“Contacts last a lifetime”
Apprentices and trainees can also benefit from Europe’s Erasmus programme. Two of them talk about their work placement abroad.
Swapping Buxtehude in northern Germany for Vicenza in Italy and Berlin for Malta: during the course of their vocational training, Prattheepan Thavarajah and Julia Bülow went abroad for a few weeks and remember exactly how it felt to overcome language barriers and make new friends. Their experiences were made possible by the European exchange programme Erasmus +. When they hear the name Erasmus, many people first think of students – whom the programme has been enabling to spend time abroad for 35 years. This European Union programme is also open to apprentices and trainees, however.
A young baker heads off to Italy
Prattheepan Thavarajah has just finished his morning shift as a baker in a Hamburg café when he starts talking about the time he spent in Vicenza, Italy. Though it’s now four years since he first travelled to the northeast of Italy in the summer of 2018, he remembers it as if it were yesterday. At the time he was still an apprentice in Buxtehude, a small town close to Hamburg. He initially spent three weeks in Vicenza – but then had to return because he had exams coming up in Germany. “I had made a bet with my Italian colleagues that if I passed, they would have to come and visit our bakery,” recalls Thavarajah. He did indeed pass, and his colleagues from Italy did indeed visit the north of Germany, and he himself went back to Vicenza to spend another three months there in 2019.
Overcoming language barriers abroad
“Administrative specialist with language project” is the name of the vocational training course that Julia Bülow decided to take. So it was quite clear from the outset that she would also spend some time abroad during her training. However, switching from a Berlin district authority to a vocational school in Malta was no easy matter during the coronavirus pandemic. She was originally supposed to stay for five months, but in the end only a six-week stay was possible. And for this to happen at all, Bülow had to react quickly. “My teacher approached me at school and told me that Malta was no longer designated as a risk region – she advised me to start planning immediately and fly the next day,” she remembers. The weeks she spent in Malta turned out to be vital as far as her command of English was concerned. Although she had been learning specialist English vocabulary at her vocational school, her time in Malta taught the 21-year-old a very important lesson: “It was precisely these language barriers, and this fear of communicating with people I didn’t know in a foreign language, that I was able to overcome.” Thavarajah remembers the unusual ways he used to communicate: “We normally gesticulated with our hands and feet and would write numbers in flour.”
One programme for all
Thanks to the Erasmus+ funding, Bülow and Thavarajah were able to spend several weeks in Malta and Italy. The programme is designed to support Europe-wide cooperation in all educational sectors, with a total budget of around 26 billion euros available for this purpose from 2021 to 2027.
This gives apprentices and trainees the opportunity to do a work placement abroad. The Erasmus+ grant includes the costs of travel and subsistence – which generally means that most of the participant’s expenses will be covered. Another crucial advantage is that they continue to be paid by their employer at home while abroad.
For most participants, an Erasmus exchange means more than simply spending a few weeks abroad. One thing that remains is new friendships, for instance. “I am still in contact with my host mother,” recounts Tharavajah, explaining that when the Ahr valley in Germany was devastated by severe flooding in 2021, she got in touch to check that he was safe. “Such contacts last a lifetime,” he believes. He is keen to return to Vicenza soon. Bülow will be finishing her training in August 2022 and is then hoping to go abroad again. “I’m already looking for options.”