The organization was founded in Paris in 1985 and now consists of a network of young volunteers from 240 university cities in 43 countries that organizes international activities like conferences, seminars, exchange programs and summer courses. Its contribution to the Erasmus program is its most renowned accomplishment and its longest running project is the ‘Summer University’ that offers language courses and organizes seminars on politics, culture and environment. They also organize affordable sports camps. The AEGEE has ties with the European Council, the United Nations and UNESCO. The intercultural dialogue is high on the agenda in the context of peace and stability around the globe. It is therefore no coincidence that Mikhael Gorbatchev, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, is a member of this organization.
The consensus amongst the participants to the debate was that greater student mobility, with a year of experience abroad, can only be accomplished within a two-year master’s program. Intercultural competence and increased personal development were considered bonus points and the hope was expressed that it would be possible to motivate at least 20% of the K.U.Leuven student population to step across the borders by 2020. At the moment, less than 10% makes use of this opportunity.
Amelie Mangelschots, who studies English and Dutch in GROUP T’s teacher education program and is in the second training stage at the moment, is responsible for Public Relations at AEGEE and finds the 20% objective too modest. “In the third training stage, all students are obliged to gain experience abroad in the framework of the dewereld@groept project, even though that is only a week. And this is a good thing because there are too many students that get cold feet. Almost everybody who went abroad as a student, describes their experience as irreplaceable and can’t stop talking about it, but without a little push from behind that initial reluctance of many is not overcome.”
“I was so lucky to have crossed the Channel at such a young age thanks to my violin teacher. She was married to an Englishman and she often took her students to concerts in England. As a child, I thought it was great to communicate with English musicians. The music brought us together and my interest for the English culture never faded. I have been reading books in English since I was twelve and I see myself teaching in that language, preferably in a developing country. Next year, I want to do my teacher practice abroad in Tanzania. I would also like to teach NT2 or communication courses to minority groups but I would quickly get frustrated in regular education as it stands now. I have already experienced as much during my teacher practice periods.”
Secondary education reform
“Still, I’m happy with the education and the upbringing I enjoyed at the Sint-Jozefscollege of Herentals, although I didn’t really learn how to study there since I achieved good results without much effort,” Amelie imparts. “It was only later, when I started psychology at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, that I realized I would get into trouble because of this. After that long first experience abroad, I came to Leuven and joined LOKO, the Leuven Student Council. I’m now in the Student Council of GROUP T because I want to give students a voice, and I’m a member of AEGEE because integration, equal opportunity and international solidarity are dear to me. I also want to do something about it on a structural level. At some point, I can also see myself working on a level with responsibility on an education council. Thankfully, secondary education is going to be reformed and I hope that weaker students too will get more opportunities and support, and that other working forms will be introduced that can stimulate everybody, including the stronger students.”