The city of Brussels is home to not only the AEGEE-House where all Comité Directeur members have worked since 1996, and some of the main European Union institutions, but it is also home to a local antenna that is recovering from the ashes with the help of some members: AEGEE-Brussels. This is not the first time it has happened because this local antenna in Belgium was founded three times in its history. The first era was from 1985 to 1996, then returned again from 1997 to 2000 and returned in 2007, becoming active to the present day. What is the secret of this antenna marked by the sign of phoenix? How does it work and what are the main goals of this year’s board? Read on to find out!

Hi there, and thanks for taking part in this interview. Could you start by introducing yourselves to our readers?

Hello! As AEGEE-Brussel/Bruxelles, we are composed of people from very different backgrounds, ranging from education to nationality and goals for our respective futures. Nevertheless, there will always be one thing that unifies us, our motivation and commitment to young people all over Europe, and now in our case, Brussels. 

Ismael, our President, is currently studying LAW at UCL – Saint Louis in Brussels. Additionally, he has been in the European youth sector for around 4 years in total, starting first as WOSM European youth representative, then working in the head office of Youth for Exchange and Understanding International in Brussels since 2018. He was aware of AEGEE for some time but this is the first time for him to get fully involved as a member, and more importantly, a board member in an AEGEE local antenna.

Valentina, our Vice President; she is new to AEGEE but she already has experience in other youth organizations such as ESN. She is currently in her first year of marketing and communications. Her contribution isn’t only on a PR level, but Vale also handles external relations for the antenna.

Antonia, one of our three members with prior AEGEE experience. Toni is our Secretary, thus the only thing she is doing day by day is writing minutes and agendas. Before coming to Brussels she was a board member of AEGEE-Dresden and served as Policy Officer for the ERWG, where she joined our organization already in 2016. Apart from AEGEE, she is also a Masters student of International Economics at KU Leuven in Brussels.

Paul has been active for around ten years in AEGEE across Europe. He was a member of four AEGEE locals and participated in countless activities. It’s highly probable you have met him before at an AEGEE event.  He was the longest active member within AEGEE-Brussel/Bruxelles so he takes care of the finance and various other transition-related tasks.

Ema, our PR responsible, was previously a member of AEGEE-Zagreb. She finished her bachelors in Architecture and Urban Planning there, where she also engaged herself as a student board member and exchange coordinator. Currently, she’s doing a Masters in Architecture in Brussels and is glad to contribute to the team with creativity and visual skills.

Juan, being the youngest in the board, is currently a first-year Business Administration student at KU Leuven. He is the Events Coordinator of the board. Having lived in Asia, and participating in many international events, such as THIMUN in Qatar, and other simulations in Spain, Juan has vast experience working with people from very different cultures. Being very new in the board, Juan is gaining experience throughout event coordination with the help of his other board members, by getting to know new contacts and developing his organising skills. His passion for the team and motivation help the board remain positive.

As readers can see, AEGEE-Brussels has had a history of repeated foundations and dissolutions since it appeared in the first years of the organisation. What do you think could be the reason for this?

This is mostly because of the “Capital City Syndrome”: despite that the city of Brussels is usually attractive due to the European Institutions and many universities, the implication of AEGEE-Brussel/Bruxelles was not very strong in the local universities.

The result was a lack of visibility to local students, and despite having new members each year, our Antenna suffered from a lack of continuity from board term to board term. This fragility of our structures meant that the lack of investment of current members would mean a drop of visibility and attraction to potential new members.

Also, student life in Brussels is quite specific. The different universities in Brussels are fragmented around Brussels and are taught in either French, Dutch or English. This means it is hard to set up an efficient recruitment strategy as various students live and study in different parts of Brussels, and not always in the same language. A good illustration of this complexity is that of AEGEE’s classic “competitor” ESN: there are currently four ESN sections on the Brussels territory.

Because of that problem, you as board members have a programme in which you will try to make the antenna active. What are the main objectives you want to reach for this year?

Of course our main idea is to return enough strength to AEGEE-Brussel/Bruxelles and to keep the local afloat in the years to come. We strongly hope to find a group of dedicated young volunteers that want to engage with AEGEE until the end of our term! Moreover, we want to make AEGEE known in Belgium. With all the different decision-making institutions and organisations that Brussels has to offer, it is a great location for AEGEE to grow and prosper. As the current board, Isma, Juan, Vale, Paul, Emma and Toni, want to share the amazing opportunities AEGEE has to offer with the young (and very international) students of Brussels.

This question is inevitable to ask but maybe you are the envy of other AEGEE members for being in the same city as the headquarters of AEGEE. Due to the fact that AEGEE-House and the antenna are close to each other, do you receive help from AEGEE-Europe and the CD?

Our Vice President Valentina lives with the board, being a renter in the AEGEE house makes communication almost instant and the relationship with the board very good. A very positive aspect of living in this house is that you can network with other antennas that come visit while being in PJ’S in your kitchen.

The simple fact of living in the same city makes it easier for us to participate in the events organised by the CD, and perhaps if we were on the other side of Europe we could not participate due to distances, times, etc. Another positive aspect is that as we know the people behind the CD, helping and investing ourselves in AEGEE is also much easier. Isma and Vale were collaborating with the organisation of AEGEE’s Birthday, which had to be changed because of the times we are living in now.

The revival of this antenna was also thanks to Alvaro, the current vice president who put us all in contact and gave us that little push to accept the challenge. We try to be as independent as we can, but we know that if we had to ask for help, or for advice, they would be more than willing to help.

The last question is easy to answer: how can we meet you and how many events will the antenna organise in the next months to know a bit more about you?

Reaching AEGEE-Brussels/Bruxelles is easy to do! We are always available through our Instagram account (aegee_brussels), where we post upcoming events. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, at least until late May, most projects are cancelled, although we will be active again as soon as possible. Any updates will be posted on social media. There were several projects we organised and participated in. We organised a revival for AEGEE-Brussels, with drinks and a selection of tapas. This integrated everyone in the organisation, and those who were interested in it, mostly to get to know each other more. It was a great success. We were also part of the EPM 2020 in Barcelona. Apart from that,  the board meets at PLUX or other areas every week (the location is always posted on Instagram) to plan and discuss new projects. Right after that, we have a drink or two. Everyone is always welcome to join and learn more about us and our other projects. For future plans, we proposed to collaborate with other AEGEEans around Europe, such as AEGEE-Torino, and do an exchange in between. The plan is still under development, and more will be on their way.