About rivers representing Europe and the dream of a European railway line
A convinced European since Highschool, Sophie joined the GFYL team in late 2017 following her belief that Europe will ultimately benefit from strong Franco-German relations. As Sophie is taking care of applicant and participant enquiries, all participants of the 2018 edition of the German-French Young Leaders conference will have come across her name already. It is about time that we introduce her to the community.
Sophie, as a soon-to-be graduate of European Studies tell us: What does Europe represent to you?
When I look out of the window of my flat in Passau where I live I can see the river Danube. Rivers like this are flowing hundreds or even thousands of kilometres through Europe and have somehow connected and are still connecting the different European regions. For them the concept of borders doesn‘t exist.
You have taken over participant communication within GFYL. Why does it matter to you to engage voluntarily in a European project?
Supporting causes close to my heart actively through volunteering is something I have been doing since the age of 11 - be it at the children’s rights organisation terre des hommes or by teaching German to refugees in Passau. An experience that left a particularly strong impression on me was the time I spent at the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oswiecim/Auschwitz, Poland during my voluntary service. During my work there, I especially appreciated getting to know the different points of view on European history from people with different European backgrounds and from different European countries. This experience was also one of the triggers that led me to study European Studies, a degree reflecting my interest in different European countries and languages that allows me to deepen my European and international understanding.
What impact did your work in Poland have on European understanding with regard to youth?
In the Centre, I actually facilitated German-French-Polish, German-Luxemburgish-French and Belgian youth group meetings with the objective to discuss 20th century European history from different perspectives. After the meetings, I always had the feeling that the big majority of participants had developed a more concrete idea about Europe and at the same time reduced their stereotypes with regard to other European citizens and countries. I find it fascinating to see how intercultural understanding can be increased by simply bringing people together through only indirectly or even completely unrelated topics.
What European initiatives in general and French-German in particular should the world know of?
The German-French A levels, also called Abi-Bac! In France and in Germany there are several schools that allow their students to graduate with the French and the German A levels. At school, students have more extensive French or German lessons and, from grade 7 onwards, several other subjects are taught in the foreign language. After graduation, students can easily study in either of the two countries without worrying about how and whether their Highschool leaving certificate will be accepted or where to get it translated for example.
Has the German-French friendship influenced you personally in any way?
As a matter of fact, I also graduated from Highschool with the Abi-Bac. In this context, I had intense French classes and participated in a number of exchange programmes. This did not only awaken my interest for French and for the French culture, but for languages and cultural exchange in general. Therefore, I feel very strongly about the German-French friendship as it opened my mind to other cultures.
Why should citizens engage in European projects or initiatives?
Today, we tend to take for granted that the European Union exists, that there is peace in the region and that France and Germany cooperate together closely. This situation can only persist if there are continuing close exchanges that strengthen the European partnership and demonstrate the importance of Europe as well as the German-French friendship. GFYL is one of many such initiatives. Without them Europe would be less vivid and tangible. And it would only be words and no actions.
What kind of initiative would you wish for Europe?
I would wish for a connection that nowadays seems rather nostalgic and unrealistic: a train from Lisbon to Tallin or from Rome to Stockholm. Wouldn’t it be exciting to take such a train and see how the people, the landscape, the culture change without getting of?
Last but not least: The best thing about Europe?
Free roaming and open borders 😉