young people – AEGEE-Europe | European Students' Forum AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe / European Students’ Forum) is a student organisation that promotes cooperation, communication and integration amongst young people in Europe. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines – today it counts 13 000 members, active in close to 200 university cities in 40 European countries, making it the biggest interdisciplinary student association in Europe. Mon, 23 Oct 2017 14:20:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Belarus: Breaking Down the Stereotypes /belarus-breaking-down-the-stereotypes/ Thu, 01 May 2014 10:49:49 +0000 /?p=5120

After meeting EP candidates in Riga, we embarked on a journey to the unknown – Belarus. Stories about the strict border control in Belarus are quite common and so until the very last minute we were not sure if we will be allowed to enter the country. However, much to our surprise, the border police was not interested in where are we going and what exactly are we going to do in Belarus or even where are we going to live during our trip. If Belarusian authorities are trying to attract more foreigners to visit Belarus during the time of the Ice Hockey Championship they are definitely on the right track. Hence, we arrived in Minsk without the delay and were ready to brake few more stereotypes about the last dictatorship in Europe.

Similar to Warsaw we found Minsk to be full of construction projects. New office buildings and a lot more housing units were visible on the horizon. City that has been almost completely destroyed in the so-called Minsk Blitz during the WWII is rising from the ashes. “Order” seems to be one of the guiding principles of the city’s administration today and it is probably one of the cleanest cities in Europe. Another surprise awaited us in the Minsk’s Metro. In the impressive artistic Soviet metro stations for the first time one can hear announcements in English but beware trying to take pictures, after the Minsk’s metro bomb explosion in 2011 it is strictly forbidden to make photos and the security will not hesitate to stop you.

Young, Engaged and Active

In Minsk we had the chance to meet people who represent the future of Belarus and they impressed us with their ideas, determination and energy.

DSC_1812Pavel Harbunou – a member of the Minsk’s cyclict society explained to us the initiatives of the cyclists and what have they been doing to try to influence the government and to change the way things work in the city. One of the most successful projects is the repair shop where anyone can fix his/her bike for free.  Pavel told us that in order to encourage people to use bicycles instead of cars we need proper infrustructure. Cyclist society of Minsk has been involved in drafting cyclist policy for the city and making sure that the voices of the cyclist are heard by the state aparatus.

In a similar way another organization is trying to change Minsk. Egalite is concerned with improving conditions for social integration and rehabilitation of people with disabilities. For many years Agnia Asanovich has been living and studying in Europe but she came back to Belarus because she believes her experience and understanding of the work of NGO’s can help organizations such as Egalite to gain ground, be heard by the authorities and help to protect the rights of those who are often left behind.

We were also very fortunate to speak to Mikhail Mazkevich from the Legal Transformation Center (LAWTREND). Mikhail’s organization has been actively involved in promoting democratization and human rights in Belarus in particular by defending individual rights to freedom of expression, assembly and fair trial. When we asked Mikhail what he thinks about the new generation of Belarusians and whether we can expect a change of the system, Mikhail was rather skeptical at first but did admit that more and more people are interested in the human rights and the seminars on this issue are always full of young people who do care about the situation in the country. Mikhail believes that it is important to inform people about human rights because sooner or later Belarus will have to choose its path and the more people are aware of what they are entitled to, the more likely that they will choose the right way forward.

IMG_0283Another important question we were searching an answer to in Belarus was how can we get more young people involved in the social and political movements in their countries? Illia Petravets – activist of the cyclist and the human rights movements in Belarus had something very interesting to say to us. First of all, young people need a role model. The youth should be able to see that there are successful projects and initiatives out there. They should be able to meet and talk to the people who have experience with getting what they want from the authorities and standing up for what they believe in. In this way, those who have never been involved and think that their vote or their activities do not matter will know that they can indeed make a difference and change their surrounding for good. And the second even more important factor that the young people need in order to realize their potential and implement their ideas into reality is the non-interference of the state.

Belarus has been a source of inspiration for us and we have found plenty proves that young people in this country do care about their future and are trying step by step to make a difference. Each one of them employs different methods but they are united by the same goal – changing the system for the better. After speaking to the young Belarusians we have even more questions to ask in Kyiv – our next stop. What role did the young people play in the Euromaidan and how can we make sure that they will continue to be involved in the political and social life of their country after the revolution? 

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What about a youth dimension to policy-making? /what-about-a-youth-dimension-to-policy-making/ Thu, 01 May 2014 08:08:52 +0000 /?p=5113

by Monica Nica

From the border with Italy we were accompanied by “the Emerald Beauty”, one of the rare rivers in the world that retain the emerald-green colour throughout their length. The beauty of the scenery on the way to Ljubljana was only matched by the beauty of the Slovenian people we have met. They gladly welcomed us within their already busy schedule, as AEGEE Ljubljana had an exchange with AEGEE Groningen during the weekend.

The 20 young people of AEGEE Groningen made their way to Ljubljana hitchhiking, in teams of two – some for just 16 hours, other for 2 days. Even the ones who arrived the latest and had to sleep in a gas station, wholeheartedly recommended hitchhiking as a means of travelling: ‘it’s something everyone should try at least once’. As I have never hitchhiked, I asked the young travellers how can one get a ride and who usually gives rides. The answers were unanimous: getting a ride is all about luck; you can stay in a gas station for 10 minutes or for 2 hours until you find someone going your way that is also willing to take you. The people giving rides to hitchhikers are very diverse, from businessmen to hippies and from families to truck drivers. Apparently, businessmen doing this are in large numbers, as they usually travel alone. This reveals an only natural human need for connection with others, as not even businessmen are not islands.

