Since 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)