STUDY AND TRAVEL: STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TOURISM IN MOBILITY
Erasmus is the most successful mobility initiative in the world, reaching an impressive figure of more than 200,000 students annually. Extant literature provides rich and interesting detail on the motivations, facilitators and obstacles to students’ mobility, revealing that tourism attributes of the host country and city are inherent to students’ decision, and those include the climate, accessibility, culture, and local attractions, complemented with other factors such as cost of living and the reputation of the university (Van Maele, Vassilicos, & Borghetti, 2016). Moreover, traveling while on mobility is an immanent part of students’ experience, granting them the invaluable opportunity of getting acquainted with the language, culture, history and traditions of the host country. Admittedly, traveling itself is recognized as one of the most important ways of developing international and cross-cultural perspectives (Lesjak, Juvan, Ineson, Yap, & Axelsson, 2015).
In this research we followed a combination of literature contributions on tourism destinations and students’ mobility, in particular works such as the one presented by Glover (2011), who highlighted the mutual influences and possible synergies between education and travel. The research has an exploratory nature, and aims to identify the relationships between student mobility and tourism destination attributes, considering the decision process, the experience of the student while on mobility, and their loyalty to the host region, namely their cooperation in promoting local attractions among family and friends, and the intention to return. Simultaneously, the research attempted to perceive if the tourism attributes of the host city, such as hospitality, nourish a sense of belonging within mobility students, as a community and individually.
We present qualitative results obtained from focus groups with Erasmus students from diverse countries inside and outside Europe, who spent at least one semester in the University of Aveiro, Portugal. The discussions explored students’ perceptions, experiences and practices before and during the mobility. Our results include evidence on how traveling opportunities are part of students’ mobility, as well as details on their tourist experiences in the host country. Overall, their tourist activities are shown as strong enhancers of the learning process while on mobility. In addition, traveling is also an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, namely peers or colleagues from the same country or home university, or other mobility students at the same host university, and therefore a strategy to cope with adjustments, anxiety and homesickness, fostering a higher degree of satisfaction with the mobility experience. In turn, the extended exposure to a different language and culture transform mobility students into ideal ambassadors of the host country, contributing quite significantly to the promotion of their mobility destinations.
 Glover, P. (2011). International students: Linking education and travel. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 28(2), 180-195.
 Lesjak, M., Juvan, E., Ineson, E., Yap, M., & Axelsson, E. (2015). Erasmus student motivation: Why and where to go? Higher Education, 70(5), 845–865.
 Van Maele, J., Vassilicos, B., & Borghetti, C. (2016). Mobile students’ appraisals of keys to a successful stay abroad experience: Hints from the IEREST project. Language and Intercultural Communication, 16(3), 384–401.