On 4 March, Vitalina Shevchenko and Eyvaz Ahmadzada, Young European Ambassadors (YEAs) from Ukraine and Azerbaijan respectively, joined over 20 other YEAs living in the United Kingdom for an event in London, where they networked, shared cultures, and planned further collaborative activities. Vitalina and Eyvaz both moved to the UK recently, so the meeting and the opportunity it brought to join a new community where they could promote shared values had a special meaning for them.
For Vitalina, it provided a chance to build a supportive community away from home and to increase her potential as a young professional. For Eyvaz, it was an opportunity to network with like-minded people and learn about the countless prospects the EU has to offer.
Vitalina joined the YEA initiative after the COVID pandemic, so had not had the opportunity to engage in face-to-face YEA events. Although she described the online activities she previously took part in as having been “wonderful”, she nonetheless felt they could not compare to the benefits of in-person projects. She described the YEA meet-up in London as feeling “like a breath of fresh air”, something that has motivated her to try and further the goals of the initiative.
Vitalina explained that although she is studying for a master’s degree in the UK, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has meant she is not able to return home. “Finding such a supportive and close community of fellow YEAs from all across Europe here in London is incredibly valuable,” she added, pointing out that the community also provides her with “the opportunity to effectively represent other Ukrainian YEAs, to spread Ukrainian culture amongst British youth, and fulfil my personal potential as a young professional and activist, even while being far away from my home country.”
The opportunities the meeting afforded for networking were particularly important to Vitalina. The brainstorming sessions encouraged her to explore future cross-cultural collaborative projects with YEAs from Moldova, Azerbaijan and Georgia, in an effort to increase awareness of EU Neighbours East across the UK. Vitalina also highlighted the potential for YEAs in the UK to cooperate with the newly-established Ukrainian Society at her university in York, where preparations for future collaborations are already underway.
Last but not least, Vitalina commented on how much inspiration and courage the in-person meet-up has given her. She intends to maintain contact with fellow YEAs from the event in order to implement the plans they brainstormed together. The meeting made her aware of the variety of activities that YEA chapters have previously organised and provided the opportunity to “exchange best practices and ideas, to learn from each other and improve all of our experiences.’”
For his part, Vitalina’s fellow YEA, Eyvaz from Azerbaijan, was filled with anticipation and enthusiasm at the prospect of his first in-person event and was excited to meet other YEAs in London from various backgrounds and share his own experiences as a young professional and volunteer.
“I moved to the UK about a month ago as a part of my studies in the Erasmus Mundus GENIAL programme,” Eyvaz explained. Although he had participated in countless volunteer projects back in his home country, he regarded the London meeting as providing “a special chance to meet like-minded people and propose future partnerships”. His discussions with other YEAs and their joint enthusiasm for promoting their own cultures and shared values also impressed him with “the unlimited opportunities for partnerships that the EU presents to my region”.
As a student whose education is supported by the EU, Eyvaz has always been aware of the opportunities it offers. Even so, he was only able to fully appreciate the partnership’s potential and the mutual benefits it brings to participating communities after being able to attend an event in person.
During the course of the day, Eyvaz’s passion for spreading awareness about the EU’s Eastern Partnership was reignited, as he brainstormed new ideas and cross-cultural collaborative initiatives that could also educate people throughout the UK. The encounter gave Eyvaz the chance to interact with a group of young people who shared his ambition for change and vision for the future, aspirations that went beyond a simple cultural exchange.
Eyvaz left the meeting feeling motivated and inspired to keep spreading his culture and ideals around the globe. He saw that the future contained limitless opportunities for the YEAs of the Eastern Partnership countries, with new-found connections and prospective partnerships on the horizon, especially with fellow EU/UK YEAs.
Both Vitalina and Eyvaz brought diverse viewpoints and cultural experiences to the table and both felt that the YEAs’ meet-up event in the UK was a unique experience. Through networking and idea-sharing with other YEAs, they were able to generate fresh concepts for cultural exchanges and partnerships to promote their respective countries and values.
They came to understand the potential of their respective regions, as well as the value of cooperation and cross-cultural exchange among the EU and Eastern Partnership countries. The YEA meet-up event in London was just the start of their journey as they seek to share their cultures and beliefs with others across the UK and establish new international relationships.
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