Ukrainian at the College of Europe: I am an ambassador of my country

Victoria Antonenko of Odesa started studying at the College of Europe in 2016. In Ukraine, she studied international relations at the Odesa I.I. Mechnikov National University.

“I first heard about the College of Europe as one of the best universities for European Studies during the EU Study Days in Odesa,” says Antonenko. She applied to study European political and administrative studies at the College in the hopes of contributing to the development of EU-Ukraine relations and building a European Ukraine.

Alma mater of Europe’s leaders

The College of Europe was founded in 1949 in Bruges, Belgium, with the mission to prepare postgraduates for leadership roles focused on European issues. In 1992, it expanded, opening a second campus in Natolin (Warsaw, Poland).

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Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, during her visit to the College of Europe, Bruges campus

The Bruges campus offers master’s degree programmes in EU international relations and diplomacy, European economic studies, European legal studies, and European political and administrative studies, while the Natolin campus offers a master’s degree in European interdisciplinary studies. All the classes are delivered in English and French.

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The average age of students at the College is 26.5. “They are successful graduates of European universities, often studying toward their second or third master’s,” says Antonenko. Graduates of the College typically launch careers at European institutions and in the field of European affairs. College of Europe alumni include politicians and diplomats like MPs, European ambassadors, and even former United States CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose memoirs were adapted in the Hollywood spy drama, Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.

Keep calm and study hard

To keep its standards high, the College schedules intense academic and extracurricular activities. In addition to lectures, students can take advantage of extra workshops and debate clubs on Saturdays. They also meet with European politicians and take field trips to the offices of EU institutions.

“There are always classes all morning, and sometimes it seems I am working from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.,” admits Antonenko. She attends extra workshops on the language of political negotiations, EU institutional legal terminology, and French and Italian language. All these extra achievements are listed on the diploma, and students get certificates for their attendance.

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The classes focus heavily on current events, compared to Ukrainian universities, which provide mostly theoretical knowledge. “We learn and discuss the latest political developments. Brexit and the US elections were our biggest cases yet,” says Antonenko.

When asked about what she does in her leisure time, Antonenko smiles: the library is among the most popular student hangouts. Studying takes up almost all of her time, but on national holidays she takes short trips. Antonenko also sings in the College choir and represents Ukraine among her fellow students.

“We established a Ukrainian community here to tell people more about our country,” says Antonenko. Together with other Ukrainian students, she arranged a screening of  “Winter on Fire,” a movie about the Maidan revolution. “I feel responsible for representing Ukraine and explaining the truth about my homeland,” she says.

Key to admission

“I still can’t understand why they admitted me,” laughs Antonenko, “When I wrote my letter of motivation, I asked myself, ‘What do they want me to write?’”

She decided to write exactly what she was thinking: why she wanted to take on these studies, how she sees Ukraine in the future, what she believes she can do for Ukraine, and how the College can contribute to these goals.

“So my advice to applicants is to be frank. My letter was not the most perfect, but it was sincere,” concludes Antonenko.

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She also suggests applicants pay careful attention to their CVs and make them as detailed as possible, including all internships and volunteer experiences. The College of Europe requires that CVs adhere to the Europass format, which is available online.

Tuition fees & scholarships

Tuition fees for the 2017-2018 academic year at the College of Europe total €24,000, but students can get scholarships that cover tuition, study trips, residence accommodations, and meals.

For instance, Ukrainians are offered College of Europe scholarships under the European Neighbourhood Policy.

Challenges

When adapting to the pace of College life, Ukrainian students can face some challenges. One such obstacle is the language barrier; many Ukrainians do not have a high level of proficiency in French. “You should also be prepared to spend a lot of time in the library and to write many essays,” warns Antonenko, adding that the College’s rigourous requirements teach students to be more self-disciplined and independent.

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Finally

“Before applying to the College of Europe, decide if it is what you really want,” says Antonenko. For those who are not truly committed to the decision, the requirements can be stressful.

The College of Europe teaches its students to be objective and unbiased when approaching an issue. This is a necessary step to building a career in European affairs.

Antonenko says future applicants need inspiration, determination, and a good sense of humour to cope with the challenges. She believes that if you are ready to tackle these challenges and want to leverage your knowledge for the benefit of your country, then the College of Europe is the right place for you.

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Even more opportunities

Apart from College of Europe, Ukrainians also use diverse EU exchange tools by Erasmus+ for education, training, youth and sport. The numbers speak for themselves:

In 2015-2016, 364 bilateral projects on individual mobility were implemented in universities in Europe and Ukraine. Under these EU-funded projects, 3 355 students and staff from Ukraine come to study, teach or train in Europe between 2015 and 2018. In comparison, in the overall financing period 2007-2013, 1500 students or scholars from Ukraine received funding for mobility, indicating a sharp increase of this type of mobility under Erasmus+.

In the 2014-2016 intakes for Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees, 96 Ukrainian students received a full scholarship, covering full tuition, living and travel costs and insurance; 12 Ukrainian doctoral candidates received fellowships to cover their participation in Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Programmes selected in same period.

Ukraine is also an active partner in the centralised youth actions of Erasmus+; 1800 young people and youth workers from Ukraine have received funding for mobility, youth exchanges and for the European Voluntary Service in the 2015-funded projects.

More details are available on the official website: www.coleurope.eu

Track latest news and upcoming opportunities at the National Erasmus+ Office in Ukraine: http://erasmusplus.org.ua/en/