Although they had a full schedule during the day, the young Dutch people lived up to their AEGEE reputation of being the most active and engaged, which sometimes can attract sneers from other nationalities. Their active participation rendered some interesting, and at times heated discussions. Since it was a stop scheduled last minute, there was not a certain topic requested. Instead, we decided to talk with the participants about all the topics. They were divided in five groups, each receiving a question to discuss upon, after which they had to present their conclusion to the rest of the people, engaging them in the debate as well.

DSC01379One of the questions – what is the best way to defend your interests as a young person? – had a very strong opinionated respondent. Although he was as strongly contested by the rest of the group, he did not seem to budge. One of the controversial things he said was that young people protest for the wrong things, like some war in Africa or GMOs. He was trying to say that young people should focus on things closer to them, which have a more easily noticeable impact upon their lives. Also, he asserted that they should act as part of a bigger association because as individuals is harder to make a meaningful change.

This discussion made me think about another debate: should policy-making have a youth dimension, just like there is a gender or an environment one? The proponents argue that approaching youth issues in a coherent and united manner would bolster youths’ voice, giving it a stronger standing in the negotiations of different policies. I agree that lobbying as one group can be beneficial on issues where there is a common denominator. At the same time, young people are very diverse and have opinions which differ to a large extent on many issues. In cases like these, having one voice can be detrimental to the ones which do not fit in the general agreed position. The risk of exclusion from a united youth position would be especially high for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, like migrants, ethnic minorities, those at risk of poverty or social exclusion. And this exclusion would be no different than the general feeling of exclusion from mainstream forms of influencing decision-making young people presently have.

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Erasmus is great, but we want to know more! /erasmus-is-great-but-we-want-to-know-more/ Fri, 18 Apr 2014 19:21:51 +0000 /?p=4849

by Monica Nica

We left Brussels a week ago but it already feels like we have been travelling for a month. The numerous hours spent in trains and the lack of proper rest is already starting to take its toll. Fortunately, the people we have met along the way, who helped us in so many ways, make us bounce back instantly.

Although we have only spent half a day in Zaragoza, we had some interesting discussions with the AEGEE members present there in quite high numbers. The presentation and following interviews focused on what mobility signifies for young people, what pushes and what hinders them to go in another country to study or to work.

One idea that stood out early on from the conversations was the lack of information on the various mobility options available for young people. It was surprising to discover this from AEGEE members, who are more mobile and knowledgeable in this area than the average young person. The various AEGEE projects helps them come in contact more easily with others that have already experienced some type of youth mobility programme. If they are not aware of all the available opportunities, I can’t help but wonder what of the young people that are not active in organisations, or are not even students?

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From all the options we have presented to them (Erasmus, Leonardo, European Voluntary Service (EVS), Comenius, Grundtvig, Erasmus Mundus, Youth in Action, etc.), the majority of participants were familiar with the Erasmus programme – If they have not already experienced one, they are about to start one next semester or are thinking about it. The only other opportunity they were familiar with was EVS.

The main source of information is the university and from friends that already had the experience of a mobility programme. As Veronica from Slovakia, doing her Erasmus in Zaragoza at the moment, said, “knowing something exists doesn’t mean one will also use it”. This is true even when it comes to Erasmus, which seems to be so common and easy to do these days for most young students. If one knows a friend who did it, then it becomes more real, more achievable.

When we asked the participants where they would like the information to come from, we didn’t receive a clear answer. Some expected it from the university, while for others it seemed normal that the universities focused mainly on Erasmus. The ones who knew about EVS found out about it from AEGEE, but as Christina from Spain said, “this isn’t normal”. I believe the information should come from a source which young people trust and with which they often come in contact. I am sure most universities can provide information on mobility options, but the problem is that they do not advertise them properly. If students are not aware of the various programmes, then they can’t avail themselves of the advantages they entail.

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Moving on, the young people also shared with us what Erasmus meant for them. Their answers revolved around improving language skills, making friends, being exposed to different and varied culture and becoming more independent and self-reliant, all of which in the end boils down to personal development. Furthermore, meeting people from so many different backgrounds when it comes to nationality, religion, ethnicity, etc., helps in breaking and, at times, confirming stereotypes. This in turn, increases the feeling of being part of something more than one’s region or country; it makes them feel more European.

The advantages of Erasmus are undeniable, and the opinion was unanimous among the participants that every young person should have this experience. So why doesn’t everyone have it? Except the lack of information, it was also mentioned the fact that there are people who just don’t like getting out of their comfort zone, or for whom language can represent a hindrance more than a challenge. But the most important reason seems to be money, or better said, lack of it.

If one would want to sketch the portrait of the average young person taking advantage of Erasmus, it should include a student with initiative, the fact that most probably he or she is already active in some kind of organisation, has a certain level of financial security, enjoys a challenge and wants to develop both professionally and personally.

Although Erasmus is somewhat elitist, as most young people don’t fit the portrait above, the usefulness and importance of Veronica’s call that all young people should “travel, experience and discover” remains valid. What needs to be worked on, besides improving awareness about all the mobility options for young people, is that they are indeed available for everyone.

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