The second edition of the summer EuroSchool in Azerbaijan offered an opportunity for its participants to better understand the European Union, visualise the prospects of Azerbaijani-European partnership, learn more about educational and career opportunities provided by the EU and meet new, interesting friends.
The EuroSchool took place on 21-23 August in Qalaalti, a mountainous resort area of Azerbaijan, 122km north of Baku, bringing together 15 Azerbaijani students and young graduates, as well as local and European trainers.
"It is obvious that the future of any country and the European Union as well depends on today's young generation, on their value system and their vision of the world. Everything is in their hands, which is why we think that work with young people is very important and we promote their development and the formation of their constructive life position," said Sophie Vériter, the Coordinator of the "Young European Ambassadors" (YEA) project.
The EuroSchool in Qalaalti is only one of many youth initiatives carried out within the framework of the YEA project, which serves as a platform for volunteers from the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries, where they can cooperate and share their experiences.
"The key ways to communicate in the modern world are, undoubtedly, social networks, and young people are their most active users. This way an idea was born to make the European Union more familiar and clear to the younger generation via online platforms," Sophie added.
Chargé d'Affaires of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, Denis Daniilidis, welcomed the participants at the opening of the summer EuroSchool. He told young people about the foundations of European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and about the main accomplishments of the 25-year cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan.
"Summer EuroSchools are held in many Eastern Partnership countries. Their participants get first-hand information: representatives of the EU Delegations to their countries speak with them as well as people working in various European agencies. Students learn about the main subjects of the political and social agenda in the EU in an informal setting," said Daniilidis.
The Delegation's representative is convinced that for many participants of previous editions of the summer EuroSchools, with whom he keeps in touch, this event became a turning point in their personal and professional development.
The trainers, who worked with the young participants for three days at the second edition of the EuroSchool in Azerbaijan, said that the participants have all the chances to achieve success in life:
"I was pleasantly surprised how the participants were devoted to the European theme. They already know a lot. These young people asked interesting questions and pushed the audience towards new discussions. Questions were very clear and specific," said trainer Vitali Hiarlouski.
Vitali is originally from Belarus, studied law in France and now works as a legal consultant at the International Energy Charter in Belgium. During his training sessions at the EuroSchool in Qalaalti he told the participants about cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan in the field of energy within the framework of the INOGATE programme, where Azerbaijan took part in 33 out of 69 projects, and about a new initiative, EU4Energy.
"I feel that there is great potential in these young people," Vitali said. "After having talked to some of them separately I can say that they understand quite a lot in the sphere of energy and about the European Union as a whole. Such young specialists are highly valued in the EU," he added.
Vitali advised all these representatives of the younger generation in Azerbaijan to believe in themselves, set ambitious goals and go towards them. "Confidence and readiness to try yourselves are the main things that the new generation needs in order to be successful," he said.
The participants also looked inspired. One of them, a graduate of the Academy of the State Management, Ilyas Farkhadly, said that as soon as he learned that the second edition of the EuroSchool was looking for participants, he decided he would definitely become a part of that team.
"It is wonderful to see people around you who share your moral and spiritual values and ideas and are striving to do something for Azerbaijan and Europe to be closer, to make life around us a bit better," said Ilyas, who associates Europe with new opportunities.
The main principle of the summer EuroSchool is that all training sessions take place in as informal and comfortable an atmosphere as possible and are planned in a way that avoids overloading the young people. People are still in a summer mood. A focus is made on applying modern teaching methods, and participants are prompted to express their opinions on all the discussed issues.
The organisers are convinced that this is the most effective approach, and the participants praised it as well.
Bakhruz Samedov, who is studying at the Baku branch of Moscow State University to become a linguist, said that he was pleasantly surprised at the way information was presented and the trainers' interest in the participants' opinions.
