Stronger and together with the EU

10-05-2017

Hi! My name is Sara. I am 20 years old and currently studying at the Azerbaijan Tourism and Management University. Since my earlier student years, I have been involved in volunteering activities at international events such the 8th UNESCO Forum, the “Eurovillage 2014”event hosted by the EU Delegation in Baku and the 2nd Baku International Tourism Film Festival.

My first practical experience with the EU came through volunteering at the Eurovillage 2014 event organised by the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan. I was responsible for the preparation of Belgium’s stand, providing locals with information about tourism and educational opportunities in the country. This was an invaluable experience as I was able to connect with Belgium’s Embassy, learning new things about the EU and different countries’ cultures along the way. I defined my next goal: to win a scholarship to study in Europe.

Our university offers a lot of scholarship exchange programmes. I regularly checked the notice boards for announcements and found an opportunity to study in Germany for 6 months.

I became one of the scholarship winners. I couldn’t believe it, but it was a reality. So what has this programme given to me? First of all, a taste of independence. Being alone, I took responsibility for making decisions and solving problems. I also had to manage my time effectively for all sorts of daily activities, as well as my financial recourses to maintain a healthy yet fun lifestyle. Education in Germany inspired me to research a lot. I experienced the real student lifestyle and became inspired to become an entrepreneur in the future.

Additionally, my life in Germany taught me to take the most ambitious, crazy, and “impossible” risks. If someone had told me that one day I would travel alone across eight European countries with a very limited budget, I wouldn’t have believed it. I challenged myself, I overcame fear: during my mini European trip, a lot of things happened to me, both positive and negative, which had a profound impact on me. I now understand the importance of leaving your comfort zone, trusting your own intuition and relying on the kind and friendly people around you. Most importantly, all the stereotypes I had about nations and people were broken completely. Once your stereotypes are broken, you become a global citizen and a change maker.

After coming back to Azerbaijan, I participated in local projects and obtained scholarships for conferences in various countries. I realised that if I could do it, others could too. I decided to find these people and share their experiences in one platform: Free to Travel. It now connects more than 1400 followers from 50+ different countries. The main goal of this platform is to show that free travel is not only possible, but also able to change a person completely. The project helps me to inspire youth to make their dreams become a reality.

Another of my experiences with the EU is linked to my participation in an Erasmus+ training course called the “Young European Social Entrepreneurs network”, which was organised by YPIDA in March 2017 in Istanbul. 28 participants from 12 countries took part and represented their organisations and cultures. As a result, we developed pitch models of projects to apply for a “Key Action 2” Erasmus+ grant. Thanks to such projects and people, I realised that, with the right approach to issues and problems, passion for ideas, persistence and hard work, nothing is impossible!

The most important thing is to have a vision and believe in it, whilst being grateful to the people who support you. Success is not only defined by your actions. Success is gratitude to everyone who helped you to overcome obstacles and failures along the way. Success is just being human!

Author: Sara Rajabli

This story is the winning entry for Azerbaijan in the #EUaroundU writing contest organised by the EU Neighbours East project, inviting young people between the ages of 18 and 26 from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine to tell their story of how the EU has impacted their personal life or community.

Read the other winning entries:

Armenia – My life in a day: How the EU is making it better, by Nune Harutyunyan

Belarus – Dreams that become goals, by Katsiaryna Varfalameyeva

Georgia – The EU and I, by Georgi Kakhniashvili

Moldova – My personal watershed moment, by Iuliana Golub

Ukraine – My Europe, by Lilia Ovcharova