Undertaking a law degree and spending one year of it abroad studying at a foreign university is a challenge. But, the rewards are certainly worth the extra effort.
Writing from my own experience and those of several friends who have also studied abroad as part of their degree, I can say that spending a year studying in a foreign country was one of the most worthwhile choices I ever have made.
Most law degrees combined with an Erasmus year require some academic preparation in advance of studying abroad. This doesn’t necessarily mean extensive language tuition as some foreign universities study in English or provide Erasmus year programmes taught in English. However, for anyone undertaking an Erasmus year, study in the UK before departure provides ample preparation.
This preparation might be specialist law modules or just language and current affairs modules focused on the country of choice. Many of my friends undertook a combination of the two and no one seems to have fared any better or worse based on the format of the pre-Erasmus study.
The first few weeks abroad…
Academic preparation does not, however, make the initial move abroad any less daunting. The first few weeks (often alone) in a foreign country can be quite depressing and stressful. Foreign students often have a different attitude towards university and they aren’t quite as sociable in the first few weeks as students in the UK are during freshers’ week.
Administration is often much less well organised in foreign institutions and language barriers only add to the general confusion. Although, after the first few weeks things settle down, you meet people, you get to all of the right classes (well most at least) and you get used to the culture and lifestyle of the country you are studying in.
Foreign students, especially those studying English, are often keen to make English-speaking friends and so, before long, integrating with the foreign students becomes easier. Get through the first three weeks and the rest of the year will be fine.
The ups and downs of an Erasmus year…
Studying in a foreign language can be difficult and sometimes very frustrating, but if you put in the effort then you will soon notice an improvement in your ability to understand and communicate in a second language.
Even if you do an Erasmus year with no language prerequisite, the teaching and assessment styles in foreign institutions can be very different and they can take a while to get used to. For example, you’ll probably hear horror stories, such as oral exams where 100 people turn up at 8am and never being told what time they will be examined, with some waiting until 4pm.
The year can’t be judged on the basis of a single bad exam experience however; there is so much more to it. Some of my friends in Spain had apartment with a balcony, where they could sit and enjoy the sun all year round. Each location has its advantages and every Erasmus experience is different.
Better still, the UK government provides a grant to students undertaking an Erasmus year. In 2015/16, the basic grant was €250-300 a month. And, on top of this, most students usually receive a second instalment. In fact, on average over the past three years, UK students have received somewhere around €375 a month.
The Erasmus year's effect on your grades
Finally a major advantage of taking an Erasmus year is the opportunity to earn some really high marks. Quite often the conversion system for translating foreign marks into UK marks is favourable to UK students. As a result, Erasmus students often do very well compared to the local students and students back in the UK.
Studying in a foreign system also provides students with a different way to approach work. As Erasmus students have one extra year of study, the academic maturity acquired can often convert into better grades. Studying law with an Erasmus year is highly recommended and I do not know anyone who has done an Erasmus year that would not want to do it again if given the choice.