In 2015, AEGEE celebrates its thirtieth birthday; all over Europe, and in the interior of Russia, and in the Caucasus, and in Turkey, and at the Canary Islands, which are geographically part of Africa. Basically, along almost a quarter of the earth’s circumference over 200 AEGEE locals have popped up and are ready to celebrate. Should some enthusiastic students be able to found AEGEE-Reykjavik in time, 2015 would geographically see a celebration across three continents. Thinking about it, how does someone start a local and who are these people?
Creating a local is easy. That is to say that even a single person can found his own local, as long as he or she has a university to support the foundation. Having an entire team of Europe loving, culture appreciating and travel-hungry students helps of course and within two weeks AEGEE-Europe will most likely have recognised you. If all goes well; congratulations, you are now a Contact.
However, imagine that you want to move up in the hierarchy, not in the least to be able to make your own awesome artsy AEGEE stickers, you will have between a year and a year-and-a-half (before three Agorae have passed) to fill in all the necessary documents, gather enough members and attend all mandatory events. Then, there are a few more requirements along the road, but, imagining there was too much fun involved to experience these issues as obstacles, after a few years your Contact has become a Contact-Antenna and finally a full-fledged Antenna.
Nowadays, there are over 200 locals, but at the start in 1985 there were only six. The founders of which, in addition to have to found their own local, also had to set up the greater organisation, which is now known as AEGEE-Europe. These original founders were no superhumans, however, in the sense that they did something that present founders may also have been able to could have done. To found AEGEE basically all it needed, was to clearly envision a concept of the organisation you were trying to form, to show perseverance in order to reach that goal, but also to speak French.
Before AEGEE expanded further into Europe, French was the de facto language of the organisation. Imagine that, when the first Comité Directeur was assembled at the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris in 1986, none of the representatives spoke nor did the Secretary make notes in English during the official meetings. In fact , this is also the reason why certain terms such as the Comité Directeur are named like this rather than for instance’ the Executive Board’.
One of the hallmarks of AEGEE has to be the interconnections the association creates between students from all over Europe during exchanges. Even in 1987, before the first Summer University Project was even launched, some of the first founders of AEGEE successfully lobbied with the then French president François Mitterrand and persuaded him to fund the then newly created Erasmus programme by the European Commission. Students from over 4000 institutions of higher education in 33 European countries still make use of this programme annually in order to study at least three months abroad, make new friends and learn to appreciate different European cultures.
That is not to say that founding an organisation comes without its problems. Within the first three years of its foundation, the organisation found itself into an existential crisis, preceded by some judicial trouble. Less than a year before Franck Biancheri came up with EGEE as the name for his new organisation, another association of the same name was founded by French elderly volunteers. The issue never came to a lawsuit, however, because, after receiving a notification, the organisation quickly changed its name to become the ‘AEGEE’ we are all familiar with nowadays.
In the past, founders have come and founders have gone; Contacts have eventually become Antennas, while others have gone completely; 2015 will be a year of celebration, but in a certain way it remains remarkable that the raising of more than 200 glasses in 2015 could not have happened without the original raising of only six thirty years into the past.
Written by Willem Laurentzen, AEGEE-Nijmegen