New article on Erasmus in Lisbon

While waiting for the posting of the next episode of Erasmus lives in Lisbon (very soon!), a new article in portuguese has been published in the brazilian journal “Antropolítica: Revista Contemporânia de Antropologia”. This is the abstract:

The ERASMUS Programme to study abroad is well known throughout Europe, involving about 250,000 exchange students traveling annually through 33 countries. The principles of cultural exchange, education in diversity and transnational mobility make it the banner program for the ideals of the European Union and has a high degree of popularity and consideration among politicians and common people. Moreover, the experiences of personal discovery, emancipation and openness to the cosmopolitanism of those students when they are abroad, constitute an essential “rite of passage” of a particular social group of youth characterized for embodying “Mobiliy Capital”. The “Erasmus”, considered always as a mixture between “student migration” and “youth tourism” are wondered or shocked when they first arrive to a country different than theirs. They adapt or reject their initial contexts and contacts, seeking for a new lives, to finally “discover themselves” in new places (and through new selves). Their Erasmus period is characterized by the transition processes of their lives towards new subjectivities, that are always defined by the strategies of distinction and differentiation of themselves in opposition to other young people in the new context. In this article we will present the life pathways and patterns of adaptation of six foreign students in Lisbon according to their narratives of youth mobility and urban adjustment.

Here you can find the full text article: “Becoming other person”: narratives of subjective transformation and processes of distinction among the young Erasmus students in Lisbon

Erasmus in Lisbon (¼): On student mobility, leisure and social class

In a previous post the first weeks after the arrival of Erasmus in Lisbon were examined, emphasizing the dimension of young consumption within the city. Now is time to introduce some general considerations to understand this population of exchange students and its central role as a driving force in the building and reconfiguration of Lisbon’s night-life.

First of all, who are these students and what mobility are they leading? The Erasmus Programme have been sending high education students through Europe for more than 25 years. The exchange students make medium-term stays (of 3 to 12 months) within a relatively homogeneous cultural area: the 28 members of European Union plus the former Yugoslavia, Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. Every stay is based in a bilateral agreement made between faculties which have as a backdrop a programme of equivalences and grants funded by the European Commission.


The Erasmus students seems to embody several contexts and situations explaining their decision to going abroad: social and familiar incentives and pressures to study in a prestigious foreign university, desire to travel and discovery distanced from personal environment, investment in learn English before the global stress to do it, and so on. Anyway, a great majority of them undertake a leisure-centered touristic travel motivated by the desire of new experiences.

In this sense, Erasmus students aren’t only students, they develop in their destinies a wide range of activities, relationships and roles, crossing repeatedly the former boundaries between study and work, tourism and migration, production and consumption. Moreover, they participate in local social movements, they find a partner or a job, they start a business, and often they return to the visited country from time to time.

The international students in general (not only Erasmus), belong broadly to a kind of “migratory elite” since their education and socioeconomic backgrounds are slightly above the average. In fact they are just the 2% of the world annual tertiary students, belonging to a minority inside the lucky minority who can reach the higher education in a very unequal world. Not for nothing the transnational experience of studying abroad aim to incorporate to these students the called as “mobility capital” coming from other “capitals”.


The case of Erasmus is surprisingly more restrictive: just the 1% of European tertiary students are enrolled in Erasmus, maybe because intra-European mobility is statistically irrelevant when compared with other regions of the world and also because the wealthy families use to send their sons and daughters to the United States or to England, not with the Erasmus programme.

Whatever the case may be the socioeconomic profiles of Erasmus students fluctuate between two main models. On the one hand we have the European youngers borned in elite cosmopolitan families where they learnt the pleasure of travel, the disposition to speak foreign languages and the respect and appreciation for the culture of different countries. On the other hand, there are many youngsters coming from the middle-classes (and even some ones from low-income families) attending the programme as a class-strategy of social mobility with a strong familiar or personal economic commitment.

Reading transnational mobility as a capital helps to understand these investment in education made by the middle-classes, the characteristics of international leisure of the young elites and also the phenomenon of the “immobility” among the low-income families. Additionally there is a class-based migratory strategy featured by the geographical proximity between countries and the differences in the price of living. In other words many of the Spanish Erasmus students in Lisbon could not afford an Erasmus in London.

Therefore, social class, familiar and personal strategies and the country of origin and destination of these mobile students will shape both the experience of mobility and the outcomes of these migratory movements over the urban space. But, what’s the socioeconomic background of Erasmus students in Lisbon?

Erasmus “Welcome Weeks” and the consumption of the city

CIMG0685Since the last week of August Lisbon has received a large amount of foreign students, most of them (approximately 3.500 for both semesters) belonging to the Erasmus Programme. During this time some organizations presumably devoted to help and guide the young foreign students in their first days in the city, organized several activities to get to know the particularities of Lisbon to them while creating that friendly atmosphere of socialization attributed to Erasmus students: Walking Tours, Barbecues, Surf Days, Drinking Contests, Trips to Sintra, Language Tandems and Parties. Lots of Parties. In fact, almost the totality of the activities are nightlife and alcohol-oriented. And happen always in the very same places.

If we put those Erasmus “Welcome Weeks” over a map they seem to be almost coincident with the nightscapes of tourist and local middle-class (and upper) groups of youngsters: starting the night very early in the Bairro Alto (filling bars otherwise empty) and then going to the pubs and discos sited on Santos and Cais do Sodré, party areas near the river Tejo. Thus, what’s the impact of those nightlife activities over the urban landscape, the changing local venues, and the transformation of the city? Clearly the Erasmus environment -initially guided by several organizations of students- contribute, together with other similar groups of young middle-class (and upper) individuals, to the nightlife specialization of some urban areas and their progressive elitization.

Certainly the importance of those highly-mobile, well-educated young individuals called “Erasmus” in the transformation of the city is well represented by their mainstream international-style patterns of consumption. However, several “alternative” students reject those lifestyles avoiding Erasmus and tourist environments and seeking for a real contact with the “local elements”. During my fieldwork in the last two weeks I talked to several students attending the “Welcome Weeks” that seems to be building up that kind of distinguished forms of identification: they are complaining about the “nonsense conversations” and the “stupid behaviors” of other students, and escaping from the “tourist prices and places”. Are they just less-income students or something more?



In the following months we will see how they behave and where will they go in some creative strategies of distinction: Are they harmless for the urbanization processes or maybe are they contributing to the transformation of the city as well?


For a previous study about “alternative” Erasmus and their “impact” to the city, see my article: Patrimonial revaluation processes in Alfama neighbourhood (Lisbon): the role of Erasmus students in city thematization (in Spanish)