'I met so many people it was like speed dating - we have gone from six students a year to 90'
Erasmus+ and us: Galway Technical Institute
Soccer students to Glasgow for coaching with Celtic legend, David Hay, fashion students to Tenerife, aspiring nurses off to Sweden to check out the health service... and the list goes on.
At Galway Technical Institute (GTI), a college of further education in the western capital, opportunities for study or work placement abroad are offered on about 75pc - and growing - of its post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses.
Recent school-leavers starting a one-year course in GTI this month will have their passports stamped before their course finishes, thanks to Erasmus+.
In seven short years since GTI deputy principal John McLoughlin went off to Prague to learn more about travel abroad opportunites, the college has grown to be the largest provider of Erasmus+ placements in the further education sector in Ireland.
It was a case of leading by example in 2010, when John applied, through Léargas, for funding under a forerunner to Erasmus+, the Leonardo da Vinci programme, to attend an introductory seminar in the Czech Republic.
"That kicked it off. I met so many people there, it was like speed dating," he says.
That year, GTI sent six business students on placement to northern Portugal. In 2011, it increased to 47 and, now, between 90-100 students go abroad every year, for between two and four weeks.
GTI has built Erasmus+ into its offering to students, and courses on which placements are available include business, fashion, elite soccer, health and therapy, IT and art in a range of countries, including Finland, Poland, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and the UK.
Getting an Erasmus+ placement is not automatic and students must apply and go through a competitive process. Some 12 of the recenty enrolled elite soccer class will head to Glasgow next month, in a link up with New College Lanarkshire, where they will be hosted by former Celtic player and manager David Hay, with a much anticipated visit to the hallowed grounds of Celtic Park thrown in.
GTI fashion students head to Tenerife in January to help with costumes for the Santa Cruz Mardi Gras festival, while the nursing studies students travel to Sweden in March.
It is not only the students at GTI who benefit from Erasmus+. Staff at the institute are encouraged to use the programme to pursue professional development opportunities abroad and, last year, 20 did so, on their own time.
As well as taking great advantage of the Erasmus+ KA1 programme, which facilitates travel by individual students and staff, the college also participates under the KA2 heading, and is involved in strategic partnerships with about 50 colleges in different countries. "That all kicked off in Prague too," says John McLoughlin.