University resumed through the course of September for a new year, meaning that it was also the start of Erasmus semesters for lots of students. The cross-border exchange is European wide and can take people from one hand of Europe to the other. Some students saw an opportunity to discover a whole new culture, sometimes experiencing a gap with their own. Andreea Culita, Mihaela Iskrova and Alistair McDonald are participants in the experience this semester.
Samuel Huntington wrote in his “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” in 1996, that the distinctions among people are no longer ideological, economic or political, but cultural. So, the differences experienced by people who study in a country other than their own are, nowadays, mostly based on culture.
The biggest gap that can be found in Europe is probably between the Western and the Eastern countries. And one of the reasons why lays in the fact that Eastern Slavic European countries were once part of the USSR. Alistair McDonald, a French student spending a semester in Warsaw, Poland, finds in particular that the social level is lower than in the West.
“What’s left of Communism is clearly visible, even if the centre of town was rebuilt,” he said. The student also affirmed that even though they are not poor, elder people dress very simply and soberly. “What struck me the most is the behaviour. Everyone is very discreet. People I study with rarely make eye contact and don’t speak much.”
The Eastern part of Europe is usually known to be less developed than its Western counterpart. Andreea, a Romanian studying in Scotland, said that infrastructures in her country are very poor and there is a lack of highways and paved roads. On another economic and more social aspect, opportunities for students are an example of advantages one can get while studying in the West. “In Romania, there is no such thing as student loan,” she said.
Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist using his field to talk about cultures and intercultural communications, mentions the range of factors that consist a culture. Among them are language, customs, values, manners, mind-set. In Alistair’s opinion concerning the latter, eastern countries are not as open minded as in the west. Equality being an important factor to look at, the LGBT community is still viewed quite negatively and migrants are not very welcome. On the other hand, racism can go the other way around and it seems prejudices die hard.
On that matter, Mihaela, a Bulgarian student living in Scotland as well, can testify as she personally experienced racist comments towards her. “A guy from work once told me to go back where I belong.” One last factor that is worth mentioning concerns behaviour. Both Mihaela and Andreea noticed, for example, that where they study, people are nice, polite and always helpful.