Apprentice Cosmopolitans : Social identity, community, and learning among ERASMUS exchange students

Sammanfattning: The present dissertation is an ethnographic study of the Erasmus Programme, the European Union’s student exchange programme. This programme has, for the last three decades, resulted in an unprecedented exchange of ideas and people within the European Union, and it has quite radically changed the conditions for, and the appearance of, student life in many European universities. Over the years the community has developed a distinctive lifestyle, replete with partying and travel, and is characterized by a strong social cohesion and exclusive ethos.  Empirically the study is a multi-local field study involving participant observation and interviews in two European capitals, namely Stockholm and Athens. Both present and former Erasmus students have been included in the study and were followed for an extended period of time. The study takes a close look at some of the experiential and social processes of the ‘Erasmus lifestyle’ and tries to understand them in the light of wider cultural and political processes such as the European unification process, cosmopolitanism, youth culture, and tourism. In the process it surveys part of the programme’s political history, local configuration, social dynamics, communication practices and global interfaces. According to the present thesis, the Erasmus Programme can be seen as a learning apprenticeship through which the young students gain entrance to and get valuable training in the reality of living in an increasingly interconnected world. The strong experiences engendered by the programme, both emotionally and cognitively, lead to a transformation in the student’s self-perception, social representations and social identity. For some students the programme leads to a drastic reconfiguring of their social networks and extant allegiances (e.g., towards their nation, culture), prompting them, after the end of their sojourn, to explore new venues in terms of career development, family life, and place of residence. Although the students do not seem to integrate with the host country to any significant degree, their extended experience of transnational mobility and their first-hand acquaintance with cultural diversity within the group encourages them to develop a more cosmopolitan outlook on the world and their place within it.

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