Chryssa has just finished her European Voluntary Service at Citizens of Europe. She went back to Greece, from where she originally comes, but will return to Berlin in Autumn to see how her project will be realised. Just like Chryssa, Rui has also continued to cooperate with his former EVS organisation: he works on training workshops for young professionals. Dorothée comes from France and will be part of the Citizens office in Berlin until summer 2010. She is still looking how she can influence Citizens through her work, and how we will develop in the future. This interview with European volunteers at Citizens of Europe was led by Anna John on 30th June 2009 in Berlin.
Chryssa, you have just finished your EVS and will be leaving us, what are the most important things that have happened to you during the year, both professionally and personally?
Chryssa: The whole experience contributed to my personal development. I feel that I grew up, I became more independent and I now see things differently. I had the opportunity to work and live in a very charming place from which I got a lot of inspiration. My everyday work had a lot to do with keeping contact with partners and other people. At the beginning I could speak English but it was not the same, now I am more able to communicate in my everyday life and in my professional life with other partners. Another highlight of this year is the project I am currently working on. Together with a friend I met in a Citizens of Europe training I wrote a proposal for a project called “Comic Youth” which was approved. Of course I will never forget all these interesting events I took part in during these 12 months and all the people I met. Overall I really contributed from working at Citizens of Europe, not least by getting a lot of new ideas and by exploring potentials for future projects.
…I grew up, I became more independent and I now see things differently.Chryssa
In which direction are you interested in going?
Chryssa: I was already interested in cultural management, but now I am more focused on it. I have more concrete ideas about what I would like to do and gained some professional experience in this field. My goal now is to continue my studies in cultural management and work in a relevant position.
Rui, you finished your EVS about a year ago, yet I still find you here in Berlin, surrounded by Citizens of Europe. Does that mean the EVS was not such a bad experience after all?
Rui: No, it was not too bad; quite the contrary, it was pretty much what I expected. At the beginning I was surprised that it was such a small office! From abroad I imagined a big office of a large German organisation. Yet this is exactly the reason why I learnt a lot during my time, how to develop ideas, how to take initiative and so on. The training “ACTIVacting Youth!” that I organized here in Berlin in March 2008 meant a lot to me, because it was something practical I wanted to do – a project I wrote myself. I was able to follow the whole process from beginning to end. I really liked taking part in the organisation of the MyEurope film festival. Once again, I found a very attractive project with motivated people that needed some organisational support and I learnt a lot about working in the area of culture (how to organise a film festival, how to contact directors and producers, etc.).
Rui, in two years what has been the main change in Citizens?
Rui: When I arrived, Lucia, another volunteer, was already working in the office. She introduced me to the most important processes. The beginning was a bit chaotic, probably like with every EVS. I was wondering what I was supposed to do. Everything was new. The first OpenForum was coming up and we didn’t have any experience with this kind of event. It was very new and exciting, nobody really knew what it would become at that time. We had to find participants and to call them, etc. This was my first impression of Citizens of Europe. But now, Lucia and Chryssa have also worked on it, so there are some guidelines and it’s much more organised. Also, the organisation has recently introduced an Executive Officer who tries to push things, have an overview of what is happening and to give strategic directions, and I like that.
Chryssa, tell us from your experience this year, why should someone do an EVS, and why not?
Chryssa: I agree with Rui, I also had the impression when I was in Greece that Citizens of Europe was a very big organisation, with a super professional structure! I have also seen a progression during this year. I am very happy about it. Regarding your question now: Last year I visited Spain and since I really liked the place at the beginning I was looking for an EVS position there. I noticed that in the database it was written «dont search by country but by project». I followed the advice and when I searched per theme the Citizens of Europe job description was the first project that was really appealing to me. I had never visited Berlin before, but I applied because I liked the project and did not regret in any aspect. I think it depends on the point of your life at which you do an EVS. If you have just finished school or university maybe you don’t really know what you want to do in your professional life. In my case, since I already had some professional experience I decided to do something that was different, but in coherence with my previous experience, a task which offered both challenges and opportunities to me.
You have to know what your ideal is… and make small steps towards it.Chryssa
According to you, what is the most important thing when someone is doing an EVS?
Chryssa: It is important to have realistic expectations. If I wanted the perfect job I wouldn’t be satisfied here, but there is no perfect job as far as I know. You have to know which is your ideal in general and make small steps towards it. I believe flexibility is a tool that can help either to adapt your expectations to reality, or to bring your realities closer to what you believe is needed. This depends on people and circumstances, of course.
