2021 much like its predecessor brought on a whole new set of challenges for the EuroPeers UK network. Young people have yet again shown incredible resilience, and faced up to the new reality, shaped by the pandemic, and also politically, with the UK outside of the European Union. EuroPeers UK remain the link connecting internationally-minded UK young people with peers benefiting from Erasmus+ within Europe and beyond.
I would like to thank all the young people who have worked with us this past year, our partners, other organisations big and small, national agencies from all across Europe who see value in cooperating with us, who have always put young people first, and who have all worked extremely hard to make things happen.
We hope to expose more youngsters to non-formal education opportunities in 2022, support their personal and professional growth, and connect them to the like-minded individuals wherever they might be. Stay tuned for more updates, and spread the word about the power of youth engagment through international opportunities.
Happy 2022, see you then.
By Olga Ambrosiewicz, EuroPeers UK Project Manager
The EuroPeers Annual Network Meeting in Rome was the first in-person event I could facilitate again after so many months without residential events or training. And of course, it was also weird to think of being with 70 other people in one place, holding the space for them to feel safe and comfortable to share and collaborate again. Facilitating a residential event – what was it again?
Well, it could not have been a better environment since me being a trainer is very much connected with having started to be engaged and feeling part of something bigger with the EuroPeers community.
A good friend and colleague of mine once said: “it’s like swimming!” So I was glad that I could swim and exercise my facilitation abilities in the frame of this very safe sea and meet so many new and familiar fishes I share some memories, values, and ideas with.
One thing was very clear already when I met the team in person one day before: the social contact between people – even at two meters distance – is very much needed for human beings. Seeing and feeling this crowd moving, listening, laughing, being active, and observing the single molecules of the crowd in having deeper talks, sharing thoughts and ideas made sure: EuroPeers are back on track!
Well, they never left the track, we know! It was incredible how many EuroPeers joined the network meeting who so far just met other peers online and did their training online. During the last one and a half years we learned that EuroPeers are able to hold connections over long-distance, they know how to keep the community feeling inside, they stay active in other ways, and practice solidarity. And we did that and have shown that we keep a connection to the ones who belong to us: I am very glad to have met a few EuroPeers from the UK who keep on going and to have had the chance to work with Nathan within the trainer team.
This encounter was a huge learning opportunity for all involved: How to organise a big face-to-face event in pandemic times? And how to provide access to those who couldn’t join the residential event? I think we managed well and I am glad we had the chance to try out to provide a hybrid version. And we learned a lot when it comes to the questions of how to take care of the vulnerable ones in society for whom these times are even more challenging or how to take care of this one planet we have.
I saw all EuroPeers working hard on their mission, vision, and values, on new ideas to stay connected, learn from each other and build alliances and use synergies. And of course, brainstorming and developing new ideas, activities, and projects. But also the representatives of the National Agencies used the days very wisely working on a long-term plan for keeping EuroPeers alive, letting the community grow, and developing the network further. So we have the next years of international network meetings already taken care of.
One last thing grabbed my attention. Traveling again seems to be more special now and somehow leaves one feeling privileged. Transferring my body and mind to another place, moving in time and space, and being framed by another environment has an influence on the way we look at things and people, how we understand them, how we learn and reflect on learning. This ‘being somewhere else’ is a quality that should be exploited as much as possible to feel a relation to the place you are. So I was very glad and felt inspired to stay a few extra days in Rome afterward.
I am very much looking forward to meeting you all again in Poland!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author.
When the UK government decided that the UK was going to stop participating in the Erasmus+ Scheme, it was a terrible blow to everyone, especially young people who wanted to continue supporting and taking part in inter-European opportunities. It was also bad news for many organisations which not only provided fantastic opportunities but were built and run on the fantastic volunteers and opportunities provided through strong European projects like Erasmus+ or European Solidarity Corps.
The absence of Erasmus+ leaves EuroPeers UK in a difficult situation; Evolve or slowly become obsolete. So, what does evolution mean? How do we do it? To see the future we have to understand the present and find the silver linings. So, where are we and what have we lost?
