From Istanbul to Portugal: The Story Behind the New Contact in Covilhã

Covilhã is located in the mountainside of the biggest mountain in continental Portugal: Serra da Estrela. The mountain has the biggest natural park in Portugal and one of the most beautiful landscapes in the interior of Portugal. During the winter there are many events such as snowboard competitions and the famous “Carnaval da Neve” (Snow Carnival). People can either do winter sports or just stay in and enjoy a hot chocolate in front of the fireplace in one of the many rural and cosy coffee shops. But this is not only a winter town. During the summer, the mountain also has a lot to offer – beautiful waterfalls, lagoons and hiking courses. It is the perfect place for rock climbing lovers!

Covilhã is also known for its university – it has highly active student groups and the university itself has a strong bond with local enterprises and even some international ones. As a small city and university in the interior, it is hard to make a stand against the bigger universities in Portugal, but thanks to student projects and the always supportive university administration, it is making major improvements. “The best fragrances come in small bottles. It’s exactly like Covilhã. Small town, but so much to offer”, this is how the Erasmus friends of the founders of contact Covilhã described the city. Exactly for being such a small city, Covilhã offers foreign students the chance to get a real contact with the locals. This is the place where Erasmus students do not tend to walk in groups of people from their own countries, but in big mixed groups of Portuguese, Romanian, Polish, Estonian, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian and Turkish people. Covilhã becomes a melting pot of tolerance, friendship and diversity where we all turn into a big family.

Picture courtesy of Francisco Esgalhado

It is guaranteed that no one could ever leave this town without experiencing the true meaning of saudade, a feeling that comes in the process of looking back and remembering the times spent in this special place, between the mountains of Serra da Estrela.

The city sounds perfect and has only missed one thing up until now: AEGEE. A group of students from different areas of interest. At the moment, they are a team of 20 creative and responsible people interested in taking part in this project. A team formed by students of Political Science and International Relations, Informatics, Biotechnology and Bioengineering, all together for a reason: AEGEE.

The AEGEEan had a chat with Joana Vaz from Covilha about the project of bringing AEGEE to their city.

The AEGEEan: How did you hear about AEGEE?

Joana: After participating in a formation organised by AEGEE-Istanbul, within the Youth In Action programme, I thought I could build a team, bring AEGEE to my university and help other students to develop their skills in order to be more capable, competitive and active in this world. Sometimes the hardest thing is not to fight, but to find something specific to fight for. Where should we start? What are our limits? If there are limits, is it possible to overcome them? Am I alone in this? Participating in associative activities helps us to get a deeper view of ourselves, contributes to the creation of an entrepreneurial attitude, stimulates the initiative capacity and encourages us to take risks. More than taking chances, it is important for us to learn how to create our own opportunities. Furthermore, we live in a global village. Despite our different backgrounds, we all share the same piece of land. We dress in Chinese clothes, drink German beer, eat Italian food, watch British news and American films. There is no way to deny each other anymore. Truth be told, future depends on us. We are responsible for building a culture of peace with structures that are strong enough to last and only by experiencing tolerance in intercultural activities we can make it possible. These kinds of associations have a huge importance on the subject as they are an expression of life in community that protects the practice of democracy and citizenship, and develops solidarity within society.

Picture courtesy of Ricardo Casteleiro

How did you get the idea of bringing AEGEE to Covilhã?

There are only two AEGEE antennae in Portugal, which we think is not enough. Especially in this hard period of crisis and with the increase of unemployment, formal education seems to be insufficient for young people to succeed. More and more employers demands us to be different, active, flexible and dynamic. Having a leadership skill is not a feature anymore; it is an absolute need nowadays. We think that having this door to the world in such a small city with lots of students is an awesome opportunity for them to broaden their views, share international experiences in their area of studies, building themselves as global citizens and in the end they can even make the world a better place!

For how long have you been trying to get AEGEE to your city?

It was not as hard as we expected. Actually, the university was super receptive and people are getting more interested in AEGEE day by day.

So how has the university been involved?

Thankfully, our university has been fully cooperative and although a bit slow in response, it has attended to all our needs. All other student organisations have shown support, congratulated us on this new project and even invited us for partnerships and future cooperative activities. We have a strong and very active student core and our university does whatever is possible to help us.

What lies in the future of AEGEE in Covilhã?

We are just starting this amazing adventure and we are eager to learn more about everything that relates to AEGEE. Let’s say we will start from the beginning. The first step is taking part on our first international activity as members of AEGEE, by attending the next Network Meeting and getting to know our closest friends from Spain and France. Also, we are organizing a meeting with AEGEE-Valladolid in our city so they can share in a more close way their experiences and thoughts, creating strong bonds with our other two national antennae and putting some other great ideas to practice. One of our goals this year will be doing a project within Youth In Action, so students with less possibilities can also be a part of this. The subject of the project is still a secret, all we can tell you is that in a close future, our academic and AEGEEan community can expect some fantastic ideas prepared just for them!


Written by Patricia Anthony, AEGEE-København