In early 1996 one late evening the telephone rang. I was in bed but I clearly remember my son, a student at Manchester University, on the other end of the phone recounting the details of a visit to Manchester Town Hall with a group of European students.
He told me it had been an interesting and memorable evening and this group, some of whom were Erasmus students, had been introduced to Manchester’s lord mayor. My son was the only British student on the visit but the rest of the group were from exotic destinations across Europe … Norway, Finland, Greece, France, Italy and Germany. All places that would grace any travel bureau.
Waking up to the world on your doorstep
The lord mayor of Manchester enquired which countries the students came from. She teased them making out their places of birth were far from beautiful and fascinating. Finally she came to my son enquiring, “Where are you from?” My son replied “Bridlington”. “Oh my Goodness, my favourite place on Earth,” was her retort.
My son was utterly stunned but more so was the group of young continental Europeans around him. Suddenly he gained kudos. He had a group of 20 or so students clamouring for a weekend in this glorious place called Bridlington that the lord mayor of Manchester claimed was better than the Norwegian fjords, the Finnish lakes and the sun-kissed holiday destinations of Italy and Greece. On the telephone he told me that he would be bringing them home for a weekend.
It was on May Bank Holiday 1996 a group of international students arrived at our home just outside Bridlington to visit the lord mayor of Manchester’s favourite place on Earth.
The Erasmus ties that bind will outlast Brexit
So began a love affair between my son and daughter-in-law who was an Erasmus student from Italy that would not only enrich the life of my son but also the lives of our family and friends. What blessings this has brought to our somewhat insular and sheltered existence in the lord mayor of Manchester’s favourite place on Earth.
In 1998 our son went to Sicily for four months on a Leonardo Scholarship and our daughter-in-law returned to England on a Leonardo Scholarship working for the Yorkshire and Humberside Museum service in Leeds.
In 1999 for the first time in my life I was to fly and to be introduced to Italy and its wondrous language and culture and with my son’s marriage in 2000 we gained a delightful Italian family. The wedding in Sicily was an event worthy of a movie as only Italian weddings can be. One of those students on that Bridlington weekend turned to me at the end of the evening of celebration and said “Cathy I guess you never ever thought your life would turn out like this”.
More blessings were yet to come. I began learning Italian with a group of the most interesting British and Dutch friends and 20+ years later we still meet together on a weekly basis. We do only a little Italian these days but try to support one another as the ravages of old age and Brexit are beginning to impinge greatly on the friendly, fascinating sessions we have had over the years. Their support as they are all ardent Remainers living in a leave fortress has been greatly appreciated by me in particular.
The birth first in 2006 followed in 2008 of our two Erasmus grandchildren were events along with the births of our two British grandchildren that were to bring great happiness to our lives. The Erasmus babies both now bilingual have grown up with our other two delightful British grandchildren and the four of them have spent their school holidays together in the exotic town of Bridlington and the occasional holiday in Sicily. Now in their teens they still enjoy one another’s company and our holidays together are the highlights of their grandparents’ year and I hope theirs too.
What utter joy Erasmus has brought to our family. The transformation it has given to Roger and I living in the sleepy backwater of Bridlington has also spread to the 40 others who attended the wedding in Sicily. Everyone there will have vivid memories not only of an exotic evening overlooking the Med but of lost luggage and wedding outfits carefully chosen missing for the occasion. Fun and friendship that crosses international frontiers providing experiences one could never imagine is the immense value of the Erasmus experience.
Requiem for a dream
As an addendum my son and daughter-in-Law went with Catherine Bearder MEP and 20 Erasmus students to the European parliament in autumn 2016 following the referendum, to present a petition to keep Britain’s involvement in the Erasmus programme. Sadly, Erasmus for my two British grandchildren now in their late teens will not be part and parcel of their future. For my dual nationality grandchildren, Europe is still their oyster. This transforming experience is a huge incalculable loss to ordinary, far from wealthy, British families.