«It helped me grow as a person»

Studying in Spain as a wheelchair user with Erasmus+
Reading time: 5 min.

Inclusion and diversity are two of the transversal priorities of the Erasmus+ programme. The National Agency supports these goals with a range of measures, for example to enable students with disabilities to spend time abroad. One of these students is Lukas Gloßner from TH Ingolstadt. In this interview, the wheelchair basketball player talks about his time in Bilbao and explains why the semester abroad was so rewarding in spite of all the challenges. 

Picture of Lukas Gloßner in jeans and hoody in a wheelchair in front of the lettering Bilbao in the foreground in front of the panorama of Bilbao in the background
© Lukas Gloßner

Briefly considered, carefully planned

What were your reasons for going to Bilbao with Erasmus+?

I started studying in 2019, so that meant I had one normal semester and then only semesters in lockdown. Everything took place online. Then in my fifth semester, I found out through Instagram stories that a lot of my fellow students were spending a semester abroad, and I realised I’d kind of missed out a bit because of Covid. That’s when I made the decision to go away in my seventh semester. This was how it all started. So I started looking at possible options and where I could go. 

I also play wheelchair basketball at a high level, so I wanted to be sure I’d be able to continue my training abroad. I looked for suitable countries, ones that had a good league and good teams that might also offer me an opportunity. 

I drew up a list and did some more research. Bilbao was actually my first choice for Erasmus+ because I’d already been on a coach trip there with my school and the team is relatively high up in the league, and even plays in the Champions League. So from a training and sports point of view, these were perfect conditions. 

Picture of Lukas Gloßner as a wheelchair basketball player in a jersey of BIDAIDEAK BILBAO BSR and in his special sports wheelchair in front of an advertising banner in a basketball hall
@ Lukas Gloßner privat

Comprehensive support from university

How did the preparations go? Is it easy to apply for additional funding?

It was really helpful that the International Office at my university in Ingolstadt had and still has such committed staff. One member of staff was especially encouraging. In fact, he approached me in my first semester and asked if I’d like to go abroad despite my wheelchair, because he was also interested in trying it out and supporting me. 

I spent a lot of time talking to this person and it was through him that I found out about the possibility of applying for additional funding. His successor supported me throughout and is still responsible for my application now. The support was very useful. 

I contacted my university and they got in touch with DAAD to clarify all the issues and correct and explain a few minor points. Everything went smoothly. I was able to sort out all the things that were relevant to me. I’m very grateful I got this support. 

Life in Bilbao – surprisingly straightforward

How easy or difficult was it for you to navigate Bilbao in a wheelchair? Did the university in Bilbao offer you any special assistance?

Generally, I’d say the city is well adapted to wheelchair users. Airports in Spain offer far more assistance than in Germany. Bilbao itself has an excellent public transport network. I could take the metro and tram everywhere, for very little money, and everywhere is wheelchair accessible. Every station has a lift. I never ended up getting stuck anywhere. Even buses are really easy to use. People are very helpful too. I was generally positively surprised. The only thing you might not know about Bilbao until you actually live there is that parts of the city are very hilly. Generally though, I managed to get around easily. 

I didn’t make use of any special assistance or aid to get to the university. I don’t think there was anything in particular I had to consider, or I didn’t notice it and was able to cope on my own. 

What was the biggest challenge for you during your visit and how did you deal with this?

There weren’t any challenges that I couldn’t overcome. For me personally, things like doing sport at the very highest level was obviously a fantastic experience, but you’re also under a lot of pressure to train hard every time and perform well if you want to be successful. 

In terms of Erasmus+, I felt I was still something of an attraction at Erasmus+ events because there aren’t many wheelchair users who do a semester abroad. I’d say you do attract more attention than able-bodied people. But if you overcome your inhibitions and make an effort to attend events, you’ll find people welcome you just as openly as people without wheelchairs or disabilities. You just have to push yourself a bit. 

I made friends there pretty quickly. I even met people from Germany, who actually live close to my home town. I’m hoping to meet up with them again sometime. 

What advice would you give to students who are still unsure about going abroad with Erasmus+?

I’d recommend it to everyone.I’m 100 percent convinced that it’s worth the effort. Everything worked out brilliantly.It’s a new experience. You get to know another country, a different culture, and a semester abroad is a good thing to have on your CV. I now have a basic knowledge of Spanish. I wouldn’t have experienced any of this if I hadn’t studied abroad. 

Also, being completely independent, away from home and thrown in at the deep end because you can’t just go home if something goes wrong – this helps you to grow and develop.It’s just a really cool experience. And if you end up having to repeat a course later on because you can’t do it abroad or a suitable course isn’t on offer – which didn’t happen in my case – it’s still a great experience. I mean, we have the rest of our lives to work! 

Making the most of time abroad, while you’re still young and fit, is a great opportunity. And, of course, it’s a privilege to be able to do this and not be dependent on work. Everyone who has the chance should take it. 

«Take the chance! It’s worth it.»

Is there anything that made your stay abroad especially worthwhile, despite the organisational challenges?

The whole Erasmus+ visit was worthwhile despite the organisational challenges, precisely because of the points I’ve already mentioned. It’s given me a huge boost, from a personal point of view, and probably, at some point, for my career.

Another aspect that was important for me is the sport. I’ve been able to take a big step in my career. I’m probably playing for the fifth best team in Europe, and other teams now have me on their radar. This is beneficial for my sports career. One really cool experience was being allowed to host the Champions League preliminary round in Bilbao. We had teams here from Italy, Turkey and France. We played in front of our home crowd, in front of our fans – that was an amazing experience for me. 

The whole Erasmus+ visit was worthwhile despite the organisational challenges.
Lukas Gloßner

After the interview Lukas Gloßner was nominated to represent Germany at the Wheelchair Basketball World Championships in Dubai (June 9-20, 2023).

The interview was conducted by Béla Herting.