We, unfortunately, lost both Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps (ESC)(2021-2027)* which together accounted for most of the youth mobility, education and empowerment projects. The UK government have started a ‘replacement’ project called Turing,  though it is a mere shadow of Erasmus+. Erasmus+ funds projects for education staff and youth worker mobility allowing many groups to share best practices  . It also dedicates significant funding to projects around sports, youth mobility (outside formal education), youth empowerment and solidarity. Turing on the other hand, does not allow any adult mobility,  depriving over three thousand UK education staff of the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience annually  . In 2018-19 3962 staff were part of an outgoing project and 4693 were part of an incoming project  . Turing is designed solely for school, vocational and university education mobility projects  . Turing won’t fund projects relating to youth exchanges, sport, long term youth mobility, exchange of good practice, innovation, policy reform or solidarity [4,6] . Projects in the youth sector of Erasmus+ had 8367 UK related participants with an additional 575 ESC participants [2,5] . Turing’s largest failing in my opinion is the lack of solidarity. Turing has no mechanism for reciprocity [1,4] meaning that it will only fund UK students studying abroad.
I know it may seem like we lost everything but there are silver linings. Let’s take a look at what can help us. The Welsh, Scottish and Irish Governments can be a great source of inspiration. Each government has shown regret that the UK is no longer a part of Erasmus+ whilst some have even started work on replacements [7,8,11,12] . There is even support for Scotland and Wales rejoining Erasmus+ in the European Parliament [10,11] . I will start with the Scottish government as it is the easiest to summarise. Scotland made it clear that they wanted to rejoin Erasmus+ and had the support of over 140 MEPs but the European Commission stated that they couldn’t join because they are a constituent part of the UK [10,11] .
The Irish Government is setting up a scheme to allow Northern Irish people to participate in Erasmus+ through Irish institutions and organisations. This scheme is estimated to cost the Irish Government €2m per year but will ensure Northern Irish staff and students can continue to participate [12,13] . Wales has one of the most intriguing proposals for dealing with the loss of Erasmus+. Wales is setting up its own replacement programme called International Learning Exchange Programme (ILEP) [7,8] . It is designed to fill most of the holes left by Turing. This means, most importantly, that it will be reciprocal so that Europeans can receive funding to come to the UK  . It should cover all major areas that Erasmus+ did, from mobility to strategic partnerships and from students to youth workers. It is not clear if ILEP will support EVS and ESC style mobility projects. The programme will be funded with £65m for four years and will be organised by Cardiff University [7,9] . The programme is expected to send 15000 participants and receive 10000 participants during the first four years  .
Lastly, I want to talk about EuroPeers. The UK has strong links to the rest of Europe through EuroPeers. The links that we have with other EuroPeer networks can be a fantastic source of inspiration, ideas and practical help. That leaves the last and hardest question to answer. What can we do to improve the situation? There is plenty of room for creativity, cooperation and fun when looking for effective solutions. I will outline some ideas that I have had but would love to hear what you think we could do.
We could set up an information project to help youth organisations in the UK as well as Europe to find high quality, up to date information about ways to cooperate and run projects. This could involve having a website or email address in multiple languages that they are encouraged to use for advice. Any EuroPeer could help to translate information to their language or promote the resource to youth organisations they know or work with. A project like this would take a lot of work but could be very valuable for supporting cross border cooperation and projects. EuroPeers UK could become a facilitator of new European exchange opportunities. EuroPeers could play an important role in finding the opportunities we have left and ensuring they are used by connecting youth organisations across Europe. As well as knowing about the new arrangements, organisations in the UK and around Europe will need to find other organisations they can work with. If we can make it easier for organisations to find each other and appropriate funding sources, we will be encouraging the starting of more projects.
The last idea I will talk about is advocacy for the return of Erasmus+ and the improvement of its replacements. EuroPeers UK, with the support of EuroPeers international, should become a strong voice for the return of Erasmus+ in the long term whilst trying to encourage the improvement of the replacements. Scotland and England do not have any kind of replacement programme in place. Wales has a replacement in development with input from many different youth organisations but none have experience with the long term Youth Mobility projects. EuroPeers could provide valuable experience and support to the development of a long term Youth Mobility aspect of the programme. We must start advocating for these types of projects and find new ways for them to continue. We will only be able to achieve our aims with the help of our friends in EuroPeers everywhere. Solidarity is often talked about in an EU context but if there was a time to work together in solidarity for everyone’s benefit, it’s now.
By Alex McDonald
BBC News. 2021. Turing Scheme: What is the Erasmus replacement?. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-47293927> [Accessed 6 October 2021].
European Commission, 2021. UK Erasmus+ 2019 in numbers. [online] Ec.europa.eu. Available at: <https://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/factsheets/factsheet-uk-2019_en.html> [Accessed 6 October 2021].
