Over the past few years in Ukraine, there has been no shortage of workshops, seminars, and other training events dedicated to the European Union and its relations with Ukraine. However, even in this saturated environment, the recognised leader is the EU Study Days: an initiative of the EU Delegation to Ukraine. The “days” are unofficially known as the “EuroSchool.”
“This is our investment in the future of Ukraine and its relations with the European Union,” says Jurgis Vilčinskas, head of the Press and Information Section of the EU Delegation.
EuroSchool is approaching its five-year anniversary. Since its founding, about 850 participants have gone through the program, including students and recent graduates of Ukrainian universities.
“We do not know what paths these young people will choose in life, but we want to show them how Ukraine can move towards Europe, its market, cultural, educational, and other spheres,” adds Vilčinskas.
On September 28-29, the first EuroSchool Alumni Forum will take place in Kyiv. Several hundred graduates from different parts of Ukraine will have an opportunity to network and share useful information about opportunities for work with EU institutions and other international organisations, educational, grant, and business prospects, and opportunities to participate in reforming the country.
The forum is a milestone in the EuroSchool’s history. Therefore, it is a logical time to look back at March 2013, when it all began.
Viktoriya Davydova, press and information advisor to the EU Delegation to Ukraine, was present at the birth of the EU Study Days. She is a teacher with years of experience at the university level.
“When we first started, we could never have imagined how necessary, interesting, and empowering the EuroSchool would become for our young people,” Davydova says.
“The main thing we hear from graduates is that they value the knowledge they gain, and the opportunity to communicate with experts, diplomats, and peers. Our graduates perceive the EU Study Days project as their own, and that is the most important thing.”
Today the EuroSchool is a successful project with a well-known brand. However, four and a half years ago when it was launched, things in Ukraine, including its European future, were rather complicated and uncertain. On the one hand, Ukraine, headed by Viktor Yanukovych, was moving towards the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. On the other hand, processes within the country were very far from the real pro-European transformations that were needed.
“At that time it was clear that many forces in Ukraine were slowing down the reform process, and it seemed that the failure of European integration was just a matter of time. No one believed that Yanukovych seriously intended to do all the things required for rapprochement with the EU,” recalls Volodymyr Yermolenko, the director of European projects at Internews-Ukraine and the moderator of the EuroSchool.
“The main idea of EuroSchool was long-term work with young people who, in 10 years, might become a powerful force that thinks and acts differently. And this approach has proved its value. ”
The first of 21 EuroSchool sessions were held in Kyiv on March 6-10, 2013.
From the very beginning, the bar of invited experts and lecturers was set very high. Andrew Wilson from the European Council on Foreign Relations, Oleksandr Sushko, the director of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Integration, trade expert Taras Kachka, and energy expert Mykhailo Honchar, among others, have contributed to the recognition and attractiveness of the EuroSchool from the very beginning.
“From the start, we tried to create an informal atmosphere,” says Yermolenko. “I think now we are getting better that. When you do something for the first time, you are not as free and are more careful about things. But at the beginning, we saw that the EU Study Days inspired people with frankness and informality, which are often lacking in our universities.”
Vira Tubaltseva was among the participants of the first EuroSchool. At the time, she was a university student.
“The organisers managed to gather first-rate speakers, including Ukrainian and European diplomats, economists, civil servants, and public activists,” she recalls. “And most of all, I remember the atmosphere of the school and its participants. I met many bright personalities and like-minded people who became my friends and colleagues, and we are still in touch today.”
I remember that from my first days at the school I wanted to sing the John Lennon song that goes, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one …”
Later, thanks in part to her participation in EuroSchool, Vira joined the Internews-Ukraine team, where she worked for several years on European-focused projects.
Vadym Yeremiychuk, a student of philosophy at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, participated in the most recent EU Study Days, which took place this past July in Zaporizhia. “Interesting lectures, interactive games, informative events, and most importantly, communication with extraordinary and diverse people. Most of all I liked the EU Council meeting simulation. We took on the roles of EU ministers and, following regulations, decided on granting a visa-free regime to Ukraine,” Yeremiychuk says.
Yeremiychuk says that the experience he gained in the school will likely also contribute to the development of some of his extra-curricular activities at university, including the existing Political Club, which is focused on the study of global political issues and the development of students’ political consciousness.
One pressing question for the EuroSchool is, “what comes next?”
“The most important priority for us is that this platform becomes a network for young professionals who, through the association, will contribute to building relations between the EU and Ukraine,” says Jurgis Vilčinskas.
“Our graduates go on to further study or work in government, international organisations, and universities. We run into EU Study Days alumni in practically in every region of Ukraine. We hope to have annual meetings,” adds Davydova. “But we also want to expand the network’s horizons and make them international. For example, we can organise communication with active young people in the EU. I am sure that new ideas will come up soon – the EuroSchool graduates themselves will develop them! “
Undoubtedly, the alumni forum is a good place for the emergence of these ideas.