In the occasion of the Youth Development month, the Youth Development Working Group reached out to four AEGEE alumni and interviewed them, with the intention to connect past, present and future of AEGEE. Here’s the second interview of the series: Simon de Hartog (formerly) from AEGEE-Enschede.
YDWG: Hello Simon, can you introduce yourself a bit?
Simon: Currently I am working at my own company as a software architect. Next to that I occasionally teach classes for both private and corporate people, ranging from personal development to IT. I unsubscribed from Holland last year in November, since I don’t have a house or a fixed place where I live.
People that go on holidays and have pets to take care of can find me on various sites. I travel from house to house every two weeks to two months, taking care of it and the pets there. My stuff fits in two suitcases in the back of my car, it’s great to be able to travel light. Every place I go, I need about a day to find supermarkets, natural places to visit and to set up my laptop and screens.
Some ask me: “But what about friends?”. The funny thing is that I noticed I actually visit more friends than I used to. I guess this is because I travel around the countries a lot more, so it’s easier to stop by friends when I am nearby.
And when did you become a member of AEGEE? How many years did you volunteer in it and what have you done during those years?
I joined AEGEE-Enschede in January 1999. A friend of mine who was in the board at that time asked me to set up the office network and server. After I did that, I thought “I might as well join the Association”. A step I have never regretted!
At first, I joined a local committee to maintain the ICT, because that’s what I was good at. The committee grew to four people, I became the chairman. I started visiting the AEGEE pub called Asterion and I met new and interesting people. They took me hitchhiking to Utrecht, Poland and beyond. My first AEGEE experience was at Agora Utrecht: all those nationalities in a single room, and we were all members of the same group of students! Awesome!
Then I started travelling more, joined statutory events and conferences, European Schools and more. Teaching classes at various IT European Schools was becoming a habit. Together with fellow nerds, we revived the IUG (Internet User Group) into the IT Working Group at Agora Udine.
Various trips to the headoffice followed, arranging the IT there, joining lots of parties and meeting new AEGEEans all the time. The statutory events became more and more dependent on IT, so together with support from various other members, an IT-responsible was appointed for statutory events just after I more or less resigned from the position. [he smiles, ed.]
What does AEGEE mean for you?
For me, AEGEE represents what it stands for: an organisation of European students spread across various countries. It is the best thing that happened to me during my studies at university. I learnt a lot about myself, others, cultures, travelling and broadened my view of the world. It provided me with a vast network of good friends and also business relations. Before I joined, I always thought of Poland as a country left of former Russia. Now, it’s only the country next to Germany, a lot closer!
What was the biggest thing that AEGEE brought to you?
Trying to put a measure on all the things AEGEE has given me is not possible for me, let alone ranking them! In general, I believe AEGEE brings three things to any member, each of course in varying degrees: personal development, fun, travelling and cultural experience.
I’ve been lucky to be able to say I received all three. It greatly improved my social skills, because they were lacking behind when I started university. I’ve also learned a lot about management, organising events, how to deal with various types of organisations and getting comfortable wearing a suit. [he smiles, ed.]
The fun part hardly needs explanation. Parties, inspiring (or sometimes not so inspiring) workshops, organisation of statutory meetings, visiting beautiful places, meeting beautiful people, and last but not least, getting a glimpse of what goes on behind the chairtable!
Which skills did you improve the most during your very active years in AEGEE?
How to make contact with people in a good way, getting insights on how different cultures work and think, especially when interacting. I learnt how to do business, organise events, have effective meetings and why most meetings I have now are not so productive… Giving workshops, putting together training materials, confronting people in a constructive way, oral presentations… I can go on for a long time.
I guess if people wonder what they will get out of joining AEGEE, it’s almost impossible to get an answer. I had a similar issue when I was about to join the board of AEGEE-Enschede. “What will it bring me?” I asked myself and others a lot of times. I did not get a satisfying answer, at least not one justifying giving up more than one year of studies (which is not the case anymore these days, don’t worry [he smiles, ed.]).
In the end, I came to the conclusion that I could not rationalise my decision to join or not. So I decided to go for it, just because it seemed like a wonderful challenge. And it was! To this day, I’m still happy I chose to join the board.
Did these skills help you to find a job easily? And what is your job now?
Certainly! The skills helped my to find a job I love. I quit my job a few years ago and decided to start living off my own company (which I already had for a few years). It worked out great, hopefully I will never have to be an employee again. [he winks, ed.]
I develop software architectures and also partly build them for large and small companies. One thing I also learned in AEGEE is that IT should not be a goal; it is still a mean to make an organisation operate more efficiently. This means IT projects are a success or failure solely based on the adoption rate of the organisation’s employees or participants. Many IT companies these days are no competition for me at all because they don’t understand this seemingly simple rule. Thanks again to AEGEE!
What would you say is the biggest benefit of AEGEE for young people looking for a job?
Difficult to give one biggest benefit that is valid for every combination of persons and jobs. The one I am still profiting from is my network of business relations I got from AEGEE and also the fact that I learned how to maintain and expand it.
Lastly, do you have any advice for newbies in AEGEE?
When I look back to my years in AEGEE, I have little regrets. However, if you are a new member or thinking of becoming one, please enjoy your membership! Enjoy what AEGEE has to offer you in all its aspects. Experiment, play, don’t take everything too seriously all the time. AEGEE can be a safe haven to learn how to conduct business and interact with all kinds of people in real life. Of course there are people, money and time at stake. But, you learn a lot more from mistakes then from successes. Perhaps this advice could also apply to life after AEGEE?
This is the second article of a series of four. You can find the first one here.
Written by Batuhan Çarıkçı, Youth Development Working Group