UK National Agency for Erasmus+, Erasmus+ UK Higher Education Mobility Statistics 2014-19,[online] Available at:<https://www.erasmusplus.org.uk/results-and-statistics> [Accessed 6 October 2021].
Turing Scheme Website | About Section, 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.turing-scheme.org.uk/about> [Accessed 6 October 2021].
European Commission EU Publications Office, European Solidarity Corps Annual Report 2018-2019.[online] Available at: <https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/d6b7ad55-3f4f-11eb-b27b-01aa75ed71a1/language-en> [Accessed 6 October 2021].
UK National Agency for Erasmus+, Erasmus+ What are the Key Actions?. [online] Available at: <https://www.erasmusplus.org.uk/what-are-the-key-actions> [Accessed 7 October 2021].
The Welsh Government, Written Statement: An International Learning Exchange Programme for Wales.<https://gov.wales/written-statement-international-learning-exchange-programme-wales> [Accessed 7 October 2021].
The Welsh Government, New International Learning Exchange programme to make good the loss of Erasmus+.<https://gov.wales/new-international-learning-exchange-programme-make-good-loss-erasmus> [Accessed 7 October 2021].
Cardiff University, International Learning Exchange Programme (ILEP) – 04.05.2021.<https://gov.wales/new-international-learning-exchange-programme-make-good-loss-erasmus> [Accessed 7 October 2021].
Terry Reintke, Brexit/Erasmus: Commission shall explore pathways for Scotland and Wales to stay in the programme. [online] <https://terryreintke.eu/en/blog/brexit-erasmus-commission-shall-explore-pathways-for-scotland-and-wales-to-stay-in-the-programme/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
The National Scot. Erasmus: EU chief says Scotland cannot join scheme while part of the UK.[online] Available at: <https://www.thenational.scot/news/19093760.erasmus-eu-chief-says-scotland-cannot-join-scheme-part-uk/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
Politico EU. Ireland to fund Erasmus scheme for Northern Irish students.[online] Available at:<https://www.politico.eu/article/ireland-fund-erasmus-northern-irish-students/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
Belfast Telegraph. NI students could be able to avail of Erasmus scheme in September. [online] Available at: <https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/ni-students-could-be-able-to-avail-of-erasmus-scheme-in-september-40195824.html> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
*Please note that the projects funded by the Erasmus+ and ESC programmes 2014-2020 will continue as planned under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU. More information can be found at https://www.erasmusplus.org.uk
Discover EU – The free interrail ticket with not enough publicity
DEADLINE: Tuesday 26th October, 12:00 CEST
As an 18 year old the idea of travelling around Europe is too good to be true – let alone free travel; but that’s exactly what the Discover EU scheme is all about. Originally set up as an incentive to get young people to explore Europe, Discover EU has grown year upon year and the next round of applications have opened and this year – with a twist.
Due to the disruption over the past two years caused by Caronavirus this rounds applications are open to those born between (and including) 1 July 2001 and 31st December 2003 who previously missed out on the scheme. There is no guarantee that you’ll be allocated a ticket but you have nothing to lose by applying. You can apply as an individual or as a group.
Take it from me, who, way back during Discover EU’s early days, applied on a whim during the second cycle. The process was relatively straight forward and took around 30 minutes with no real taxing questions and it wasn’t until I got the email notification that I had been selected did it all really sink in.
I’d done some travelling before but this was very different, the interrail ticket itself is so flexible that it offers limitless routes and adventures for whatever it is you fancy seeing or doing. For me, I decided to do some travelling after my ICS trip to Nepal. I needed something to shake off the post travel blues and this was – quite literally – my golden ticket. I planned to start in Poland, make my way through Germany, and the Netherlands and eventually back to the UK. Interrail themselves have great ideas if you’re not sure about where to start or what route to take and have suggested itineraries (which I wish I’d looked into myself!).
In Poland I went to my first (but certainly not last) Voguing competition which was absolutely fantastic and made some rather regretful (but rather funny) memories in Berlin and Hamburg before cutting my trip short to fly home just as I was about to get into the swing of things.
With up to 30 days of travel your Discover EU story is really what you make it and, as I mentioned before, there really is no harm in applying. My top tip for potential applicants would be to really consider what you want to get out of the trip once you’ve secured your ticket. Maybe you’re a history fanatic or maybe want to visit the set of The Sound of Music (whatever floats your boat.)! Make a mind map, or brainstorm however you like but whatever you do remember to have fun!
