Organising a Network Meeting (NWM) may be not a big deal for such a big local, but what made AEGEE-Amsterdam’s NMW extraordinary was the topic: until a couple of years ago, they would not even think about focusing on drawing locals closer to the European level. But this spring it became reality!
This is the result of an ongoing effort to go beyond local possibilities and to overcome habits and the so-called “comfort zone” in order to have a broader impact. This is the effort The AEGEEan would like to praise.
Wieke van der Kroef, current President of AEGEE-Amsterdam, expresses her enthusiasm for the nomination and presents the situation of her local in the following interview.
- Would you like to tell us how you feel about the prize and the beginning of the Europeanisation process?
It is wonderful to get this kind of recognition for a job that demanded so much time! In fact, this process started a few years ago before I even joined AEGEE-Amsterdam. A small group of members with European experience felt we should become more active on a European level. Feeling this was needed, we put aside our arrogance and started taking responsibility in order to live up to our place in the network and become an example.
We still really need to change a lot in order to reach our goals. And it is no easy fight against a habit but we are willng to work for this process.
- Understanding the problems is the first step towards their solution: Did you understand why Dutch-speaking AEGEEans were more interested in local activities?
Dutch student culture has a big influence on this.
There are many student organisations in the Netherlands and although most students join one, there is a lot of competition between the different organisations each year to gather enough new members. To get a large amount of members, locals like AEGEE-Amsterdam or AEGEE-Enschede have to listen to what members and potential members want. What they want is to get to know the city (most Dutch students move away from their home town and parents as soon as they graduate) and join an organisation where they can meet other students from different studies. The possibility AEGEE offers, to also discover Europe, is more of a fun bonus than an essential reason to join. Our members do not join because of Europe, but we want to keep them active. We organise a lot of local events which in turn makes it unnecessary to travel to European events if you want to have fun.
- Did you manage to convince all members that this is the right way to take?
There is a common understanding that it would be good to be more active on the European level. We have gotten this far by now, but this does not mean all members are willing to be active on the European level. There will always be a large part of our members who are very happy to stay just on a local level. Changing that means changing our entire identity and strategy and losing a lot of members and is therefore very undesirable.
Another problem is the scepticism towards our influence as students on the policy-making processes at the local and European level. This scepticism is the reason behind the lack of thematic input of the locals in the Dutch-speaking region. Why invest time into something you do not believe in? This is something I still want to change because I think it is in part based upon a lack of knowledge. People do not realise how AEGEE is involved in different policy-making institutions and that we are accepted and even asked by politicians to give an opinion. My experience in working with the Dutch and Flemish Youth councils has taught me that people should not underestimate how much decision makers appreciate our input. We have a bigger impact than most think and it can be even bigger if more members believe in our capabilities.
- As stated in the introduction, you just organised a Network Meeting. Which outcome satisfied you most?
The best part of the NWM, according to me, was that different locals started discussing their common problem of getting members to become active on the European level. We have discussed this before more informally, but never structurally and with almost all locals together. I think NWM’s are the perfect place to discuss this kind of shared problems and exchange ideas on how to address them.
- AEGEE-Amsterdam promotes AEGEE4Rio.This is an example of a project starting locally and aiming to include different parts of the network, develop individuals, and be in touch with the global environment. Would you like to add something to this?
This project was not started by AEGEE-Amsterdam but by me and some other people. I think it is still too soon to expect a lot of thematic input from AEGEE-Amsterdam already. First, we need have more thematic discussions on the local level and get more people to go to European events. After that, I’m sure they will be infected by the AEGEE-virus that hit us all the first time we travelled ourselves. Once they are hooked, I hope we will not only have more people spewing their criticism, but also see some initiatives coming from the Dutch network to the European level.
- Do you think that the pre-Agora event that you are organising with AEGEE-Utrecht will also contribute to “Europeanise” your local?
I definitely hope so. I strongly believe in the idea that positive experiences with European events at home, will make it easier for members to travel to events organised by and in other locals. I have seen this before with our Summer University: members understand better what the events are like, and that other AEGEE members are just as easy-going and fun as they are. This makes the step to travel themselves smaller, and therefore easier to take.
- You are candidating for Network Commission. How did you decide and how do you think your election can influence the local?
I am not sure what kind of impact my candidature will have on AEGEE-Amsterdam. I definitely had more influence as a President this term. But I have faith that the policy will be continued by the new board and especially by our new European responsible.
As for me, my experience in Amsterdam has taught me a lot about the possibilities and restrictions of the Dutch and Flemish locals. Being a subcommie of the Juridical Commission, an active representative of my local to various statutory events, and co-initiator of two new European projects, I also have the necessary connection with the European level. I definitely believe I can use all this knowledge in getting the locals in this part of the network more active on the European level.
- Do you have other members who are part/ interested in European level?
I think quite some people are interested in the European level, However, there is also a lack of knowledge and experience about the different positions and possibilities at the European level.
Another reason why people don’t apply for European positions is that they think they don’t know enough people on the European level to get elected. Elections in AEGEE sometimes do feel like a popularity contest where the candidate with the most friends from Summer Universities and other events gets elected rather than the most qualified candidate. This impression can scare people who are new to the European level.
- As you say in your application “the Dutch-speaking locals are seen as being one of the most
As I said, I believe student culture has a big influence on the effectiveness of the methods you are using. I do not think there is one clear answer as the situation is different throughout regions and countries. There is no one golden road to success, but many paths, a different one for each region. Cooperating with the locals around and finding out what you have in common is a first step.
Ask your Network Commissioner, this is what they are for: to help you improve AEGEE.
With such a dose of wisdom and commitment it is no surprise AEGEE-Amsterdam has been elected Local of the Month! Congratulations again!
Written by Martina Zanero, AEGEE-Torino
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