The ERASMUS Phenomenon - Symbol of a New European Generation? (Education Beyond Borders Studies in Educational and Academic Mobility and Migration)
Feyen, Benjamin and Krzaklewska, Ewa (eds.)
Peter Lang AG, Switzerland
The ERASMUS Phenomenon presents thirteen articles written by students who have previously experienced ERASMUS study abroad. The book is divided into three sections: first 'the ERASMUS policy' secondly 'the ERASMUS experience', and finally 'The ERASMUS identity'. The latter pulls the discussion together to specifically focuses on whether ERASMUS can establish a European identity.
One of the key themes occurring in most chapters is that 'European identity' is complex and not easy to define. However, the majority of the authors make a valiant effort in outlining what they consider to form this identity. Jennifer Striebeck's chapter succinctly describes how, for many Europeans, the European Union is an "elite club" that is distant from the life-worlds of Europeans. Instead, Striebeck argues for a public sphere to further build a European identity. Ulrike Klose's chapter provides a great assessment of how ERASMUS mobility is now aimed at skilling people to benefit the new knowledge economies, perhaps at the expense of developing a greater European identity.
The main reason I liked this book was that at no point did any author jump to the conclusion that mobility equalled greater European identity. Where authors drew on their primary research (for example Christof Van Mol), they carefully explore how their findings can be explained. Although each author carefully explores whether mobility can enable greater identification with Europe, the book leaves readers to form their own opinion as to whether ERASMUS mobility establishes a European identity, or just an international community of ERASMUS students. Upon completing the book, I returned to a fantastic passage in Larrisa Wood's chapter that had stayed with me throughout:
'...it could be argued that participation in ERASMUS can be considered active European citizenship within itself. However, as the "type" of participation is crucial to the concept, merely living and studying in a different country, or even partying, travelling and making friends with other international students, does not automatically determine someone an "active European citizen"' (p. 132).The only criticism I would offer is that the book's title was perhaps too narrow to fully reflect the detail included in some of the individual chapters. On the one hand, the book's central theme does concern itself with the extent of a European identity amongst ERASMUS students. On the other hand, some chapters focus their attention away from the question the book's title proposes. For example, Friedrich Hegerargues that structural barriers for mobility still exist. However, he does not relate his argument to whether these barriers suppress the possibility for a European identity. If a European identity can still be achieved, despite the barriers he outlines, does this not highlight a crucial issue that suggests European identity amongst ERASMUS students is only created by an elite group of young people? Similarly, whilst Ewa Krzaklewska presents some extremely interesting ideas on how international student mobility can illuminate wider thought into youth/adulthood transitions, this chapter does not fit easily within the book. This is by no means a criticism of the author's work - her use of the 'emerging adulthood' concept to categorise ERASMUS students is well developed. This chapter will certainly appeal to sociologists exploring youth transitions. However, I would have liked to have seen these chapters linking end back to the wider issues of European identity formation amongst ERASMUS students.
I could not review the whole book, since three chapters are written in German. Whilst some may take issue with this (i.e. the book being written in two languages), I, after much reflexive thought, saw no problem with this. It is perhaps a finding within itself that, as a native English speaker, I would assume that all academic publishing will and should be written in English. However, to indulge in such a view, in my opinion, would surely highlight that English has become a colonial language of higher education. In placing this view within the context of this book, I might suggest that if we are to develop a public space for building a European identity (as many of the authors advocate), further developing cultural integration (i.e. through publication) can aid this process. Coincidently, many contributors to the book suggest it is the cultural integration amongst ERASMUS students that can contribute to a heightened sense of being 'European'.
University of Surrey