I’ve never been one for the colder seasons. I’m definitely more of a summer person.
Summer, to me, screams ‘endless opportunities’, ‘endless days’ and ‘endless hope’. Truth be told, I often struggle to find any hope in autumn and in winter. The days seem to end only as they’ve just begun, and I, for one, muddle through November and half of December because of the thought that the Christmas holidays are on their way.
Hope seems to be lacking in most places at the moment, not least because COVID is still all around us. It’s strange, however, how September has seen a marked change in tone. From the fuel crisis—which may have been caused by Brexit’s lagging outcomes—to the ever-increasing COVID cases that never seem quite to die off, hope is certainly not the first word that comes to mind for this month, let alone the last year and a half.
It’s easy to see the stories such as the fuel crisis and feel despondent as to what Brexit has in store for us. It’s definitely easy—and, in many ways, very valid—for young people to feel angry, scared, and concerned about their future, a future that now seems a bit cloudier and more isolated than it once was. Personally, I know that all of this has definitely fuelled my anxiety into a higher gear than usual.
However, I maintain that we must remain hopeful, even when it seems to be the most difficult thing to do.
Yes, the news seems scary at the moment. No, we don’t have much of a clue as to what the future may hold. But there are so many things that make me hopeful that doom is not necessarily on the horizon.
The existence of groups like EuroPeers gives me hope that international interconnectivity will not just disappear in a cloud of smoke, leaving us to wonder what it is that we’re supposed to do now. The fact that so many young people still see value in Europe, in being a part of a group like EuroPeers, shows that this generation is fully equipped to deal with whatever it is that may come their way. There is a connection still all across Europe. That is hope.
Furthermore, something as silly as just going on TikTok fills me with hope and laughter. Yes, at 22 years of age, I’m probably too old for TikTok. I accept that! But just going onto TikTok and seeing how young people deal with stressors like the weird historical moments we find ourselves going through right now (Brexit and COVID, to name just two) is proof that not all is lost. Without trying to sociologically dissect TikTok, I believe that this app will bring this generation together and prove that there are even more of us who think as we do. That is also hope.
Of course, it’s very understandable to feel lost, agitated and confused about everything that’s going on in the news right now. But reminding yourself that there is still much hope in this world, even as little as it may be, is a good place to start.
It’s been just under a week since I returned from the Annual Network Meeting in Rome and I still can’t get over the excitement of both the event and the opportunity to explore Rome itself.
I somehow decided it best to get the 5:50 am flight and after an unknown amount of caffeine, I found myself navigating just about every type of transportation to rock up at the hotel and have a shower to make myself semi-presentable.
When I first got there I didn’t quite know what to expect, I’d seen the itinerary but you just know with a EuroPeers event you can’t quite slot the experience into an info pack. I was greeted by many new faces and a few familiar ones, it was great to see fellow UK EuroPeers Alex and Nathan getting involved as part of the training team.
The Annual Network Meeting was a great opportunity for members from all around Europe to come together and share best practice, skills, memories and gather inspiration to help forge a path forward. I learned more about projects such as the international social events (of which the UK will be one of the next hosts!) and multiple podcasts already ran by EuroPeers, and delved into how to grow these projects ourselves. We also spoke about key topics such as Inclusion and the Environment, showcasing some of the great work that has been going on both within and outside of the network, such as the School of Peace talking to us about how they’re breaking down barriers in their community using education.
The evenings were great to mix and find out more about others’ experiences with Erasmus+ and the ESC, everyone had a story to tell and it was great to hear them all. The meals were amazing but we felt we couldn’t travel to Rome and not have any pizza, thus an excursion was mounted into the city in the search of the one true pizza. I’m a bit of a fussy eater and had mine with sausage meat on it and absolutely no veg. Seeing the sites of the city was amazing too, whilst walking around the rich history would just jump out at you in forms such as of an age-old building hidden within what could appear just another vibrant cityscape.
It was great to have discussions on how we can grow the network, what we need to do this, and how we can do this. Following the meeting, there will be an ideas board feeding into a resource hub allowing EuroPeers to pool ideas and access resources such as icebreakers to assist in any sessions they wish to run. The ability to collaborate is such a key thing to EuroPeers and I’m grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to come together and look to create things as a network.
