Last month I was invited, in my capacity as a Young European Ambassador, to take part in a networking event organised in Europe’s capital city, Brussels. The event, organised by the European Parliament, was the “Youth Network Event”.
It was to last two days and combine a visit to the European Parliament with a number of networking activities. Not really knowing what to expect, only sure of the fact that I was there to “network” and discover, I made my way to Brussels, in the early morning of a sunny June day.
The trip from my home in Strasbourg to Brussels should have been reasonably short and easy had it not been for Deutsche Bahn, the German train company, which had different plans. My first train was cancelled, something I was informed about only once in the train station, and the replacement train was to leave an hour later. But it ran late as well, I missed my connecting train in Cologne — long story short, I arrived two hours late and missed the visit to the Parliament, which I was quite upset about.
So I went directly to the second event, which was to take place in a building close to the Parliament. There, I met a handful of poor souls who, like me, had missed the Parliament visit; shortly after, the rest of the crowd came in – about a hundred young people, mainly aged 20 to 30, all active in the associative field, all convinced Europeans.
We started talking with each other, on a very nice terrace in the centre of Brussels, under the gentle rays of the setting sun. It was to be soon interrupted, as the organisers called us inside for some “ice-breaking” games. After that, we wandered back to the terrace, where some lukewarm pizza and a selection of drinks had been installed for us. It was a lovely hour, discussing with other engaged young Europeans, each of us sharing our life stories and the goal and point of our respective organisations.
After one hour, an end was called and the group promptly split, some of the participants going back to the (very nice) hotel we had, while others, including me, started to look for a cosy place to settle down. And so we ended up in a nice bar, with maybe twelve or so people, chatting around a delicious Belgian beer. Needless to say, this was networking done right!
The next day, we were all gathered in a place called “La Tricoterie”, which was a sympathetic bar-like venue located in the basement of a charming house in a calm neighbourhood of the city. There, we were asked to sit in small groups to discuss and share the outcomes of our reflections on various topics, all of them having a strong focus on youth engagement, youth organisation, and Europe. In a very comforting turn of events, we discovered that some problems, like those of access to information or youth participation, were common to all of us. After a short lunch, we were invited to put forward some of the most pressing issues we thought we were facing as members of youth organisations, and then to discuss them freely. Each of the participants had the possibility either to stick to a group or discuss a particular issue extensively; wander throughout the room and to think about different issues, or just stay aside from the reflection process and have casual talks with the other participants. After that, the actual event was over, but the networking part kept going as people went to eat and have a drink together in town.
As rapidly as the day in la Tricoterie may have passed, it was enough to have the opportunity to chat with a significant number of participants and to get to know some of them a bit better. Once again, the evening delivered a wonderful occasion to network, although the practical discussion about our respective organisations was soon to be replaced with the friendly talk that eventually occurs between people of similar backgrounds with a common passion. And so passed the evening, and a good chunk of the night, “networking” as much as we could.
On the last day, we had some more moments to “network” and exchange contact data and phone numbers in the breakfast room, after which everyone left. The goodbyes felt curiously emotional, given how little time we had spent together. I got home in the late evening, after some more shenanigans and cancelled trains, courtesy of Deutsche Bahn, but with the comforting feeling of having spent two very cool and interesting days in the company of amazing people.
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