Europe has been a top sought-after destination for both travel and studies for centuries. So what if anyone could study and travel across different European countries at the same time? Erasmus Mundus, or Erasmus+ scholarship provides this lucrative opportunity for international students and many other facilities, such as one of the highest study allowances in the world: a monthly allowance of 1,000 euros for living expenses, a one-time travel allowance of 1,000 euros, 6,000 euros of installation allowance, and even the health insurance fees are fully covered. Since 1987, thousands of students from foreign countries have travelled to study in Europe under this scholarship, and Bangladeshi students are no strangers to it. This author contacted two Bangladeshi Erasmus students to learn about their experiences and get advice for future applicants.
Inspiration for Erasmus: When asked about inspiration, Dr M Sadman Sakib, who completed the Erasmus programme back in 2016 and is currently a scientist at Evotec SE in Germany, replies that he was interested in this programme because of the opportunity to study at prestigious universities.
"Coming from a life science background, performing advanced scientific research abroad using cutting-edge technology was always my target. When I was inspired by a senior who completed a master's under an Erasmus Mundus scholarship back then, I saw this programme called, Neurasmus, an EM programme focusing on neuroscience, brain functions, and diseases, which was quite relevant to my life science background."
Another scholar, Mashrur Sakib Choyon, who is currently studying master's in Smart Systems Integrated Solutions (SSIs) at the University of South-Eastern Norway, said that his inspiration was to thrive for a better future, "From the start of my BSc in EEE at AIUB, I wanted to make a significant impact in the research sector of electronics engineering by inventing something that would be highly beneficial for humanity. As the job prospects for electrical and electronics engineers in Bangladesh are poor, I looked out for a fully-funded scholarship abroad. This is how I learnt about the Erasmus scholarship at the end of my freshman year, so I started to prepare with encouragement from my elder brother. I found the Smart Systems Integrated Solutions (SSIs) programme to be quite aligned with my skills, profile, interests, and goals."
Requirements to apply: Since the Erasmus programmes, subjects, and participating European universities are quite diverse, they usually set their own requirements in terms of the whole application package (e.g. required documents, English language test score levels, etc.). A good CGPA to prove academic excellence, job experience, research or project work experience, skills in relevant software or technology, English language proficiency, etc. are considered by the coordinating committee of the Erasmus programmes. For English language proficiency, it is often required to have a minimum IELTS overall band score of 6.5. Any award or extracurricular activities also give a good impression on a candidate's profile. Apart from all these, the motivation letter and the letter of recommendation also play a crucial role in the application. Among the applications received from all over the world, the committee filters out top candidates with overall balanced profiles for the scholarship.
Do applicants require job or research experience: The Erasmus Mundus programme doesn't formally require job or research experience to be eligible, but those certainly give an upper hand.
Sadman Sakib says, "Since the second year of my bachelor's at Dhaka University, I have worked on several research projects focusing on in silico vaccine design against the Chikungunya and Nipah viruses during 2011-2014. I was already a co-author on three research articles published in scientific journals while finishing my 4th-year bachelor's degree. Although one cannot guarantee, having scientific publications or at least some research experience during their bachelor's strongly supports an EM scholarship application."
Unique experience of Erasmus programme: The Erasmus programme requires students to study different semesters in different European countries, thus granting them a joint international master's degree upon completion. What was the experience of Bangladeshi scholars? Mashrur's experience was diverse. "We get to know and adapt to different countries every semester, which is truly amazing and helps to develop oneself as a true 'global citizen'. We also have to take a language course in every new country we move to for our SSIs programme, which helps us get adjusted to the new society and culture more. For our SSIs programme, we must carry out our study in different semesters at 'Aalto University' in Finland, 'The University of South-Eastern Norway' in Norway, and 'Budapest University of Technology and Economics in Hungary. Quite naturally, every new country gives a new unique experience to its different cities, natural beauty, landmarks, society, and people." Sadman Sakib chose to have less mobility: "I studied in Germany for one year first, then went to France for one semester ( four months), then came back to Germany to do my master's thesis work for six months within my second-year EM master's programme. Since it is quite a challenge to apply for long-term visas, manage accommodations, relocate to a new country, and so on, I tried to keep my mobility as minimal as possible. It might sound exciting to study in different countries every semester (if one chooses to do so), but one must be realistic and understand all the hurdles that come with it." Mashrur explained the same disadvantage too, "We never really get to settle down anywhere during our entire master's study for a long period. As soon as we get used to the environment and lifestyle of one country, we have to move again to a different location in a different country and make a new 'home' for another new semester. Nonetheless, I think it's all worth it to go through these challenges and have this unique experience."
Vital aspects of the application process: In both scholars' opinions, the statement of purpose plays an important role in the application process. It creates the first impression of the candidate in the committee's mind, whether they will further go through the candidate's profile or not. Sadman suggests that all avoid plagiarism. He says, "Create a story for yourself, focusing more on your academic-scientific background, and why you are the best candidate for this programme. Then, one could structure the statement of purpose as follows: begin with a short introduction; explain how your previous studies are relevant to this programme; describe your key academic achievements; describe your research experiences; describe your knowledge about this programme and the heritage of the participating European universities in that EM programme; describe a short plan for what you would do after finishing the EM programme, etc. The bottom line is, use the statement of purpose to frame yourself as the best candidate to the scholarship granting authority so that they could select you for the next steps (e.g. personal interviews)."
Final advice for future applicants: Mashrur says, "I always believed that consistency and hard work to reach the goal bring fruitful outcomes. I think the candidates who wish to apply for any scholarship, whether it's an Erasmus Scholarship or not, should really look for the perfect study programme that aligns with the background or skills the candidate possesses. Documents like a CV, Letter of Motivation, and Letter of Recommendation should be well-written and organised. The candidates should always try to present a balanced profile."
Start building up your research experience from your freshman year and gather other necessary documents. Get your statement of purpose checked by an expert before submitting it if you can. If someone could sacrifice a few years of their youth during the bachelor's degree by focusing on research activities and studies, an EM scholarship would be comparatively easier to attain. All the best for the application!"