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Debating with Erasmus in Rotterdam

Alison Laycock 

Do you enjoy discussing life’s big questions? Ever wish you could do that with a great philosopher from the past? Well you can do just that at the Erasmus experience in Rotterdam’s library. I found the interactive exercise really thought-provoking and also a welcome change from simply observing and absorbing the cultural aspects in museums. 


At the start of the activity, I met Erwin who volunteers there and once he had finished explaining the experience to me, he asked me a great question ‘Would you like me to do this with you or do you prefer to go around by yourself?’. What a lovely opportunity that presented so I answered that as long as he wasn’t busy with something, I would love to do the activity with him. Once we had finished, Erwin agreed to an interview so we could share this experience with others. Read on to find out more.

The Erasmus experience has been here for 2 years now and it will run for another 8 years as the idea is that it will run for 10 years in total.  The idea behind it is to introduce people to Erasmus as we are very proud of him here as he was born in Rotterdam and the library and other places carry his name.  


We think it’s important that it shows people how we talk to each other and about each other and how it can encourage more respect towards other people’s opinions and create an open mindset. I really enjoy doing that and I believe other people could really enjoy it too if they come here. The activities and questions prompt you to think about things you don’t really think about and at the same time they are very important  aspects of life. 

There are questions which could go either way and it’s easy to think one thing and then change your mind which can result in lively discussions with someone about them. That can be a difficult part as I believe there is always a grey area with no real singular truth which is something the experience shows you as well.  It teaches us that if we are more aware of the things we say and why we say them and why someone else has a different opinion then we can accept that. Through this we can all create a common ground and still be different at the same time. Rotterdam is a very diverse city with a lot of different cultures so I think that it is beautiful that it is here but I also think it could be really helpful to other cultures around the world as people are people wherever they are.

From the start, the activity encourages you to see things differently as you are requested to stand on the spot for a photo to be taken and it takes a photo of your silhouette rather than of you. It takes the outer part of you away, all the aspects which define you outwardly such as gender and age so a person can be seen for who they are on the inside.

Schools also bring their students here to take part in the experience and it’s something they return to as it has challenged their beliefs.   It also happens with me as today I could have one opinion with you and tomorrow it could be different again, it keeps you busy and challenged in your mind and perception which is good. I think the greatest thing we could do is accept that nothing is truly an ‘is’ but it is ‘becoming’ as you keep thinking about it.

The great thing about it is that although Erasmus was a religious man, it isn’t just about Religion but it also covers Language and Behaviour with a separate section on humour.       Whatever your faith, whether Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Atheist, it can still reach you without saying that your religion is wrong. There is no judgement which is the great thing about it as the important thing is in the discussion about why you agree or disagree rather than the act of agreeing or disagreeing. 

It promotes discussion and if we are open then we can discuss anything but if we are closed to it then it ends immediately. At the moment there is a lot of ‘fake news’ and if you think about it you can see that ‘fake news’ only gathers strength because people don’t actually think about what they read. Once you think about what you read then there isn’t a single answer, it teaches you to think about what you hear and read.

The idea behind it is to introduce you to the thoughts of Erasmus and Erasmus himself. We have people of all ages who come along. It is really interesting to see how children respond as they can often be more open than adults. It comes down to the person individually how they respond irrelevant of age. We try to make sure we don’t persuade people of our views and not be political although others will think of that when they read questions.

The experience is open to everyone whether you have an open or closed mind. We hope you leave with an open mind but if you don’t then that’s ok too. It’s nice to think about everyday life which we have to deal with and although we aren’t aware of it these are areas which can split or unite us.


Thanks to Erwin for sharing this with us. I enjoyed the experience which I put down to Erwin’s interaction with me as he would provide a different way of looking at the question once I had given my answer. At the end of the activity when you have more questions on the screen, you gain 3 diamonds from your answers and can unlock the vault where you will be shown what happens to the answers you have provided along the experience. You input your email address and later receive an email saying which category you fall into from your thoughts and again you are shown that your input is valued.  

#Erasmus #lifequestions #Rotterdam #thoughtprovoking

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