improved. For that reason, many Spaniards have decided to go abroad to find the work opportunities they weren’t able to find at home.
Luckily, as a European, you can move freely across the EU without needing a visa, and using Erasmus as a way to get your foot in the door of your future employer is a very smart thing to do.
This is actually the best way to take full advantage of the opportunity you have been given. And trust me, there’s always time to travel and party, as long as you are able to organize your time correctly.
These are some of my tips to take full advantage of your Eramus (or your study abroad) experience:
1. Find post-grad opportunities
Although this is not my personal case, there are students who decide to extend their student life beyond their four-year degree. Especially in my field, MBAs are becoming the target of some criticism unless they are very (very) prestigious programs. A masters, or even a PhD is can be valuable on a resume, so it is always an option to consider.
Although I am not personally considering any of these options right out of college, if I had to do it, I would do it abroad. Not only because it adds an extra level of difficulty (another language) but it can help you create connections in your new country.
In this case, why not continue your post-grad education at your new university? Especially if you happened to land in a college with some level of prestige internationally. Take a look at their offer for masters and other post-grad programs, and also, their prices! Some European countries offer highly-subsidized (and therefore, very cheap) study programs.
2. Start your own business
Starting your own business should always be an option at any point of your life, wherever you happen to be living. I happened to meet some people who used their study abroad experience to experiment with different business ideas.
I personally know the case of two Portuguese students who created an event organization company (ehem, they threw parties). It all started in their dorm room in Wroclaw, Poland.
One day, they decided to throw a party in their dorm room, 424. About twenty people showed up and they all had a blast. They decided to do it again. And again. And again. About six parties later, the number of guests grew to over 400 and they were obviously not able to accommodate all of them in their tiny room.
Instead of cancelling the party, they decided to move the party from their room to a local club, and that’s how 424 PartyRoom was born. From what I can see on their Facebook page, four years later they are still organizing parties and it looks like they are doing tremendously well.
Another case of study abroad entrepreneurship is a friend of mine from California who spent a year studying in Barcelona, Spain. This guy was a DJ back in California, so he quickly got in touch with the local DJ community and was able to spin at clubs.
He decided to funnel these connections and access to all these clubs by creating a clothing brand with items he could sell at the parties he was organizing. That’s how LAUD was born. A business he decided to shut down, however, as soon as he left Spain.
And my last case of exchange students starting a business abroad, involves the first social network that ever existed in Spain: Tuenti. Tuenti.com was an early, Spanish-version of Facebook created by Zaryn Dentzel, an American college student doing his exchange program in Spain. Although the idea was born during his time in Spain, he actually started developing it while back in the USA before moving back to Spain, since the rest of his co-founders where Spanish. He eventually sold the company to Telefonica for about 70€ million.
3. Get your first job
The recession is still hurting many European countries. There are also other countries where finding a job related to your field of study is a lot easier than back home. If this applies to your particular case, I recommend keeping an eye out for future job opportunities in your new country of residence while your Erasmus lasts.
My own experience? At least back in 2013, there were plenty of great job opportunities for fresh grads in Poland. I actually have a handful of friends from my Erasmus group who went back to Poland to work at companies like Credit Suisse, Becton Dickinson, Airbus or IBM.
It might be your dream job, but more than likely it will be a job where you will learn basic professional skills, maybe get a recommendation letter or two, a few references, and something interesting to put on your resume.
One of the most surprising things I realized while living in Poland is that most of the local branches of international companies located in Poland are doing business with other European countries. That means, Polish is not crucial. Is it nice to have? Absolutely, but as long as you have a good level of English, you should be good to go.
4. Do an internship
Haven’t graduated yet? Haven’t been able to find a job yet? That’s OK. A good internship is always easier to get and, as I said before, can help you get your foot in the door of future employers.
During my first three weeks in Poland, I received emails from my new University sharing internship opportunities at local consulting companies and other big corporations like Credit Suisse. I ended up signing for an internship with one of these companies, and after my internship was done, I continued working remotely for them for another year.
This was actually my first encounter with remote work.
Obviously, one of the reasons why companies like to hire interns is because it is way cheaper (or free) for them to get interns over regular employees. We can all agree on that. But I also believe that if you know how to search for a good internship (not taking the first offer you get, asking a lot of questions during the interview, getting in touch with current interns/employees, etc.) you can almost assure the possibility of getting a full-time job after your internship period.
Keep in mind: training a new employee takes time and money. It should always be easier for a company to promote someone internally than hiring a stranger.
5. Make friends on Facebook, but also LinkedIn connections
If none of the above work, or you can’t find anything interesting, that’s OK. At least try to create a good network of professional contacts that can be helpful in the future.
You are in a very privileged position to do so:
- You are surrounded by other students from tens of different countries
- You all have the same educational background, and therefore,
- You all are likely to end up working in similar positions/industries
Outside the educational and professional world, one of the most important recommendations I can give you is: Travel. Travel often, and travel as much as you can. Meet people, party as much as you can, and do things that you would never do back home.
My final piece of advice? Just do it. I have never heard a single bad Erasmus story.