My tailor-made Erasmus visit to Cologne

Last year, I took my courage and embarked abroad on my own tailor-made Erasmus study visit to Cologne. Only did I have to tailor it myself. Yet this turned out to be the biggest learning outcome.

Library of the Academy of Media Arts Cologne with mediaeval mural of knights in armour

Library of the Academy of Media Arts Cologne with mediaeval mural of knights in armour

Erasmus is organised and funded by the European Union and quite well known for students and academic staff; there is also a programme for ‘Outgoing professional staff mobility programme’.

My field of work is cataloguing in an academic library; I needed to define my interests, present my idea to my line manager and Head of Department, and find a partner institution from our list. There are currently over 70 higher education institutions, from 24 EU countries plus Switzerland. The IOE has agreements with 12 colleges in Germany alone; our contact in Cologne is now the University of Cologne.

I was welcomed by the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, but ended up rushing around between six or eight libraries… exhausted and elated. Some places had agreements with the IOE, others participate in Erasmus but have other partners, yet others were just open for professional exchange.

The Three Magi, patron saints of Cologne: mediaeval image digitised at University of Cologne and sold as a Christmas postcard (Photograph: http://www.ub.uni-koeln.de/bibliothek/pub/postkarten/index_ger.html)
The Three Magi, patron saints of Cologne: mediaeval image digitised at University of Cologne and sold as a Christmas postcard

So I learnt a lot about indexing books, digitising images, arranging collaboration… but I also learnt how to organise a study programme, how to deliver reports using different media, and how to communicate fluently in a foreign language.

Well, in this case, it was my native language, but I still had to learn the professional terminology. Also, if you fancy going to Germany in an exchange, you will find enough colleagues with an excellent command of English, really rather disconcerting…

Everyone will benefit in a different way from a specialised Erasmus trip: Some will gain insights into procedures and workflows; others will make international contacts or set up actual collaboration; others will be motivated to develop their professional or linguistic competence – or motivate the colleagues abroad in turn! They will also promote London and the UCL Institute of Education.

Art and Museum Library (KMB), with a close-up view of Cologne Cathedral
Art and Museum Library (KMB), with a close-up view of Cologne Cathedral

I believe that an individually tailored Erasmus week, although the preparation and reporting back will take another two weeks or so out of your busy schedule, is a fruitful investment for any university professional at any stage in their career, and therefore for their departments.

You will receive the flight ticket and be reimbursed for any expenses (the food in Germany is really rather seductive). Just approach people – all colleagues abroad were very welcoming and obliging. I did not want to impose upon any individuals or institutions and crammed much too much into my week. My top tips would be:

  • Be very well-organised and ask your chosen partner institution for support in setting up contacts and a work plan.
  • Be very specific in your requests so that you get a chance to talk to precisely the right people about precisely the right issues.
  • Leave some time in between your dates: for emerging opportunities, for commuting and breaks, for socializing and culture… and for enjoying the city itself.

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