Tag Archives: Youth programme

30 years of AEGEE

AEGEE stands for Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe and it is the largest trans-national, interdisciplinary student organisation in Europe. You can find here the Wikipedia article about it and here the organisation’s website.

I was a member of the association from 2000 to 2005, while I was studying at the university. So were my brother and sister, and many friends. A couple of days ago, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary since the creation of the organisation, one of these friends, Juan, shared a reflection along the lines: of the many things that I have stumbled upon in my life, the one which changed it the most was AEGEE. He talked about learning, volunteering in associations, taking part in youth councils, meeting friends, organizing events, learning or practising languages, and experiencing what Europe is, beyond stereotypes. I subscribe his reflection word by word.

I have written over 500 posts in this blog and I now realize that I hadn’t yet dedicated a single one just to AEGEE. This is it.

I joined AEGEE in the spring of 2000, after having read an article in a university newspaper talking about the Summer Universities. I applied for one of those summer events in Istanbul. There I spent 2 weeks with about 30 other students from Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Poland, The Netherlands, Austria, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Spain… that experience was life changing, as you read it.

In the following 5 years I took part in another couple of such summer universities in Croatia and Macedonia. I helped to organize several others in Madrid and The Netherlands (and I casually visited some more). I took part and organized several student’s exchanges under the European Commission’s Youth Programme. I took part in the large event Youth 2002 in Denmark. I travelled Europe from one corner to another. I met friends from the several countries with which today, 10 to 15 years later I am still in contact with, many of which I have visited along these years. I made a couple of round-Europe inter-rail trips. I crossed borders on foot, car, bus, train, boat and planes (we even unknowingly crossed some former minefield in the border Macedonia-Kosovo). I learned that not all countries have as dialling out code the 00. I slept in trains, hunter’s cottages, train stations, airport toilets, planes, buses, gyms, students’ dorms, boats, friends’ homes, and even some youth hostels and hotels (and, of course, the house of AEGEE’s Comité Directeur in Brussels). I met Luca in late 2002, who I married in 2013. Surely, I got my parents’ suspicious of the association and they seeing it as a source of distraction from university studies (it was). But as my friend Juan mentioned: it’s not much of an exaggeration if we say AEGEE might be the thing that has changed my life the most.

If you have been raised far from Europe, it may have had no impact on you. If you studied in Europe, the chances are that it had, even if you had not yet realised about it. Take the Erasmus programme just as an example, from its Wikipedia site:

By the time the Erasmus Programme was adopted in June 1987, the European Commission had been supporting pilot student exchanges for 6 years. It proposed the original Erasmus Programme in early 1986, but reaction from the then Member States varied: those with substantial exchange programmes of their own (essentially France, Germany and the United Kingdom) were broadly hostile; the remaining countries were broadly in favour. Exchanges between the Member States and the European Commission deteriorated, and the latter withdrew the proposal in early 1987 to protest against the inadequacy of the triennial budget proposed by some Member States. However, AEGEE, the Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe, persuaded French President François Mitterrand to support funding for the Erasmus programme. In the next few months a compromise was worked out with a majority of Member States, and the Programme was adopted by simple majority in June 1987.

In 2005 I also took an Erasmus grant to complete my final career project at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH Aachen).

AEGEE was born in 1985 out of the EGEE 1 conference (États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe) held in Paris in April 1985.

In 2003 while travelling to The Netherlands with a Youth programme students’ exchange, my brother, some friends and I made a stop in Brussels. My friend and then AEGEE-Madrid president, Javier, and I wandered through the files of AEGEE-Europe office and made some copies of old press’ articles. Among them the one you can see below of that EGEE 1 conference in which the problem of students’ exchanges was discussed.

EGEE 1

Coverage of EGEE 1 conference by Le Monde (April 17, 1985).

May this post serve as a first homage to AEGEE and to all the members who sustained it through these first 30 years. And if you are a university student, the chances are that in your town there is an AEGEE antenna; check it out and join it, you won’t regret it!

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Livonian, an endangered language

The Livonian is a language of the Finnic family, closely related to Estonian and spoken in the region of Livonia, in the North of Latvia and South of Estonia. I first came across the language in March 2003, during a students’ exchange in the framework of the European Commission Youth programme organized by the students associations of AEGEE Zaragoza and Tartu (Estonia).

During that exchange, in one of the evenings we attended an especially arranged concert in a small bar. The place looked like a cellar. The group of music was introduced to us as the only group singing in the Livonian language. I know wonder whether that group was “Tuļļi Lum“. Sincerely, I cannot remember the name of the group that played that night, other than being presented as the only band singing in Livonian. On the other hand, Tulli Lum was already existing then and the singer studied music in Estonia… who knows.

The Livonian is an endangered language. In 2003, it was introduced to us as being spoken by no more than ~120 people in the World. Today the Wikipedia mentions that the last known native Livonian speaker, Grizelda Kristiņa, died in 2013. Livonian may be spoken as a second language by over 200 people, just about 40 of those with a level of B1 or upper.

In that night in 2003, we were explained that the language was being supported by some European institution funds. It was 10 years ago, I cannot recall the details. I guess they referred to the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages (EBLUL). The EBLUL was a NGO set up to promote linguistic diversity and languages. It was founded in 1982 and had close ties with both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, and was funded by both the European Commission and local and regional governmental organisations.

The European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages was closed by a decision of its Board of Directors on January 27, 2010. The main official reason given was that “the funding mechanism of such an organisational model [was] not suitable in current circumstances”.

I came across Livonian again when playing with the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, which I discovered via Twitter. See a screenshot from the tool below, with the situation of Livonian, “critically endangered” and “revitalized”.

Livonian, UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.

Livonian, UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

I found this tool from UNESCO interesting. I suggest you try it out a bit.

In respect to Livonian:

  • I am happy for those people who played music for us that night back in 2003 that the language seems to be revitalized, though I have no way to measure or sense that.
  • On the other hand, and despite of the criticism that my position may create, and as I have mentioned in several conversations in the past: I see no wrong in letting the language die. I do not see the purpose in pumping public European funds so that a language can be taught to non-native students at some universities. I am almost glad to see that the EBLUL has closed down and clearly understand why “the funding mechanism of such an organisational model [was] not suitable in current circumstances”.

Surely, this is my opinion and I respect those who believe that each and every language should be preserved no matter what costs in the name of culture, historical heritage, and you name it. In UNESCO’s words:

Every language reflects a unique world-view with its own value systems, philosophy and particular cultural features. The extinction of a language results in the irrecoverable loss of unique cultural knowledge embodied in it for centuries, including historical, spiritual and ecological knowledge that may be essential for the survival of not only its speakers, but also countless others.

My view: I am a native Spanish speaker thanks to some language evolution that meant that once almighty Latin is no longer spoken outside of the Vatican City, plus the extinction of who knows how many ancient languages spoken by my ancestors.

It especially strikes me the language used by UNESCO: “ecological knowledge that may be essential for the survival of not only its speakers, but also countless others.” I guess it’s quite the contrary. Had a certain language been so essential to the survival of its speakers and its extinction would have not taken place (or am I getting something wrong with what evolution means?). 

Luckily, the same evolution process has happened in all parts around the world: allowing over 400 million of people to speak Spanish as a mother tongue and allowing us to fairly understand each other in several corners of the world.

Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system.

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