By Kate Dy, Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate on Globalisation, Europe & Multiculturalism
I’ve been a scholar of some shape or form my entire life and I would like to think that I handle paperwork, bureaucracy, and ensuing stress quite well, but nothing quite prepared me for the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate program in Italy. If I sound weary, please don’t chalk it up to years of research, it’s actually only my first month here in Rome. But I have learned a lot through the on-going process, and this may be of help for anyone who’s in the same spot.
I would just want to put it out there that you shouldn’t be discouraged from applying to the EMJD GEM program because of the tons and tons of work you’ll have to do even before being able to do your research. Rather, take a deep breath and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel— or so I heard. No one has actually finished their EMJD GEM program as of writing this, so that may be just hearsay. That said, never allow anyone to tell you to be grateful for a scholarship and just shut up. The Erasmus Mundus programs choose their students because of merit and not because of poverty or pity or charity. We are allowed to have the same expectation of excellence from our hosts.
Unlike the Erasmus Mundus MOVER or EMMA programs, EMJDs are handled very differently. The main points of variance are that we are under employment contracts and that we’re pretty much thrown into the deep end of bureaucracy to fend for ourselves. While it’s true that PhD students are supposedly older and more mature, this doesn’t mean we automatically imbibe the knowledge of the ins and outs of Italian bureaucracy from the air!
If you suddenly find yourself as an EMJD scholar in Italy, or if you’re looking to be one, be sure to be prepared mentally, financially, and emotionally.
Before leaving your home country:
- Sign all the documents! No, seriously, double check all your contracts and sign everything required otherwise you may find yourself being penalized for technicality. In particular, for the EMJD program there will be four things to affix your signature to:
- A letter of acceptance, which you type, scan, and send yourself
- The EMJD GEM contract
- The Travel and Installation Fund (T&I Fund) contract. EMJD students are given 7500€ and the contract states that this is all our travel funding for the next three years and that we waive any further monetary requests
- Your university employment contract (which may be signed when you arrive)
- Find a place to stay in your host country. Often, such as in my case, universities don’t consider PhD students as “real” students and as such dormitories are unavailable. Sometimes universities have dedicated housing services that you make take advantage of, such as CasaLUISS in my case, but if not, ask around! Senior Erasmus Mundus people both Filipino and foreign are very friendly and you may even score a roomie.
- Book a plane ticket. You need this for your visa application. There is a dedicated Erasmus Mundus travel agency, but don’t rely on them too much— first of all, they rarely reply, and second, they don’t care about the best price and may take a larger chunk out of your T&I Fund than you would have wanted to spend.
- Get that visa.
- Make sure the embassy that issued your visa stamps everything. You will need it later on for your permesso di soggiorno (if in Italy) or the equivalent permit to say anywhere else. The embassy should give you the documents without you asking, but if they don’t, insist. I was not aware of this, and left Manila with nothing from the embassy then arrived in Rome to find all my fellow scholars with their respective stamped documents.
- If required, have the DFA authenticate all relevant documents (mainly school transcripts). Have all these documents translated into the language of your host country. Have these authenticated by the embassy. In the case of the Italian embassy, all of these are necessary and these processes are quite expensive and time-consuming. Be sure to allocate enough time and money, and bring good books–you’re in for a long wait.
- Pack everything but keep within the luggage limit! All Europe-bound carriers are rather strict. Come to think of it, all airlines are now rather strict.
- Photocopy everything you have. I mean everything. Have 1×1, 2×2, and passport size photos made. At least eight of each. Print out photos of family and friends as well, for your new home.
- Make sure you have enough money to survive for two months in your home country. If there’s space in your luggage, bring food as well. Instant noodles will tide you over the worst days.
- Say goodbye to Jollibee.
Upon arriving at your host country, in this case, Italy:
- Find your way to your home and avoid getting cheated by the cab driver. If you don’t have a home yet, find a place ASAP. Remember that September is the influx month for new students from all over the country and the world, so competition will be fierce.
- Inform your local contact point and your supervisor and the Central Executive Committee of your program and your course representatives and your embassy that you have arrived safely. Oh, and your family of course!
- Buy a SIM card and bus card. WIND is a good provider, for 10€ a month you can have 400 minutes of calls, 400 SMS, and unlimited internet. This is pre-paid, so don’t forget to load up. Also find your closest groceries, bus stop, police station, emergency room, wet market, garbage bin, and so on.
- Open a bank account immediately, so as to receive your salary as soon as possible. But don’t expect anything before two months. Seriously. Don’t. For EMJD GEM students, UniCredit is your best bet as it’s the bank the school uses so there are fewer delays with your stipend.
- Apply for your Permesso di Soggiorno. Ask your university for help, but if they are unable to help due to bureaucratic matters, suck it up and fend for yourself.
- Apply for your Tessera Sanitaria. As employees who are taxed more than 50% of our income, EMJD students have the right to the national health service. EMJD GEM students have a declared income of 2800€, but what we end up receiving monthly is around 1500€, and even less during December. Be prepared to devote two weeks to this process, more if you have specific medical concerns like diabetes or if you have your family in Italy with you.
- Apply for a Carta d’Identita. This is basically a redundant identification document. Despair at the sheer amount of paperwork!
- And when this is all over, or whenever you need a break, be a tourist. Bureaucracy can sap the life out of the best of us, and believe me when I say the Italian system is one of the worst I’ve ever experienced in the world. You really don’t have much leeway either, as if you don’t put on a brave face and handle all the official things you may end up facing worse complications. That said, Rome is beautiful and travel around Europe is cheap so once you’re all settled and legal, go for it.
[Admin’s note: While the views expressed in this post are the author’s own, I agree with the two-month rule on money when dealing with the Italians, having experienced it first-hand. Always have a contingency plan!]