Overall it was amazing to see so many enthusiastic and inspired EuroPeers, talking about both projects they’ve done and ones we can do together in the future, it’s given me memories I’ll cherish and projects to keep me busy, so keep an eye out for the international online social event which will be arranged soon, and also for the new ideas board and resource hub we’re currently underway creating!
For the very first time, the Italian National Agency hosted the EuroPeers Annual Network Meeting that took place in Rome, between 23-26 September 2021.
It was a hybrid event that gathered 80 participants representing Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, the UK, and Italy. The event started on the 23rd of September 2021 with the arrival of the participants to Rome and some ice breaker activities.
The official welcome to Italy on the 24th of September 2021 was led by Lucia Abbinante, the Italian National Agency Director.
Sharing Europe #ANM2021 agenda included lots of indoor and outdoor activities maintaining the hybrid format that fostered more inclusive, digital, and green-friendly participation.
Important topics which have been discussed were put into the following sessions: EuroPeers Blended Cultural Event, Showcase of good practices, the European Youth Event workshop (pilot version), Skills & Knowledge sharing, Living Library, Beyond EuroPeers, and Vision & Mission of the EuroPeers network. Each session was structured to guide the workgroups towards clarifying the values we stand for and new ideas we are aiming to transform into short and long-term projects.
To wrap it up properly:
Arrivederci da Italy – keep an eye on EuroPeer events, follow us on our socials, and see you next year!
By Biljana, Italian National Agency Youth Steering Group Member
Photos for the Annual Network Meeting courtesy of the Italian National Agency for Erasmus+.
Ever since the idea for an innovative virtual space for EuroPeers had been conceived we got busy sketching out what it might look like, and most importantly, how it would be different when it comes to engaging younger audiences.
We got a EuroPeers UK team together to draw out plans for areas within the virtual space, we collected over the years, and abundance of static, and interactive resources, and this project, is a remarkable showcase of the amount of work EuroPeers UK has done over the years, and now is needed more than ever, with international opportunities for young people in the UK being under significant threat, facing uncertain future.
Our massive thank you goes out to Paul Oxborough for coordinating the work done by the amazing team of youngsters at Chesterfield College led by Piers Ching.
Make sure to pay a visit to the space, and recommend it to those in your network who would be interested in learning a thing or two about the benefits of international experience.
After the year we’ve had due to Covid 19 it is always a pleasure to get out and meet people in the real world, and this is what happened last week at Chesterfield College. As you might know, they have been partners with Momentum World creating two experimental online virtual spaces. We managed to meet the Digital Media Team from the college to discuss these spaces and also explore a great new international project called ‘Lessons From Lockdown’.
It is great to have regional partnerships, and this is extra special as it is involving students from my hometown and the college my daughter went to. This is great for their CVs and portfolios having examples of projects from real companies they can talk about at an interview.
When you end up in the EuroPeers Virtual Space you might very well be on a spaceship or in an underground bunker – you decide! but wherever it is, it is a space to be explored, a chance to find out more about the work of EuroPeers. See if you can find the secret maze of discovery and watch the videos, head into the cinema, collect the objects from the outdoor world, and along the way explore lots of other rooms.
The space will be officially launched mid-July and will be fully accessible via a web browser.
By Paul Oxborough, Creative Director at Momentum World
Hi, I’m Sarah, 18 y/o from Münster, Germany and I’m currently living in London spending a gap year after I finished my A-levels in 2020. As I couldn’t imagine studying nonstop after 8 years of school – not to mention that I didn’t have and still don’t have a clue what to do after this year – I searched for over a year for environmental and social opportunities all over the world and long story short, ended up at the German YMCA in London thanks to some criss-cross relations and word-of-mouth recommendations. I was truly relieved and could hardly believe that I was offered a placement.
I arrived in lockdown London and went straight into isolation until I passed a Covid test. Due to the Covid restrictions, the sightseeing spots around London were empty of tourists, which made strolling and getting to know the city very much enjoyable. I even bought a bike on eBay buy and sell (well…I had to learn first hand that it’s not quite the same as the German eBay Kleinanzeigen when eBay told me that my account was suspended) and cycled to loads of parks from Richmond Park through to Greenwich Park and many more. For a long time, before I came here, I wanted to learn the piano and to continue playing handball. What I had in mind came true and made me feel more independent. Even though I’ve been doing handball training for only two weeks now, I noticed that it lightens my mood and strengthens my confidence as it is something I already know and is like a shelter from everything new by which I’m surrounded.
