The Young European Ambassadors initiative is a broad network with many objectives, one of which is empowering young people and informing them of EU-funded opportunities. One of the actions that is most representative of this is the Euroschool, a summer school held every year in Azerbaijan, organised by the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, with the participation of Young European Ambassadors (YEAs) from both Azerbaijan and the European Union.
This year, the sixth edition of the EuroSchool took place in Shabran, Azerbaijan, from 8 to 10 August, and involved 17 young people aged 18-25, together with three YEAs from Azerbaijan and three YEAs from Italy, France and Greece.
The school sessions focused on the EU, its history and institutions, fundamental principles and values, the process of alignment and harmonisation of legislation, EU decision-making, the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Eastern Partnership initiative, disinformation, and EU-Azerbaijan relations.
But what does it mean to organise a summer school and interact with a different culture? Are Italian, French and Greek culture really different from Azerbaijani? We asked the three EU YEAs to tell us more about their experience and what they had learned!
Our first question is to Lisa, a YEA from France, currently doing a bachelor’s degree in English and French law at Queen Mary University of London – Paris 1 Sorbonne.
Lisa, how was the process of developing the sessions, and how was the experience of interacting with young people from Azerbaijan? What are your main takeaways from this experience?
Developing the sessions was loads of fun. Designing workshops and activities on EU values and history encouraged us to challenge our knowledge of the subject, but also to reflect on our own perception of the EU, as EU citizens. Will the EU resonate differently among young people beyond its borders? How can we share our optimism and expectations of the future with Azerbaijani youth? How will their vision of the EU complement and help to build our own?
The creativity, dynamism and acute sense of reflection of the participants throughout the Euroschool days were admirable. The presentation by experts on the history of EU-Azerbaijan relations provided an invaluable basis for us to exchange ideas and hopes about the future. I learned a lot, as much during the sessions and their stimulating debates, as around the lunch table, sharing laughs and anecdotes about their daily lives.
The answers to the questions that I found in Azerbaijan were far from what I expected… And it is all for the better. The EU flourishes on diversity and complementarity. I hope to see more of my new Azerbaijani friends in the future.
Our second question goes to Prodromos, YEA from Greece, graduate in International and European Studies at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Pro, as it was your first time in Azerbaijan, how was your experience in a new country? Did you have difficulties in connecting with youth?
Actually, it wasn’t only my first time in Azerbaijan, but also my first time outside the European Union, and it was a rather interesting and unique experience. The moment I stepped outside the airport I realised I was in a new country, quite different from what I was used to. The architecture, the landscape, the language, and the currency were some of the first and most obvious things that were foreign to me. Then I began to notice more subtle differences, the kind you can only notice by interacting with local people and gaining closer insights, like the way the state is organised, and the difficulties and the opportunities that citizens have. What made this experience great was that we had the opportunity to explore a new culture by taking an active part in intercultural dialogue. At the same time, it also helped me to appreciate things that I always took for granted as a young person who has only lived in the EU, like the common currency and the ease of travelling just with your ID.
My time in Azerbaijan was really pleasant, as I found it very easy to connect with local youth and meaningfully engage with them. Despite the differences noted before, or maybe because of them, as uniqueness and diversity are what make interactions interesting, working with young Azerbaijanis was pleasant and fruitful. Together, we identified what unites us, realising that, among others, we are all advocating for a more active role for youth, for more opportunities, for ideals such as peace and democracy, and all in all, for a better future. These interactions helped me understand the truth of our motto, that we really are #strongertogether.
Our third and last question goes to Matilde, a graduate in Political Science and International Relations at the Cesare Alfieri University of Florence and passionate about youth work.
Matilde, what would you say are your main learnings from this experience as a YEA? Would you recommend to other youth to go out of their comfort zone and try out a new learning experience?
Being a YEA, you never stop learning, and once you embark on this journey, you are involved in a process of continuous improvement. This Euroschool experience in Azerbaijan gave me the opportunity to be in touch with a fascinating culture and I have learned a lot about the region. It enriched my knowledge of EU-Azerbaijan relations and of future perspectives for cooperation. On a personal level, I have improved my soft skills, delivering to an audience of youngsters, and engaging with them through non-formal education methods. It has been very rewarding to see directly the impact of my efforts to prepare for the Euroschool. For all these reasons, I not only recommend going out of your comfort zone, but I believe it is absolutely necessary to do so. It may be challenging at the beginning, but once you take the first step, it all comes naturally. Deciding to be a Young European Ambassadors is a great example of a first step to take to discover different cultures, to meet amazing people and live a life full of adventures.