Identity proof mobility. Reflection on identity change in the context of Erasmus mobility

Robin Laurène

Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”


Abstract:Theacademic essay presents the results of the analyses of the Erasmus mobility. The research is focus on the reflection on identity change in the context of Erasmus mobility.

Keywords:identity, mobility, Erasmus mobility.


Who are we? Who are we compared to others? How do we create what we are? How is one constructed as a person? What are the factors for identity creation? Are there any points of attachment to which we refer? Are our experiences creating our identity? The idea of identity is a recent concept in the human sciences. Identity, as we shall address it in this essay, is at the crossroads between psychology and sociology. If we decides to adopt this point of view, we can then consider that it is the psychic and social personality that ground, the individuals of our societies. Identity is taken at a turning point between individuality and community; Be it personal, national, local, etc. Thus, through this dialectic, we can assume that identity is not fixed and is a perpetual movement of actions on our psyche. If primary socialization shapes the personality of the individual from birth to the end of adolescence, by the acquisition of norms and values, secondary socialization involves a reconstruction of individual identity in relation to the choices establishes by the person throughout his own life. It is then conceivable that identity is a process in perpetual movement that is not defined at the beginning of life, but that it is acquired – and if it is acquired, it is in relation to a specific context that evolves.

Identity and in the context of Erasmus mobility

Once the child is born, it does not yet assimilate the social norms to which it is confronted. Thus, it seeks signifiers – such as family, groups, institutions, etc. – to which to refer to integrate in the society. To do so, the process of identification admits the idea of conscious and unconscious selection of what society tends to inculcate through a process of cultural inheritance. The individual selects and constructs his own vision of inheritance. The inheritance is not all that produces society; identity reflects the choices the individual faces. If the psychic plays a major role in the development of the person, we must not omit the fact that there is on the part of society a mechanism of transcendence and the shaping of individuals in what they are. Indeed, what we are, we are in relation to a specific context. This context is edited by our home group; which can be considered at the family, local, regional, national, etc. level. Thus, the identity of an individual, as explained previously, is seen in perpetual evolution, when there is interaction with other actors.

Since the beginning of the last century, with the phenomenon of globalization, the concepts of mobility and exchange have evolved to a new turning point. Globalization has destroyed traditional barriers and borders to make mobile what was then not mobile. Thus, this process of globalization has completely changed the way of understanding the world and opened the field of multiple possibilities, changing until the interactions between actors. What seemed far away, impassable, now is possible: mobility then appears in the daily life of the individual, whether daily, occasional or permanent?If, earlier, we said that the identity of an individual is established in a specific context, we can legitimately question the identity produced by an individual in a spatial movement.

As a consequence, the rise of globalization and the increase of trade, like any process, result in the production of effects; whether they are consistent or minimal in the daily lives of individuals. By this idea of effect, we can come to wonder what are the effects produced by globalization? What are the consequences of mobility? How does mobility affect the lives of individuals? Does this mobility act in the identity construction of a lambda individual? From this presupposition and through the example of the Erasmus student, we will see how mobility leads to identity changes. At first, we will discuss the arrival in the country of the Erasmus student and the social disorganization that he faces. Then, in a second step, we will see how the identity of the Erasmus student adapts to the host country. Finally, we will focus on the identity(ies) of post-mobility.

If university mobility is not a new phenomenon, as we can imagine, it is only at the end of the World War II that it undergoes a second strong impulse. Indeed, at that time, the mobility of young people within the European area is a priority for the authorities of the Union. As a result, they are multiplying the measures to promote it, seeing it as a real means of reinforcing the European sense of belonging while thinking about the idea of a privileged training experience. Nevertheless, there is in this positive measure of assistance to mobility and in work carried out transversally, a deficiency on the personal becoming of the individual in the face of this geographical and cultural change. The focus here is on the arrival of the Erasmus student in his host country for a given period.

Upon arrival in the country, the individual faces a loss of reference points, a kind of disorientation, compared to what he knows and what he faces. Indeed, the student Erasmus faces social rules different from those of his country of origin. The individual and collective heritage, which he has assimilated and legitimized in his way of being in the world, finds himself inoperative in this new context and thus destabilizes him in what he is. This destabilization confronts him with the idea that what seems natural and legitimate to us is, in fact, cultural and legitimate in a given context. Gabriel Weibl, in his article [1], presents a synthetic diagram of a concentric circle of identity construction (Appendix). By this, he defines identity as an aggregation of individual, local, regional, national and European identity. Nevertheless, he subsequently states that we must not see in this scheme a deterministic and definitive side. He thinks that this identity process is always built in parallel with the cultural, social, ethnic, religious, identity minority, etc.