Especially related to work I’m confronted with a lot of new challenges. Our colleagues are working on furlough and partly from home, which is why we have the office for ourselves and are free but also responsible for how we spend the time. On one day, I would wish for continuous contact to receive more feedback and insights and on the next, I’m happy about managing my own workday. Oftentimes, I have to step out of my comfort zone which is both interesting and enriching on the one hand, but difficult, overwhelming, and not less strenuous on the other. As we’re able to look into various fields of work and take part in activities for people of all age groups from toddlers to retirees and are volunteering in different organisations and charities, we meet new people all the time. That means to concentrate on listening for hours and to overcome the hurdle of talking to other people in English and articulating oneself not to sound rude but polite. And that with the limited amount of vocabulary I’m based on. Thanks to loads of nice and polite people, I don’t have to worry about it too much because they make me feel included and welcome even when I’m making all kinds of mistakes. In general, I’d like to emphasize that I’m genuinely impressed by how many kind people I have already met.
This is why I’m glad that I’ve got the chance to participate in the ESC volunteering project:
You’re getting supported but still, a lot of things you will figure out for yourself as you’re diving into situations you’ve never been in before. And I know that I wouldn’t have taken these steps out of my comfort zone to expand my horizon if I wasn’t here or without the support of my volunteer mates.
I’m Johanna from Germany and currently I’m doing my ESC at the German YMCA in London. I’ve been here for five months and I’m very happy with the way things are. I’d like to tell you from my experience how an ESC does not turn everything into some kind of perfectly smooth holiday and how that is a good thing.
Almost exactly a year ago I sent out the application to my current ESC without expecting too much. It was the last day to apply and the location was London, which seemed surreal to me. Other projects I had contacted before didn’t even know whether they would take place due to Covid. I never imagined that things would turn out the way they did. Not only did I get accepted, but we also managed to avoid the new Brexit regulations and arrived in London on the 30th of December. I still feel so happy remembering this!
The first few weeks had been a lot of this kind of excitement and joy, even though I mostly spent them between quarantine and office work. Everything was new to me and positively overwhelming. Things worked out great, especially with my roommates. At my on-arrival training I learned that most of the volunteers feel that way. What I also learned was that it is very normal to feel a bit down after that first wave of excitement. It’s just what happens: You try to adjust to everyday life and then realize that surprisingly even the smallest cultural differences can have an impact on you. My biggest problem was reading between the lines and getting indirect messages. I’m glad that my perspective on communication got expanded because of this. A conflict I had which involved a similar problem cleared up again and I learned from the situation.
Another issue was Covid of course. We had to wait through a three months’ delay until the project even started, and nearly all of the planned volunteering activities were not taking place at first. But with a lot more freedom to choose my tasks came creativity and it made me become a lot more independent.
Besides, the pandemic at least had the benefit of us being able to slowly adjust to the more and more versatile work. We got the chance to volunteer at a hospital in an environment that probably no volunteer did before us. And with tourists missing, there were a lot more calm places in the city.
Then again, through being able to explore so many new opportunities you can start to feel as if you aren’t doing enough whenever you relax. The ESC is a great time to step out of your comfort zone and train yourself in new abilities, but it doesn’t have to work right away. I think it’s important to keep in mind that in order to have fun with something new, you shouldn’t force yourself. Everyone needs to go at their own pace and if I remind myself of that, I’m able to make new friends, let myself get inspired, go visit nice places and try out what I usually wouldn’t.
As you can see an ESC has, just like normal life, lots of small ups and downs. The huge difference though is that this year is made for you to collect a treasure of experiences, thoughts, opinions and skills that you wouldn’t get at home. It’s the new social surroundings, the new possibilities but also the new difficulties that give you the opportunity to grow. And in my opinion that’s better than any holiday!
Ever since my teenage years, I have had a particular interest in the UK and its affairs. It might have, I have to truthfully admit, started with a seemingly unhealthy but actually average One Direction obsession, leading to a more passionate attitude towards learning the language, but hey, everyone makes their own way to new horizons.
I soon began to dive deeper into British culture and started appreciating it for its history, humour and all the amazing stories I grew up with that so very often were set in British lands. Those stories told in books, movies and plays, were my window to the British culture and I developed an amour and fascination for the sound and meaning of British accents. Going abroad to the UK after finishing school soon became a dream of mine, a logical step to take according to my interests. I was hoping to find a way that would enable me to tie my future career together with the British nation after getting to know them from a closer perspective.
