Internationales Bildungs- und Begegnungswerk in Dortmund

European Column 10: Learning from diversity

European Column 10: Learning from diversity

Rita, Lisa, and David are volunteering at Auslandsgesellschaft NRW e.V. in Dortmund for a year as part of their European Volunteer Service. They come from three different countries and live together in their shared flat at Borsigplatz.

Rita’s roots lie in Russia. She is 22 years old and comes from a small town at the Volga river. For five years she lived and studied in Tula. Lisa is 21 years old, coming from Nikolayev in Ukraine and has lived in Germany for two months now. David is 21 years old, born in Vienna, the son of an Egyptian and an Austrian. He just finished high school and does European Volunteer Service so he does not need to join the military. In Austria,  in contrast to Germany, there still is compulsory military service. David says: “I personally was never impacted by the negative aspects of Europe. Borders have never been that present. I traveled a lot. My father told me that in Egypt he needed a visum just to travel to the neighbouring country. All of this takes additional effort. In Europe, we even have the privilege of a common currency.

Thinking about oneself as a European

At the high school he visited, it was common to think about oneself as European. “There were always people from different countries in our class, for example from the Balkans”, David says. “Of course, I know that there are problems in Europe nonetheless.”
“I always had great interest in European art”, tells Rita. “But I am from the largest country in the world. Until I was 18 years old, I had never seen another country. Russia is infinitely large. You feel like the whole world is distant from you. It was 3000 kilometres to Europe. Until I would have reached Ukraine or Belarus, I had to take a trip of 10 or 12 hours.”

Not having to consider money or documents

When Lisa was little, she traveled a lot with her parents, she tells. Europe, for her, was connected with Pizza, beautiful people, beautiful buildings and roads. “The economic differences between the countries and the people was not so much in focus. However, three years ago, with the European revolution in Ukraine, I began to ask, where do we want to go now?”, the 21-year-old says. “Following Maidan (Eds. note: Civil protests in Ukraine starting in 2013) I feel closer to Europe. I see it as a first step towards deeper relations between Ukraine and Europe.”

Today, so Lisa, Europe signifies freedom to her. Freedom of movement, freedom to travel, to be spontaneous, not having to consider money or documents. “Through all these programmes, like European Volunteer Service or Erasmus, I have met a great number of people.” She also wishes for others to have such opportunities.

The people are not the regime

“For me, Germany has become a second home”, Rita says. As a Russian, she sometimes faces discrimination: “There are questions relating to President Putin, and I always have to tell people: I don’t know him personally. I am just  young girl looking for her own way in the world. I want to remind people: You have to distinguish between the people of a country and its government.”

If it was up to her, Russia should move closer to Europe, so young people can exchange ideas. She says: “The less experiences one has together, the more prejudices are in one’s head. In Europe there is an infinite number of cultures which treat each other well.”

With regards to mobility, all three are united: In order to support exchange and mutual understanding, it should be easier to travel, to live abroad, to study, for citizens of all countries / no matter where you are from. We need less of small groups excluding the others. This is not about making everyone equal, but about learning from diversity.

Chantal Stauder