Erasmus+ students in Rome

There are many things that make studying at SIS special, but Erasmus+ is near the top of the list. When else would you get to visit the Colosseum and train with a blind football team in the same week?

Erasmus+ is one of a range of enrichment activities we offer to our students. It’s an EU program that enables young people from countries across Europe to work together on projects that build co-operation and understanding, helping them to become more active and connected citizens. Because it’s funded by the EU, it doesn’t cost the students anything to participate and it opens up a host of new experiences and opportunities.

Students in grades 8-10 join each two-year project. Every week they meet to work together on the chosen topic – currently this is climate change – and progress towards a week-long trip called a ‘mobility’ hosted by one of the six schools in the group throughout the two years. 

Jiyoon went on the mobility to Rome, Italy in February 2020, when she was in grade 10. She says, “The topic was tolerance, so we did a workshop about the Paralympics with athletes who are blind. This was a big takeaway from the trip, especially as I’m planning to study medicine in the future.”

Erasmus+ at SIS

Our energetic and dedicated Erasmus+  co-ordinators Anneli Thompson (MYP Drama) and Andrew Ioannou (MYP Design) plan and supervise the weekly topic work, fill in all the forms (as an EU program there’s lots of paperwork to wrestle with!), organise up to three mobilities a year and accompany the students when they go abroad. Coming from mixed cultural backgrounds of Sweden, Armenia and Lebanon, and Cyprus and Australia respectively, Anneli and Andrew are passionate about inspiring the next generation to become culturally aware global citizens.

“SIS Erasmus+ wouldn’t be anything without Mrs Anneli and Mr AI,” says Simona, who went on the mobility to Lippetal, Germany. “Through the three years I was in Erasmus+ I saw how they put in effort and time to make the classes productive yet still fun.” 

‘Team Sweden’

Like most SIS students, Jiyoon from South Korea and Simona from Estonia are globally mobile young people. What do our students get from taking part in Erasmus+ that they haven’t already experienced in their own lives?  

“What’s unique for our students is that most of them aren’t Swedish,” Anneli explains, “so while they are ‘Team Sweden’ they’re also representing their home nationality.” It’s a situation that provides lots of learning opportunities. For example, in Sweden, when you stay with a family it’s customary to give your host a gift, so through the program, students learn how to choose an appropriate thank you present for the families who host them in their homes for the week.

Because SIS is usually the only international school taking part, working with schools in other locations is eye-opening for our students. “Staying with a host family is one of the most enriching experiences of the whole program. They have the opportunity to experience other cultures that are extremely diverse, and often not as privileged,” says Andrew. And welcoming students from an international school can be eye-opening for host families too, as through their visitors they are exposed to life beyond their own community. 

Making friends and building confidence

One of the most important things Simona took away from her Erasmus+ experience was how to be understanding towards others, and other cultures. “It was interesting to see how easy it was to make close friends but how hard it is to say goodbye,” she recalls.

Jiyoon also became very close to her host family and new friends. “I learned that people can come together and build friendships even if they are not from the same culture or they do not speak the same language,” she says. “My host family had a very different lifestyle to mine, and some of the people in Rome did not speak English, yet I learned how such barriers don’t matter if people are willing to understand each other and build friendships.”

One of the most rewarding things about the program is seeing our students develop. Anneli recalls a quiet grade 8 girl who volunteered for Erasmus+ because she said she wanted to challenge herself to come out of her shell. “She really took on that challenge. When she joined us in Germany she was like a different person. She even presented to the entire audience of teams and host families – which was something she’d never done – and with growing confidence. I emailed her parents to say how blown away I was to see this completely different side to her.”

Pandemic impact

Although the pandemic hasn’t stopped Erasmus+ project work, it has stopped mobilities, sadly, which meant SIS missed out on hosting other schools last year. Anneli and Andrew admit that ‘digital mobilities’ bring challenges of their own, “when you try to do breakout rooms then find out that three out of the six schools don’t have laptops! It makes you realise that even though we’re all in Europe, we’re not all the same. Some of the students in our group haven’t even been in school, so we have been so fortunate in comparison.”

We’re all looking forward to travelling again when it’s safe to do so, and it’s hoped that ‘Team Sweden’ will be able to go on at least one mobility trip in the coming year. As Anneli says, “Seeing our students flourish is fantastic, they really represent SIS with flair.”

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