When it became clear that many British people were not as eager to work closer together with me as I was to do with them (though I am aware that this is a very subjective and one-sided point of view…it is, however, how I felt) I started reconsidering my unswerving worship of the UK. When the actual day came around where they officially decided to leave the EU behind, my beliefs and future plans got shattered. I was surprised, to say the least. “Shocked´´ might be the more appropriate term. It was beyond me how I could have missed the underlying aversion of so many British people while feeling such a strong bond to that foreign nation.
Now, of course, after getting more into foreign politics and carrying out some research on ressentiments, the British Empire and the financial crisis of 2008, instead of Shakespeare, the Beatles and Harry Potter, I am starting to see things a little more clearly. While watching documentaries or listening to news reports it struck me that the British talked about Europe as if it was a foreign country, one you´d like to visit and with whom you wished to establish trade relations for sure, but nothing that you felt in fact to be a part of. In many cases it seemed as if they had left Europe in their minds a long time before they actively decided to leave the EU.
For a time I felt so opposed, I lost all my interest in British matters. Well, if you want nothing to do with us, I thought, fine by me, I want nothing to do with you anymore.
But after living through my anger and disappointment, I reconsidered this conclusive and fruitless approach to things. After all, it appeared to me that turning my back on the UK would primarily punish those who already suffered the greatest deal from the decision their people and government had taken – the youth, the open-minded, the forward-looking – while actual ‘leave’ voters probably wouldn’t care a fat lot whether I did or did not show any interest in their country.
Moreover, the UK now held a new appeal to me as a prime example of a nation who turns their back on supranational cooperation to return to a national approach to problem-solving instead. They are not the only European nation to consider that step by far.
By getting to the bottom of what led the British people into believing that they would be better off alone, I hoped and am still hoping to figure out what creates these feelings of distance, mistrust and exploitation towards the EU and many European countries while the idea of working together in order to being able to tackle international problems adequately strikes me as being such an obvious and indisputably good one.
When I came across the offer on the European Youth Portal while browsing the site for volunteering opportunities in the EU to spend one whole year in central London, starting in September 2020, I was sure that someone must have made a mistake. I had already given up on the opportunity to make my dream to volunteer in the UK after school become reality. The outcome of the referendum and the following years of endless unsympathetic debates in Brussels had washed away all my hopes for past plans for a UK-based start of career.
But I got disabused. Many projects had already been granted for the coming years and were allowed to take place before finally ebbing away. Without any hesitation, I sat down and began writing my application.
Arriving here in London in December 2020 against all odds after facing more obstacles than I or anyone could have ever possibly imagined, even after considering Brexit and all the difficulties coming with it did feel brilliant and most importantly it felt like the right thing to do after feeling so very aimless for a long time during lockdown.
Slowly but surely, my voluntary service gave me a schedule, an aim and a purpose again. Next to the relief of regaining some sort of structure, I remembered my primary intention to try to develop an understanding for the country’s culture and depths to the best of my ability.
I started indoors, watching the news, eating custard and reading Jane Eyre. Contrary to the worries that many of my friends and family members had expressed when I announced that I was going to leave for London in the middle of the corona pandemic, the UK introduced their reopening plans rather soon which their early investment in vaccines enabled them to do.
This eventually allowed me to get myself the latest version of the Evening Standard while strolling through Westminster and enjoying a soft serve.
My tasks and leisure activities now keep emerging. From helping elderly British people who all encountered Germany throughout their lives in one way or another to improve or simply keep alive their German language skills, to volunteering for the NHS and getting an insight into the British health care system and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, or simply watching `This Country´ while treating myself with an unhealthy amount of Ginger Nuts, everything presents different advantages. I soon noticed that if you open your eyes, you can find a country’s culture, politics and emotion in pretty much everything around you.
I found it in my local food bank fellow volunteer´s confession that she never brings up Brexit when with her brother because she cannot do so without starting a fight. I found it in the passing remark of a work mate wondering how refugees would be able to end up in such fine houses. I found it in the understanding laugh sent my way by a construction worker after buying a Colin the Caterpillar cake with some au pairs, because we understood that it was a very British thing to do. I found it in me when I began starting conversations commenting on the weather forecast and saying cheers pretty much all the time and I keep finding it literally every day in the smallest, most insignificant appearing things and situations. The more I learn, the more I understand my lack of knowledge when it comes to the depths of this nation, but maybe understanding this is the most important lesson of all.
