“We want to promote the interchanging and understanding of cultures throughout all of Europe”~ Maaike Heijdenrijk

European Citizenship Working Group (ECWG), one of the four Working Groups of AEGEE, will have a new Coordinator elected at the Autumn Agora that will take place in Salerno (Italy). One of the candidates for that position is Maaike Heijdenrijk, a member of AEGEE-Nijmegen. We talked with Maaike about her programme and objectives for this year.

Hello Maaike, and thank you for your time to be interviewed. To start off, could you tell is a bit about yourself and your career in AEGEE?

Hi everyone! I am Maaike and really happy to introduce myself to you. This summer I started my international career in AEGEE by joining the ECWG, and I am really excited to see where it leads! Before that, I was already active on local level, where I was part of the committee that promoted Europe and AEGEE Europe to members in Nijmegen. I was also the main organizer of the Nijmegen stop of Europe on Track. I have always loved politics and getting to know new cultures, and working on these topics gives me so much energy. Besides that, I am a 22 year old, now finishing my masters in Mathematics in the lovely city of Nijmegen. After working, you can usually find me playing games with friends, drinking beer in a bar or cuddling my amazing cat.

In four years that you’ve been an AEGEE member, you have organised many different local activities, even out of the association. What are the main lessons you learnt of all those experiences and how have they helped you to get to where you are now?

If you want something done, you will have to do it yourself, and if you do it, don’t do it alone, find people that are also passionate about it, and together you can create so much more than you would have ever imagined. On the one hand, you realise that no one is going to do the things for you. And if you do not make clear what you want, things probably will not happen. And on the other hand, I realised how much is possible as long as you put effort into it. I did so much more than I could have ever imagined five years ago. And of course you do not do things alone. Talking to people, gathering people around you that care about the same things, together there is so much you can do. This gives me confidence that with our working group we can realize all of our plans as long as we truly believe in them.

Having a look to your programme, which will be presented at the Agora, could you tell us what new ideas will be put to practice in this term from ECWG.

One thing we will be working on is starting a project about raising political discussion and promoting political activism around Europe (Sounds familiar Iñigo?). This is something I developed together with two other amazing AEGEEans during the seminar of AEGEE at the University of Youth and Development. The plan is to train people to facilitate political discussion, and to organize activities related to politics and discussion. 

Also, we want to do case studies again. Our first focus will be on organizing a case study to Ireland and Northern Ireland, talking with young people at both sides of the border, on how they are affected by the possibility of a Brexit, and how they see the future of their island. (And of course spread the word about our awesome organisation to this island!). We have good contacts on both sides of the border, and are really positive about the changes of this event actually happening!

We also want to start a project around the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. As this strongly shaped modern-day Europe and marked the beginning of both the unity of Europe as the division of our continent, we want members and locals to create awareness for their own local history, and share this with the network.

And of course there is much more, see our activity report for that, and follow us on social media!

Could different subjects and topics such as History, Sociology, Geography, even sports and music, be used as part of the ECWG programme?

European Citizenship within AEGEE has two pillars, politics and culture. And culture contains all of the things mentioned in your question. We want to promote the interchanging and understanding of cultures throughout all of Europe. This can be done on different levels. With our case studies we want people to gain a deep understanding of a certain culture, their history, the challenges they are currently facing. This is a good combination of the first three points you mentioned. For sports and music, these are usually among the first things people learn about a culture they do not know yet. Dancing together, playing sports together can break cultural barriers and make people open up to each other. Incorporating these topics in our events and projects can help us reach people that normally would not feel too comfortable meeting new people from different cultures. 

One of the most remarkable points is the fact that you want to create a “wonderful team spirit”. What kind of activities would you introduce into ECWG Team to ensure this during the year?

The first thing I would do as a coordinator is plan an individual skype call with all members in the working group, to talk to them personally about their plans and ideas for the year, as well as how they see their role in the group. I want to celebrate things like Christmas and birthdays together, and if possible also some national/regional holidays of everyone. Even though we will not meet many times in real life, with the help of technology we can still create a feeling of togetherness.

To end this off, what are your next objectives in case you will not be chosen as Coordinator?

If I am not elected as coordinator I will still be part of the working group of course. I will do my best for the rest of the year to promote European Citizenship within Europe, and work on interesting projects. So I will probably have some more time to spend on my studies, but for the rest, my objectives will stay the same!