"During the three days of our summer school there were multiple debates on various subjects. I really liked that we focused on issues related to Azerbaijan, understandable and necessary for everyone. I also liked that information was presented not in a one-sided way, the European Union was not idealised, but on the contrary the participants were allowed to take a critical view on things," he said.
One of the moderators of the summer school training sessions, Khazar University professor Mukhtar Hajizada, noted that according to modern educational methods, a teacher is no longer a person who comes into the room in order to prove his point of view to the students. The teacher is more likely to act as a guide now.
"It is very important to tailor your lectures for the students. When you are stuck in your own beliefs, you do not let new views on the situation and new ways to solve the problems appear," said Hajizada, who is Head of Political Science and International Relations at Khazar University and a Chair of the European Jean Monnet programme.
"Sometimes students are worried that their question can sound naïve, but as a teacher I always advise them to ask about everything they want to know. This is the only way to learn more. When you work with students you understand that there is always a place for new ideas," he added.
Parviz Bagirov, the Head of the National Office of the European educational programme Erasmus+ in Azerbaijan, says that sometimes representatives of the younger generation in Azerbaijan underestimate themselves and do not believe in their capabilities and possibilities. He is also one of the trainers at the summer EuroSchool in Qalaalti.
"My main goal in working with young people in Azerbaijan is to educate them about the possibilities which the European Union provides to students and young people in the partner countries, including our country. There are quite a few possibilities there," Bagirov said.
Financed by the EU, educational programmes for young Azerbaijani people vary from joint projects between Azerbaijani and European universities and one-semester exchange programmes to full study courses in Europe.
"If European universities with century-old traditions offer great education, I do not see any reason why Azerbaijani young people could not take advantage of this possibility and then apply their knowledge and experience for the development of their motherland," Bagirov added.
Gumru Aliyeva is among the young summer school participants. She just graduated from Azerbaijan University of Languages with a degree in English language translation. Last year, Gumru studied in Turkey for one semester within the framework of the Erasmus+ student exchange programme and is a representative of the Erasmus student network in Azerbaijan.
"Europe has a lot of possibilities. I think that students and young people on the whole do not have enough information about these possibilities and how to take advantage of them. I am convinced that most of them would try to go for them if they knew," she said.
"I can say from my own experience that even one semester spent at university abroad is a great life experience, it gives you a lot," added Gumru, who is hoping to become the new Young European Ambassador from Azerbaijan and be even more active in helping her peers to participate in educational and career-related initiatives of the EU.
Today, there are over 100 Young European Ambassadors. Eighty of them represent the Eastern Partnership countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus), and 20 represent the EU member states. Currently, 15 Ambassadors are from Azerbaijan.
The list of Ambassadors is constantly updated and extended. The main condition for receiving honorary status is participation in the online platform "Young European Neighbours" on Facebook, experience of participation in various social and youth projects and a desire to get closer to young people from Europe and the Eastern Partnership countries.
There is also an age limit for participation (from 15 to 25 years old). However, if the applicant is an ideal candidate, then age can be overlooked. For instance, one of the trainers of the second edition of the EuroSchool, Philipp Brugner, a specialist on social and technological innovations in Vienna, is also a Young European Ambassador. Despite the fact that he is over 25, his experience and dedication to the project's idea made him an ideal candidate.
EU youth initiatives will not end at the summer school in Qalaalti this year. At the end of September, a group of Young European Ambassadors from the EU and Eastern Partnership countries will come to Azerbaijan and will also be joined by their colleagues from Azerbaijan within the framework of the EU Neighbours East project.
Multiple events are planned. Among them is the EU Bus Tour, which will take place on 21-24 September and travel around the towns of Sheki, Zakatala, Qakh, Ismaily, Balakan and Qabala, including interactive training sessions about Europe and the European Union. Then, on 25-29 September, the same sessions are to be held in selected Baku schools.
The "Young European Ambassadors" project and all other youth initiatives are implemented within the framework of the "Stronger Together!" campaign.
Author: Elena Ostapenko
Article in local media - in Azerbaijani