My ESC is giving me a chance to reconcile with the British, to see behind the curtains and judge their politics as a whole instead of being limited to the observation of their foreign affairs. This seems ironic in many ways, because I only get the chance to grow a deeper understanding of the British people and to rediscover them in many ways, exploring their reasons and learning the great variety of opinions, because of a programme that they are going to no longer be a part of in a very short time of their own free will.
For this reason, I was as thrilled as I was surprised to find out that there were in fact many young people in the UK who found this paradox just as saddening as I did.
Realising that organisations like Europeers and the Young European Movement were far from giving up on European youth exchange in the UK resettled my perspective and allowed me to draw new hope.
A certain number of people have brought about a decision for numerous reasons causing numerous consequences. How many of these will prove to actually be corresponding remains to be seen. This does, however, not mean that good ideas have to be wiped out, despite there often being a huge lack of information when it comes to the EU and the opportunities it offers.
This surely is a two-ways street: You can not educate people who have made a decision deep within themselves to remain oblivious to certain facts. However, this does not give you any excuse not to do everything in your power until you reach that point. The way I see it, the EU failed to do so, not only in the UK but in various if not to say the majority of member countries. The importance of the EU is not self-explanatory. It does not have to be. There are enough valid arguments in favour of it if only you make the effort to bring them home to us.
Considering my experiences in the UK so far with all the different people I encountered, this is what I am now planning to do. It is all the more fun with inspirational people in a city as colourful and vibrant as London.
My ESC is teaching me to rediscover my love for the British after getting to know them a little better while helping me to get an understanding for the power of felt neglect and missed opportunities.
What does it mean to feel European? What does it mean to you? For me, it means endless opportunities and the ability to connect to likeminded people. For others, it could be the culture, the food (OH, the food!), and the similar mindsets that countries who vary greatly can share. And then, for some, it could mean nothing more than simply belonging to a geographical continent.
All these reasons are of course completely valid.
The first time I personally felt properly ‘European’ was when I was 14 and I was on a school trip to Germany, trying my hardest(ish) to speak German and grow my confidence in speaking with native speakers. I had gone on a few holidays before but that was the time that my consciousness of engaging in an international sphere really took hold. I suddenly realised what an opportunity this was, getting to experience a different culture, different food, meeting new people and learning an entirely different language. I discovered shared values, mindsets, ideas, and dreams. I found connectivity where I didn’t think there would be. There were shared European things that I loved, and some that I did think were a bit strange. But, it was exciting.
At home, my mum taught me what it meant to be and feel European early on, and just how lucky we were to be able to freely travel and work wherever we liked. Engaging internationally, she told me, was an exciting opportunity and privilege that not everyone got to have—I’ve taken this mindset with me throughout my teenage years and young adult life. Of course, sometimes I’ve taken it for granted—being European was just ‘how it was’, and I never really realised the implications of leaving the EU, and thus the debate around what it meant to be European, until it actually happened. That’s why I need to remind myself of why I love being and feeling European, and how unique an experience it is.
This mindset of European-ness—of mutual understanding, cooperation and experience—is, in my opinion, an incredibly important one to have. As we all know, the willingness to engage with people outside of your own country opens a whole different viewpoint. It is a gift and a privilege that we all have, and it’s vital that we don’t feel discouraged from feeling a part of the continent, of something big.
Due to the seemingly constant frustration that we all most likely feel surrounding politics and Brexit-based news, I often must remind myself that that it’s not all politics—the community aspect, the shared cultures, the human connections you make are all too important. Naturally, it’s rather discouraging and incredibly disappointing that the UK government seems to want to cut off its nose to spite its face. However, let’s remember the other side of politics: the human side. Unity is incredibly precious and staying linked and united today has never been more important.
One Time In… A EuroPeers UK Podcast, episode 1 has now been released. You will get to enjoy hearing new stories, hosted by two EuroPeers; Joseph and Nathan, once a fortnight. Episode 2 is out on 23 April.
We’re starting off strong with a heart-warming tale from our good friend Federico.
What happens when you send a young Spanish man with a mohawk into the Slovakian countryside? We are going to find out! Join us as we hear a humbling story of unexpected friendship despite language, culture, and generational barriers. It’s a great story with its fair share of laughs; It’s One Time In Slovakia with Federico.