Member of the Month – Maarten de Groot: “Once I Get Excited About Something, I Tend to Get Absorbed by It”

It is often said that the Member of the Month should be someone who “moved mountains” in our association, but there are several ways to contribute to it. Also, it is often said that there are no active people during our statutory events and boredom spreads through delegates and envoys. Our Member of the Month of March is Maarten de Groot from AEGEE-Amsterdam, who showed in the past three statutory meetings (Agora Asturias included) that it is possible to step on stage and have your voice heard.

The AEGEEan: Please, introduce yourself: who you are, your hobbies etc.
Maarten: Hey, my name is Maarten de Groot, I am 24 years old and I study (primarily political) philosophy in Amsterdam. I grew up in the east of the Netherlands, in a place called Hengelo. I like to do sports: running, cycling and sailing mostly. Moreover, I like to talk with people, ranging from casual conversations with customers of the fruit stalls at the market I’ve worked at part-time for almost 8 years, to meetings with strangers, to at times heated discussions with friends. I feel like I’ve managed to combine these two “hobbies” by making long distance cycling trips through Europe. It is a great way to explore both the diversity and the interconnectedness of our continent, in terms of its landscapes as well as the cultural mentalities and living conditions of its peoples. I also like a good party, by the way.

When, why and how you did you join AEGEE?
I joined AEGEE in September 2013. I had just moved to Amsterdam for my masters, and I more or less accidentally bumped into an AEGEEan. He seemed like a nice guy and invited me for an open social drink of AEGEE. Although, initially, I had no intention to join a student association, the social drink persuaded me that it was indeed an easy way to get to know some people in Amsterdam, so I saw no reason not to give it a try. In other words, I joined because I felt I could leave at any moment, without any harm, but right now I realize it’s a fraud: once you’re in, there’s no way back.

You were elected as Member of the Month, how do you feel?
I feel greatly honored, especially because my contribution to the European level of AEGEE is clearly rather limited up until now.

You were nominated because of your active participation during both Agora Cagliari and EPM Burgos. Why are you so involved?
Part of the reason is that I have harbored an interest in the European project since my time at high school, during which I participated in a couple of Model European Parliament conferences. Over the years, I have only become more intrigued by the question of the future of democracy, and more particularly the question of transnational, European democracy. The two statutory meeting that I attended so far have challenged me to translate some of the (rather abstract) ideas about ‘Europe’ that I have gathered over the years, into communicable form and to relate them to our student association. The other part of the reason is that, once I get excited about, and feel committed to something, I tend to get absorbed by it. I’m afraid that’s what happened.

Most of the time the participation in statutory meetings is limited to ratifying things and some sporadic questions. How important is it, in your view, to have active participation during Agorae and EPMs?
In my view, the main merit of AEGEE is that it brings students from all over Europe into contact with one another. The primary purpose of statutory events, in turn, is that it allows these people to come together and to exchange viewpoints on topics that matter to them, in ways that are respectful of each others differences, and to ensure that the institutional structure of AEGEE is such that it accommodates for this. In such a context, participation will thrive, but only as a welcome side-effect.

From a delegate perspective, why do you think one should be active and ask questions during the Agora/EPM?
First of all, if you are actively participating during the plenary sessions of these events, your chances of falling asleep drop significantly. Secondly, I think it is just way more fun: (you feel like) you’re part of the process, rather than a mere bystander. Lastly, it is a great learning experience, a balancing act: on the one hand it challenges you to get yourself heard in front of a large and diverse audience, but at the same time you try to be respectful towards others, to leave sufficient room for them, and to be aware of your own limitations.

If you could do something to enhance the participation, what would it be?
The most important condition for active participation, I would say, is to create a safe environment in which people feel free to speak up. However, this is easier said than done, especially within groups as diverse as ours during. Dutch, for example, are known for their direct style of communication, which may come across as offensive to others. Although I have neither the will nor the capacity to change the Dutch mentality, an enhanced self-awareness nonetheless allows you to be self-critical, and consequently, to adjust your style, if only by trial and error.

In Agora Cagliari you asked for 8 minutes to discuss within the delegation of your local, the motion on allowing for an exception to the rule of having a minimum of 6 weeks in between statutory events in the case of EPM Burgos and Agora Asturias. What was your idea behind this request?
The motion had been presented, questions had been asked and a general discussion had taken place for a while. Although I had a general idea about how this motion was going to be voted upon, and how I felt about it, I nevertheless felt the need to discuss it briefly with my fellow delegates before the actual vote. For I believe that it is important to have a moment at which you actively say, with your delegation “we’re going to vote such and such”. Without having such a moment, the voting can turn into something that somewhat passively overcomes you as a delegation, whereby every delegate may have made up his or her mind individually, but there’s no proper moment to turn this into a collective act.

Last but not least, let’s do a small game. Explain you and your personality using the letters that compose your name.
M from Meticulous
A from Ambitious
A from Adventurous
R from Responsible
T from Tenacious (sometimes a pain in the neck)
E from Engaged (in the social sense)
N from Nonconformist
[for the R and the N I’ve picked the same ones as last month’s member, Ruben: thanks for the suggestions!]

Written by Erika Bettin, AEGEE-Venezia