Dorothée, you have just arrived in Berlin. Have you also had to adapt your expectations? What is the impact on your work?
Dorothee: It’s a bit difficult for me to reply because I don’t have a long term perspective. I arrived in Citizens of Europe just one month ago, so everything is very new for me! Right now, I’m both adapting to the technical and the content-related aspects of the job; how to take care of the website, how to coordinate publications, etc. I also joined the MyEurope team, probably the most charming group of people in the network… In a few weeks, maybe, I could say more precisely if I will have to change my expectations and my concept of the job.
Why did you choose Citizens of Europe?
Dorothee: It’s more or less like Chryssa and Rui said, Citizens of Europe looked very impressive, big and very serious, with potential. It didn’t seem like a small NGO cautiously fighting for financial and other support. For me, it was very nice to get involved in an organisation in which I had the feeling I could do things. The aims of Citizens of Europe are linked to my all studies, so it was very natural for me to choose them.
Where did you get the idea that Citizens of Europe looked so serious?
Dorothée: I met some of the members during a Open Forum project in La Maison de l’Europe in Paris. For me, if an NGO can organise this kind of event in such a place, it means that they are influential. Later, when I checked the website, I saw Citizens were doing events everywhere, which gave me the impression they were powerful.
Rui: For me, when I discovered Citizens of Europe, the website was very different. It was rather too simple and not that attractive. But I liked the association. To get this EVS position, I had two separate interviews and they asked me some similar questions. I imagined they worked in different offices and they were so big that maybe they didn’t exchange communication! Their questions on the phone were really like a serious job interview. Apparently, they had received a lot of CVs and it was very competitive.
Chryssa, in which fields or projects do you think Citizens of Europe should develop more?
Chryssa: It depends on the aim. Focusing on OpenFora requires being much more professional. I wasn’t that convinced by this project in the very beginning. After having seen several adaptations during my time here, most prominently concerning the structure and the framework, I am happy to say it finally makes sense to me. I really appreciate the experience I gained during the last five fora. I believe is worth trying for its professionalisation. MyEurope was the project to which I was most attracted. The idea of a European short film festival is just great and the team works hard to improve procedures. I suppose the conceptual framework could still benefit from some adaptations. Unfortunately I didn’t work with ArtInterventions or trainings but I’d like to be involved in the future.
Citizenship is related to a sense of responsibility, participation and civic initiative.Rui
I would like to talk about «citizenship» and Europe, it’s very central to the organisation: how to change society through participation and social and cultural debate. For you, what does it mean? Why is it «Citizens of Europe»?
Rui: I think you can find a common approach and shared values in all projects and the people who implement them. «Citizenship» is related to a sense of responsibility, participation and civic initiative. The transnational approach is the most important to me.
Chryssa: I agree. I like that the idea of «citizenship» is not always explicit at first glance. From the name of the organisation, I was kind of sceptical in the beginning but I found open-minded and well-informed people there who want to promote responsibility and critical thinking for society. Citizens of Europe does not exclude different opinions.
Dorothée, what are your views and expectations of civil engagement?
Dorothee: The concept of «citizenship» was very clear in my mind one year ago, when I was studying but now it’s not so clear anymore. About my expectations, I see what Citizens of Europe are doing, and I think it’s very nice, but I also think I need to see exactly what will be going on in several months. Right now, I’m just a kind of observer.
Why is your vision of «citizenship» not so clear anymore?
Dorothee: When you are studying, it’s just a concept, but now it means citizenship in practice, it’s not just a theory anymore. We are working with this idea and we are trying to create things to improve initiative. When I was younger, citizenship in my opinion was really related to people in the streets, to everyone. And now, I sometimes wonder who we are working for? When we hold some meetings, there are only specific kinds of people there, for example, people studying political sciences, European Studies and all stuff like that. Sometimes I would need a clearer aim.
Rui, Dorothée just mentioned the target group, what do you think about the target group of Citizens of Europe?
Rui: I think it depends on the programme, but I agree with what Dorothée just said: it’s especially people from the middle and upper classes. Most of them are probably studying and they aren’t representative of the average person living on the continent, but probably they are representative of people who want to and are already engaged in shaping society. In the case of the MyEurope Film festival, there are a lot of youth organisations, university clubs and some cinemas involved. Participants in the OpenForum are people between 24 and 35, «young adults» or young professionals. Training is more targeted at young people, 20-28. We try to create something interesting for everyone. Every programme is suitable for anyone to be involved with and that’s also how we build citizenship!