Claude Levi-Strauss, in his book [2], develops this concept of natural fact and cultural fact. More generally, he exposes the idea that because cultures are diverse, the rules are also diverse, and so almost everything in man is diversity: food, clothing, attitudes Affectives, manners, etc., vary from one society to another. In parallel, Pierre Bourdieu will use the concept of habitus to define what seems to be of the order of the collective and individual cultural heritage. Although this notion was not invented by Bourdieu, the latter nevertheless redefined it to give it a central place in his work. Bourdieu defines it as: “the conditioning associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produces habitus, systems of dispositions that are durable and transposable, structure structured predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is to say as generating principles And organizers of practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their purpose without presupposing the conscious aiming of ends and the explicit mastery of the operations necessary to achieve them”[3]. Habit is a system of durable dispositions acquired by the individual during the process of socialization that generates and organizes the practices and representations of individuals and groups. The habitus is as much a principle of action as it produces schemas – a way of perceiving the world – in conformity with the social order. It is at the same time action and psyche. These schemas have been incorporated by the individual during his primary and secondary socialization in a more or less conscious way. In a synthetic way, habitus is the whole of the ways of doing, acting and thinking inscribed in a culture, by social and cultural conditioning, and which appear to us as self-evident – taking on a natural character, order of habit.

Thus, the cultural schemes that are inculcated, and appear to us as natural, are, in fact, valid in a given context. However, they do not, for the most part, reflect the rules of universality as stated by Levi-Strauss. Consequently, all these schemes, which produce the national, regional and local identity integrated by the Erasmus student, do not echo the host society. As a result, the individual is given a different posture from that identity and personality. which he previously held : he is a new stranger, as Simmel conceives it [4]. Indeed, for this sociologist, the foreigner is this individual who is not originally present within a group and thus possesses different characteristics. The foreigner’s position is limited to a circle spatially determined by the fact that he is not really part of this circle, in which he tries to introduce new habits but which are not recognized by the members of the group. Nevertheless, this one, through his first contact with the community, will play a role in it. The foreigner will become a particular element of the group because it can not be part of the community but is necessary to the functioning of the community by its external contributions – notably, according to Simmel, by its commodity relations – which can enable the group to Live and expand intellectually and spatially. The foreigner is close by his particular participation in the group and the similarities he can maintain with the community; Nevertheless, it remains distant and can even be perceived as a representative of its group of origin when it has few similarities with the host group. The stranger would be a particular social type taken from what Simmel calls a “collective individuality.” The individual would then be taken not as a full person but as a foreigner, a representative of culture as a whole.

To cope with change, the individual has no alternative but to reorganize his ways of being and his habits. It goes through a whole set of values that will play a role in restoring rules. Social disorganization goes through a cycle of transformation. The individual who is initially organized in his original environment will begin by disorganizing himself and then reorganizing himself.

If the foreigner, after his arrival, suffers a loss of benchmarks, leading to a more or less strong identity crisis depending on cultural differences, the second phase, as Thomas and Znaniecki put it in “The Polish peasant” is that of adaptation [5]. If the foreigner, as seen before, is different and knows himself to be different, he will nevertheless seek points in common with what is most universal among human beings, which tends to universality.

Indeed, the individual, in this phase, goes through a recognition of difference and recognition of diversity, and then comes to accept the difference. Paul Ricoeur, in De Carlo’s article [6] also reflects on the concept of recognition and the human condition. He thinks that the concept of recognition passes through the construction of the existence of self by the other, and then by the transfer, or investment, of the individual sphere towards the public sphere. We should first of all consider our construction of identity, the construction of our „self“ as the mirror of the other, the one that we do not know, the one that is different. Alterity, much studied in anthropology, exposes the differences that unite and divide individuals. Nevertheless, this difference once integrated into the psyche leads to recognition and, thus, adaptation. The point here is not to speak of integration as Znaniecki and Thomas intended to forget about the culture of origin in order to settle permanently in the host country, Adaptation – the Erasmus student settling in the country for a certain given period, and not definitively, translates a different perception and posture. As Tilly, in Carnine’s article [7], evokes, we can designate identities in terms of “social arrangements” which give rise to negotiations in social life and adhere with the case of the Erasmus student. In addition, these arrangements can be negotiated with several benchmarks and contexts. Maalouf, in the article of Julia Carnine, speaks of a dynamic: “Identity is not given once and for all, it is built and transformed throughout life.”[8]

