Are you interested in studying abroad or doing an international traineeship during your studies? Don’t miss this interview! We sat down to talk with Guna Ciekurzne, the coordinator of the Mobility Section of the International Relations Office of our university, and she was happy to share with us her advice regarding study exchanges and traineeships abroad.
Hello, Guna! Could you first tell us something about yourself? Who are you, where are you from, and how did you start working at the University CEU Cardenal Herrera?
My name is Guna Ciekurzne. I am from Latvia, but I have been living in Spain — Valencia specifically — for the past 13 years. I am the coordinator of the Mobility Section of our International Relations Office. I first started to work at the CEU San Pablo primary school as a language teacher, teaching German and English as extracurricular activities. There was a position open at the CEU UCH, and when the Human Resources Department contacted me, I moved here and first started in Admission Department at the International Relations Office.
At my position now I am happy that I get to use languages every day to communicate with students and our partner universities not only in Europe but also in other parts of the world. I studied German and English at the university, and I still dedicate my time to language studies: I first started as a 6-year-old, and I have never stopped! In fact, I speak eight languages: Latvian as my mother tongue, then Russian, German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and I started to learn Arabic just last year.
Although it is already a well-known exchange programme, would you mind explaining the basic idea of the Erasmus+ programme?
The Erasmus+ exchange programme for students consists of two parts: study exchanges and international traineeship programmes. The Erasmus+ study exchanges offer a student the opportunity to study abroad in Europe for a semester or a whole year in a university that has an institutional agreement with the student’s home university. The countries participating in this programme are all 28 European countries including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Turkey, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This year we also have added Russia to the destinations our students can choose .
The Erasmus+ traineeship programme offers scholarships for students to go abroad to get work experience. A great number of our students are already participating in this programme. The traineeships are available for all students who want to gain international work experience, and it offers the student a great opportunity to get prepared for the global job market.
We also have to mention academic and non academic staff mobility in the framework of Erasmus+ program, which offers our staff the chance to go an institution abroad, and we also receive staff from other universities.
What other exchange programmes are available for CEU UCH students?
We have also partnerships with non-European countries, for instance our KA107 exchange collaboration with Russia has been recently approved. This collaboration allows the mobility between our students and staff and our four Russian partner universities.
We also have the Iberoamerica Santander programme with South-American countries: we are really happy to offer this opportunity to our students, taking into account the advantage with the language. This year we are sending 10 students to South-America, which is amazing!
Furthermore, our students can apply for traineeships offered by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC) to work in Spanish embassies, consulates and representations of the Spanish government all over the world.
In addition, the students can choose to do their mandatory traineeship from their study programme, Practicum, abroad in companies on their field of study.
The students can participate as well in Voluntary traineeships. In this case the student chooses the company free from any frameworks: just an agreement between the company and our University is necessary. These traineeships do not have any financial support.
Also, we take part in SICUE, which is a national exchange program between Spanish universities: our students have the chance to do an exchange within Spain in those universities that have an interinstitutional agreement with us.
I think it is also important to mention that all these options are available to both our national and our international students!
In your opinion, why should a student do an exchange abroad? What are the advantages it offers?
The most important aspect is that international traineeships and exchange studies will open your mind to an international way of thinking. It will teach you independence, and, as mentioned, it gives you global work experience which can be helpful in your future job search.
Really, it will change your way of seeing life. Doing an exchange is a life changing experience in any student’s life! It gives you an understanding of different cultures, and you will make so many friends that you will have a home to stay in anywhere in the world when you travel. But we can’t expect the world to come to us, we need to go and embrace it ourselves.
How has the popularity of exchange programmes grown among CEU UCH students during the past years?
We have incremented the mobility in massive ways in recent years, especially when it comes to traineeships.
The interest our students show toward going abroad is growing each year, and now when they start their first year they are already interested in it. We could see it clearly this year during the Welcome Week University Fair where our stand was always swarming with interested students! It is definitely becoming more and more popular.
Still, the students do need some encouragement to go, and they always come back really appreciative of their experience.
Where do our national students like to go for their exchanges? And from which countries do we receive exchange students?
Our Spanish students are especially interested in Italy, France, Scandinavia, UK, and Germany, almost all European countries.
We receive most of our exchange students from Italy, France, Eastern European countries, and Scandinavia. We also have many students from South-America, especially from Mexico and Argentina.
How do you hope for the popularity of exchange programmes to grow at CEU UCH in the upcoming years?
I hope for it to increase even more, and I hope that the amount of interested students would increase in all of our faculties. I really hope that all the students would use this chance, as it is a great opportunity.
I think that every student should do at least one type of international exchange, either a study exchange or a traineeship. When you have experienced it once, going abroad becomes less scary, and you will be encouraged to go again. Many students are unaware that they are allowed to do more than one exchange during their studies.
When we have students coming back from their exchanges hungry for more, we at the mobility office know that we are doing the right thing!
Have there been any recent additions to the mobility options at CEU UCH?
We are proud to say that the National Erasmus+ Agency has approved our collaboration programme with Russia: we have partnered with four Russian universities for student and staff mobility in a programme that will last two years. This is a big step forward in exchange mobility for our university, as it is different from what we have had previously, and not all universities offer this kind of opportunity. We are opening to different parts of the world as Europe is getting smaller, and we really encourage our students to go and take this chance.
In addition, we have signed an agreement with a university in Hiroshima, Japan, which will be our step to Asia!
We are constantly working on other European Projects as well.
What are the usual requirements a student needs to meet in order to do an exchange abroad? Does everybody have a chance?
You can start your traineeship application process in two ways. Either your faculty will offer you contact details of companies abroad, or you can start an independent search. You can find a company you like, contact them yourself, and — after getting an approval — apply for the traineeship grant. We really encourage this proactive independent search, as this way the students can ensure that the job they apply for is something they like and enjoy doing.
An important note about the traineeships is that there are no necessary language requirements as, for instance, there are Spanish companies abroad that are often willing to take in students who only speak Spanish.
However, for study exchanges reaching a certain level of language competency is a must. Usually this means reaching either B1 or B2 level in the language of their studies in the destination.
For study exchanges a language exam is the first step in the application process. The student has to register for the exam online in the student intranet, and after passing it they will be approved for the selection process which will take around a year. So while the students cannot go abroad during their first year of studies, starting from the second year they can already start the process by doing the language exam, pass all the steps of the selection, and finally do their exchange during the following year of studies. Another important note is that signing up for this language test is required of everybody, even native speakers and those with a language diploma. In this case they will not do the test, but their language knowledge level will be recognized.
What are some important things to remember when planning an international exchange? Do you have any final advice for students who are thinking about going abroad?
First, it is a must to check with your faculty and your tutor that the traineeship placement is a good choice and that they approve of your destination.
With exchange studies you should always check with your coordinator before going that the credits you earn in your destination can be validated once you return.
As for advice… just go for it! You can expect to learn so much, live new experiences, share knowledge, make lots of friends, and go on adventures. A mobility abroad is not just mobility, it is so much more. You will learn to accept new ways of thinking and seeing the world, you might even change your own way of thinking: you will break free from your prejudices.
So open your mind, and enjoy the experience!