Bringing Europe to the classroom. Interview with Eden Gebregiorgisch

Eden Gebregiorgisch, 28, is an alumna of the project Understanding Europe. She facilitated courses on the EU, active citizenship, and European asylum politics with more than 400 young people in secondary and vocational schools in North Rhine Westphalia and Berlin. Today, she works as a junior professional at the German Commission for UNESCO.

Eden, you were an active trainer in the seminar programme for three years. What are the most important things you learned during this time?

If I look at my surroundings, it’s mostly always people who attend university. In my master’s studies, we learned to develop theoretical frameworks from above on the EU. As a trainer, I got to understand how people outside of my immediate network perceive the EU. These reactions, without devaluation, were sometimes completely different from my own. In my studies, I learned a lot about the EU, but throughout the journey, I realised that the experiences of young people concerning Europe were completely missing. I have learned that there is a wide range of ideas about the EU – from positive to negative. So, this experience opened my eyes to a diversity of perspectives and gave me the opportunity to step out from my own bubble.

What kind of feedback did you get from the courses?

The courses were viewed as an exit out of the normal school day. The pupils often said that they loved talking about Europe with us, since we, the trainers, were so young, almost their age. We tried to mention many concrete examples while doing the courses, which helped pupils see personal connections to what otherwise looked like the ‘EU bubble’.

Talking about how to get engaged in society, what is a remaining challenge we all need to work on when it comes to young people and the EU?

Young people oftentimes do not know where and how to concretely engage in such topics. They also think about themselves as people who do not know enough about European politics, which often is not true. They are afraid of putting themselves out there and feel that they are, perhaps, in the wrong setting to do so.

I think the EU is a very self-sufficient actor and young people feel as though they are removed from it. This feeling needs to be bridged. There should be more incentives for young people to take part in discussions about European issues. I think the big challenge is not necessarily a lack of knowledge, because basic knowledge is already there. It’s more about the EU’s communication and engagement with its citizens.

The EU has to engage with those who may feel inhibited and are not necessarily taking initiative. One way to get rid of such obstacles is to organise events where “hard-to-reach”people, like politicians, are close to where young people are, like schools. The Schwarzkopf Foundation is doing this, and young people actually attend because the foundation enables such events to happen.

How do you encourage young people to get started if they want to engage with a certain topic?

I would encourage them to see if there are more people who are passionate about the same topic(s) as them. It’s good to find companions! There are so many associations out there, so it’s worth connecting with others and seeing if one’s idea can be translated into activities.

People and peers their age who have been engaged in their topic for a while can also give them advice on implementing their ideas. It’s also good to look for public support, for instance, by contacting local politicians, such as a mayor.

Interview by Anna Saraste.

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