By recognizing the differences he faced during this cultural shock, he then entered a transitional perspective: that of identity adaptation in relation to others. As Maddalena de Carlo and Laura Diamanti[9] explain it, the student in mobility aims at appropriating asystem of values in order to integrate them. The individual is immersed in a plurilingual and pluricultural space that requires him to acquire specific intercultural skills while enriching him from a sociocultural and personal point of view. In fact, communication appears to be essential in this intercultural relationship with which it is confronted. The communicative ability would thus make it possible to overcome this difference. Nevertheless, speaking a language, whether English – the universal language of communication – or any other language, may appear insufficient in the process of social integration.

According to De Carlo, it is not enough for the participant to have only language skills, but also general skills, such as know-how. In addition, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) explains that: “The communication activity of users / learners is not only affected by their knowledge, understanding and skills, but also by personal factors Related to their personality and characterized by the attitudes, motivations, values, beliefs, cognitive styles and personality types that constitute their identity” [10]. Thus, the skills that the Erasmus student implements to adapt leads to seeing the ambivalence about the process of integration and the individual identity process. This is why the construction of a new identity – adaptive identity – must be seen in parallel with the preponderant identity and the specific peculiarities of each individual.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand this identity dialectic which evolves incessantly during university mobility. This is why it is more probable to study in this third part the identity change of post-mobility and thus see the impacts that mobility on the identity of the student Erasmus in its plurality of forms and in its subjectivity. If the individual, as explained above, becomes aware of the present intercultural difference, then he becomes a potential candidate for mobility. Jean-Claude Kaufmann, in Gohard-Radenkovic and Veillette’s article[11], says in this sense that “Playing identity displays is an attempt to change the path”. Ego, through mental splitting, succeeds in provoking a lag with the determinations it carries within itself, the more the inventiveness becomes strong – the risks of explosion or implosion too – because it does not just change path: it engages on tracks less traced in advance. The Erasmus student will then be able to adapt more easily in future trips – whether academic or not. In fact, this temporary and transitory identity, which was previously accompanied by a cultural shock, will be assimilated as an obvious transition from the process of mobility. He will always have to play this tension between proximity and distance from the interculturality he is facing.

For all that, it is a whole potential of understanding identity that is put in place. Carnine tells us that “mobile students navigating between two (or more) countries and languages by creating new relationships, develop a potential to juggle with several identifications including that linking them to their nation of origin, Which can thus be transformed”. Indeed, from the devices set up by the institutional framework of mobility, which can impact sociability and the types of networks, such a transformation of identifications is possible. The transformation of the elements of belonging and identification would be part of the liberating practices of archaic conceptions and normative categories. In addition, it would simultaneously allow us to imagine new forms of identification not only to a nation but to multiple benchmarks creating unusual identity combinations, legitimizing the theory of “social identity” outlined by Simmel a century earlier. According to this protagonist, this theory is based on a cognitive basis because it indicates that the identity of an individual is based on a combination of belonging to different social categories. The Erasmus experience would thus appear to liberate forms of so-called archaic sociality.

Many studies carried out on this mobile experience of the Erasmus program show that the post-mobility individual thinks and lives differently; Mobility tends to multiple changes and personal evolution. These individuals understand the codes of lifestyle in an international environment with the feeling of belonging to an indistinct whole. They became aware of their specific national differences, their vision of Europe and their inclusion in larger geocultural ensembles. The Erasmus student, through his mobility, integrates better communication and interpersonal skills with better intercultural skills, more open-mindedness, tolerance and understanding, self-confidence, self-esteem and self- independence. The cosmopolitan individual is the result of the mobility experience. According to Weibl, cosmopolitism is defined as: „Cosmopolitanism is a moral egalitarianism and reciprocal recognition of the equal moral respect of every person. It is about cultivating intercultural competences so that an individual is able to deal with ethical frameworks different from one’s own; Is also a moral assumption that we have an obligation and responsibilities to other people”. Nevertheless, in his article, Vincenzo Cicchelli exposes the ambivalences with regard to the testimonies of these experiments: “the interviewees abandon themselves both to an enthusiastic eulogy and a sharp criticism of the cultures of reception … Some studies seem to confirm it, by showing the existence of negative reactions, even chauvinistic, or withdrawal into oneself”[12].


