By- Claudia Quesito
In Italy, it is often debated how much Italians—as well as their fellow Europeans— actually feel European, meaning how much they feel part of something greater than their specific nation.
The European Union has been a reality for quite some time, and significant steps have made “feeling European” something very real. The Schengen Agreement, for instance, abolished passports and any kind of border controls among members (currently, 26 countries).
And take the Euro itself: First introduced in 2002, it is now the official currency of 19 out of 27 members of the European Union, and it makes truly easy to move around.
Nevertheless, feeling European is a more elusive feeling, one that is hard to quantify. While some countries have joined the European Union only in recent years (and they tend to consider this an achievement), Italians were among the founding members, so being European is taken for granted by many. There are undoubtedly a few things that help younger Italians to reinforce their European-ness.
First, there is the beloved Interrail, a relatively cheap rail pass available to European residents that allows unlimited travels within the 33 participating countries. For many people, it allows for their first “solo” trip (“solo” meaning parent-less), and by definition, it represents coming-of-age travel. It is, as a matter of fact, an affordable and powerful way to explore other cultures, languages, food, and lifestyles.
Another way to deeply immerse oneself in a foreign culture is the Erasmus Programme (now Erasmus+, but commonly referred to as Erasmus), a student exchange program that has achieved great success since its introduction. Many stories have been inspired by Erasmus experiences, even a movie, L’appartamento spagnolo.
Some people even talk about a generazione Erasmus to define those who have studied abroad, met people from all over Europe, and established meaningful relationships both at a personal and professional level. Maybe generazione is too strong (after all, it’s just a percentage of college students who va in Erasmus) but, as the European Union itself acknowledges, the cultural impact of this program is undeniable and has marked many life paths. Plus, you would be hard pressed to find a student who didn’t have the time of their life in Erasmus!