"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone" - Neale Donald Walsch
It was with this adventurous spirit that about three months ago, in sweet company of my family, I drove all the way to Munich ready to embark upon my latest adventure abroad. That morning I set off from my home town with lots of hopes and expectations but most of all with one feeling: that the upcoming experience would be completely different from all my previous ones.
Indeed, after years and years of studying, an Erasmus and many other study exchanges, I really felt that what I needed was to put that knowledge into practice. It was then that, all alone in my room in Trento, I started browsing through countless websites until one headline caught my attention: "European Solidarity Corps". Reading through the website I learned that it is a brand new initiative of the European Union for young people willing to volunteer or work in projects or programmes to benefit communities across Europe by spreading the values of cooperation and solidarity. Having the chance to shape my own future and at the same time make a difference by promoting two values I completely share: this was the sort of experience I was looking for!
I think I will never forget my first day as an Interreg Reporter at the Joint Secretariat of the Interreg Alpine Space programme, a European transnational cooperation programme for the Alpine region. On that day — it was 25 September, to be precise — what I wanted was to make a good impression so I put on my most "professional" jacket and walked to my first day of volunteering. When I arrived I was welcomed by a team that managed to make me feel at ease from the very first moment: after introducing myself I was led to a small kitchen where we made some coffee to start the working day with the right energy. What to say? As an Italian, it was for me the perfect ice breaker!
My second week with the JS Team was the most crazy one, as I was in Bruxelles for the European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC), a four-day event entirely dedicated to the exchange of good practices and know-how in the field of regional and urban development. Finding myself in the European Parliament listening to Corina Crețu in person and to her thankful message for all Interreg volunteers was an almost surreal and extremely touching moment. It was during those intense four days that I realized the true importance of my role as an Interreg Reporter: being one of the spectators of this year's RegioStars Awards and having the chance to be inspired by the 24 innovative finalist projects — Alpine Space project SEAP_Alps was among them — enlightened me on the importance of spreading the word and raising awareness on the potential of cooperation across borders, especially in the context of the discussion on the EU's budget post 2020.
My whole experience at the Joint Secretariat of the Interreg Alpine Space programme was actually for me a constant discovery of the beauty of transnational cooperation, which thanks to the Interreg Volunteer Youth (IVY) initiative I had the chance to report and promote. Although pretty demanding, reporting the results achieved up to now by many Alpine Space projects was one of the most gratifying activities I carried out as an Interreg Reporter. Why? Well, firstly because I had the chance to engage in one of the activities I enjoy (yes, I'm pretty much into writing) and secondly because I identified the two elements that make such projects possible in the area I live in: one is willingness and the other is the power of cooperation. I strongly believe that without the willingness at a local and regional level to make the different regions of the Alpine Space more innovative, eco-friendly, liveable or well-governed without, though, affecting their unique identity, none of the projects would have started off. But the willingness of a single region is not enough to make a change! And that's when cooperation comes into play. Although characterized each by their own language and dialects, customs and traditions, the different regions of the Alpine Space face common challenges such as depopulation, an ageing population and an inhomogeneous transport network — just to mention some. Cooperation means overcoming territorial differences to reach, instead, a common view. This is to me the real power of cooperation and the common denominator I found in all the projects I reported.
As a master student in European and International Studies, I'm really glad to have undertaken such an experience because I had the opportunity to explore European cooperation from a different perspective, that is the local and regional one, which are unfortunately often disregarded. On top of that, I was lucky enough to work in a team who according to me perfectly represents the regions involved in the programme: diverse but close at the same time!
If you're curious to know more about the IVY initiative, have a look through the website! You can also read a few project briefs I wrote here: http://www.alpine-space.eu/newsletter/2017/201712 ;-)
Bis bald! :-)