This summer saw the third edition of the EuroSchool take place in Azerbaijan and interest in the project has continued to grow among young Azerbaijanis.
The 15 Azerbaijani students and European trainers that took part in the school spent the last few days of August in the mountainous resort area, Galaalti, located North of Baku. The event is traditionally organised by the Delegation of the European Union to Azerbaijan.
The group took part in various lectures and interactive sessions aimed at raising awareness and understanding about the EU, the system of European institutions and values, as well as prospects for cooperation with Azerbaijan.
Particular attention was also paid to informing young people about educational and career opportunities and youth development programmes financed by the EU.
"Such events definitely make people closer, give a chance to visit a new place, meet new and like-minded people. This significantly enriches the person, improves their communications skills and broadens horizons. Young people cannot do without these things when they become adults," says Nadja Eckert, trainer and the coordinator of the ‘Young European Neighbours’ network, an online platform uniting young people from 28 EU Member States and six Eastern Neighbourhood countries.
The European Union focuses on the development of the younger generation, believing that if today's young people can interact with each other, this will build a reliable foundation for mutual understanding and effective cooperation in the future.
Stefania-Felicia Pavel, a EuroSchool trainer from Romania says that all sessions that took place within the framework of the EuroSchool showed a high level of involvement from participants, who displayed a deep understanding of Europe and asked engaging and thought-provoking questions.
"I am convinced that these guys will be among those who contribute to the better future of Azerbaijan! Our goal today is to give them the experience and confidence and direct their energy so they can proceed constructively," she says.
Born in Belarus, trainer Vitaliy Hiarlouski now works in Brussels at the European Energy Charter. He has taught EuroSchool participants about energy-related cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU, including the field of energy efficiency. According to him, this subject was the most popular among the participants. Vitaliy and his fellow trainers are convinced that participants of the third edition of EuroSchool will be successful in the future.
"I feel that there is a great potential in these guys. They are energetic, initiative and open to new knowledge and the world. Moreover, most of them speak English very well. There is a great need in such young specialists," says Vitaliy.
The goal of the summer EuroSchool is for participants to get as much useful information as possible, as well as gaining a general understanding of the European Union. Undoubtedly, this programme is about educational and youth development opportunities. An attractive prospect for the participants was the possibility of studying in Europe with the help of programmes providing scholarships.
Parviz Bagirov, Head of the National Erasmus+ Office in Azerbaijan, is a regular guest at the EuroSchools, and he is convinced that Azerbaijani young people are lacking confidence.
However, Rana Bayramova, a EuroSchool participant and student of the State University of Baku (SUB), feels the EuroSchool has improved her confidence: "After attending this summer school I am full of motivation and self-confidence. I used to think that in view of hundreds of thousands of students from around the world applying for scholarships in order to study in European universities, our chances were very low. [But] now, after having received first-hand and more detailed information, I realise that there is always a chance and I should try it," she said.
"We learned that the European Union provides a great number of opportunities for the development of young people and we have a chance to take advantage of them," said another participant, SUB student Aziza Khalilova.
Educational projects financed by the European Union within the framework of Erasmus+ can vary from joint projects between Azerbaijani and European universities to exchange programmes studying at European universities.
EuroSchool training sessions are conducted so that an informal and relaxed atmosphere is created. Past examples have shown that this approach is the most effective for absorbing information.
One of the trainers helping participants enjoy this new environment is actually one of last year's summer school participants. Ilyas Farhadli, a graduate of the Academy of Public Administration, became a trainer this year.
"I feel great in my new role," says 24-year old Ilyas, who feels last year's experience gave him an advantage in communicating with the participants: "After having been on the other side of the stage [sic], I know small tricks: when a minute of serious concentration is needed, when the audience should be allowed to relax a little, or what to do in order not to lose the audience's attention."
Ilyas is an activist who is involved in social entrepreneurship. He often travels around Azerbaijan and thinks that the European Union should concentrate its efforts on getting acquainted with the country's regions.
"The young people in Baku are quite well informed; however, in the regions, the awareness about the EU is significantly lower, despite the fact that they get practical benefits from multiple European agricultural and other development programmes. The EU remains something distant and unclear to them," Ilyas says.
There are young people from these regions among the participants of the summer school. Amina Sharifzade is originally from Lankaran, a southern region of Azerbaijan, where patriarchal standards are still in place and women still face many stereotypes and limitations.
However, Amina is not one of them. She is a participant of one of the western educational programmes, speaks English fluently, studies at the Azerbaijani State Academy of Fine Arts in Baku and has great plans for the future.
Amina says that she hopes to become one of the Young European Ambassadors, who are part of the European Youth Network. She believes that this title will help her carry out a project to support girls in her native region. "Only education and having a profession can help girls to avoid the dependence on their parents and the future spouse," she says.
Stereotypes about the EU was a common issue raised at the EuroSchool. Most participants agreed that negative stereotypes about the EU appear in Azerbaijan due to the lack of information and knowledge.
"It is possible that the negative perception of Europe comes from our Soviet past, when such notions as ‘the West' and 'capitalism' were synonymous with the word 'enemy'," says the participant Shujaet Ahmedzade, a student of the Academy of the Public Administration in Baku.
"Today there is a tendency in society to understand that Azerbaijan is a part of the European family of nations and the future of our country is in integration with Europe," he says. "Traditions and religion, culture and mentality can differ, but we are united by the same values and goals."
Another participant, Pasha Babayev, also a student of the Academy of the Public Administration, says that strengthening the network of young and progressive people who are not prone to Euro-scepticism is important.
"As the saying goes, there is safety in numbers. Only by uniting are we becoming stronger," he said. "Together we can achieve development and positive changes."
Author: Elena Ostapenko