In this essay, we have seen that there is a certain difficulty and complexity, to understand how the individual operates an identity change through the Erasmus experience. If, at the beginning of his mobility, he experiences an important cultural shock, he will seek to adapt by finding references tending to universality. He finds himself in a stranger’s position, which remains difficult to erase. The individual makes great changes in order to integrate. However, it does not forget its culture of origin in this change of identity and rather it will build several identities around it. At the end of his mobility, the identity of the Erasmus student is changed even if it is not necessarily conscious. Some of the works exposed have shown us the ambivalence of returns from the point of view of identity. Some people will be more open-minded, more able to travel thereafter and adapt this transitory and cosmopolitan identity, others will find their home and will be less in the perspective of travelling. This ambivalence shows howdifficult it can be for the individual to face a culture and a country that is completely different from its presuppositions of reference and that it acts on its whole person; on its identity and personality.


[1] Weibl, G. (2015). Cosmopolitan identity and personal growth as an outcome of international student mobility at selected New Zealand, British and Czech universities, Journal of international Mobility, 1 (N° 3), pp. 31 – 44. DOI 10.3917/jim.001.0031.

[2] Levi-Strauss, C. (1949).Les structures élémentaires de laparenté. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, in-N 8, 639 p., [originalfrenchedition 1949][compterendu], A.Métais, Revue de l’histoire des religions  Année 1952  Volume 142,  Numéro 1,  pp. 112 – 118., Retrieved on 01.01.2017.

[3] Bourdieu, P.(1980).Lesenspratique. Paris: Edition de Minuit avec le concurs de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. [compterendu], Catherine Paradeise, Revue française de sociologie,  Année 1981,  Volume 22,  Numéro 4,  pp. 636 – 642,, Retrived on 10.01.2017.

[4] Simmel, G. (1908). Digressionsurl‘étranger, in Yves GRAFMEYER and Isaac JOSEPH (dir.) L’école de Chicago, naissance de l’écologieurbaine, Paris, Flamarion, „champs”, 2004, pp.53 – 59.

[5] Thomas, W., & F. Znaniecki (1918). The polishpeasant in Europe and America., Retrieved on 10.01.2017.

[6] De Carlo,  M. (2013). Réflexions sur unecompétencedifficile à cerner : le savoir-être. Tentative de déclinaison à la lumière du concept de reconnaissance“, Ela. Études de linguistiqueappliqué, 1 (N°169), pp. 93 – 107.

[7] Carnine, J. (2014). Mobilitéestudiantinefrançaise, le ”study abroad” américainetle ”liuxue” chinois: uneétudecomparativedesséjoursinternationauxautraversdesréseauxsociauxetdesidentificationsnationales. Sociologie. UniversitéToulouseleMirail – Toulouse II, Français.

[8]Maalouf, in the article of Julia Carnine; Carnine, J. (2014). Mobilitéestudiantinefrançaise, le ”study abroad” américainetle ”liuxue” chinois: uneétudecomparativedesséjoursinternationauxautraversdesréseauxsociauxetdesidentificationsnationales. Sociologie. UniversitéToulouseleMirail – Toulouse II, Français.

[9] De Carlo, M.&L. Diamanti (2013). Les vécusdesétudiants ERASMUS pendantleurséjour à l’étranger : unapprentissageexpérientiel, Ela. Études de linguistiqueappliquée, 1 (N°169), pp. 29 – 46.

[10] Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), Council of Europe, Language Policy Unit, Strasburg,, Retrieved on 01.01.2017.

[11] Gohard-Radenkovic, A.& J. Veillette(2015). Nouveaux espacesdans de nouvelleslogiquesmigratoires? Entre mobilitésetimmobilités des acteurs, Cahiers internationaux de sociolinguistique, 2 (N° 8), pp. 19 – 46.

[12] Cicchelli,  V. (2011). Les politiques de promotion des mobilitésjuvéniles en Europe, Informations socials, Politiques de lajeunesse en Europe, 3 (N° 165 – 166), pp. 38 – 45.

Сп. „Реторика и комуникации“, брой 27, март 2017 г.,

Rhetoric and Communications E-journal, Issue 27, March 2017,