ESSENCE – The Netherlands

ESSENCE – The Netherlands

Higher Education project – The Netherlands, Spain and Finland, 2014-17

Erasmus+ – The Netherlands, Spain and Finland, 2014 - 2017

‘Sustainable Europe is not something that is just going to happen. It’s a goal that we have an obligation to follow. It requires finding creative solutions to problems and a strong will to implement them.’

Providing ‘creative solutions’ is exactly what students of an innovative, interdisciplinary course - run through Erasmus+ project ESSENCE - are taught to do. 

ESSENCE is an international, cross-sectorial project designed by 5 higher education institutions, to promote and support the development of sustainable cities. The project provides current and future professionals with practical skills and the best available knowledge necessary to design the transformation of modern European cities

In a cooperation with 3 municipalities: Turku in Finland, Alcoy in Spain and Utrecht in the Netherlands, students find viable solutions for real-life issues such as reducing CO2 emissions, improving transportation, social inclusion or the circular economy.

Around 600 people participated in project ESSENCE:  students, university teachers, researchers, experts, professionals from municipalities, SMEs and decision makers.

Project director from the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, Professor Ivo Opstelten admits that there are often challenges to tackling these tasks but with ‘common will and determination’ the project thrives.

As more people are living in cities, this project is increasingly important for Europe. To encourage sustainability, parts of the programme are open for use in other regions.

ENVKIDS – Greece

ENVKIDS – Greece

School Education – Czech Republic, Greece, France, Sweden, Norway, 2009-11

‘If we want to talk about sustainability and good environmental behaviour, then we need to focus on the next generation.’

Through computer games, the ENVKIDS project has inspired some of the future generation of Europe to be environmentally concerned global citizens. These complementary educational tools were developed by a pan-European team of researchers, tech experts and teachers. They are designed to ‘make pupils think for themselves’ about their impact on the environment.

My Home, My Town and My Planet, were tested in schools in 5 partner countries. While playing My House pupils make environmental house improvements; in My Town they design eco-towns complete with parks, public transport and cycle lanes; and in My Planet, pupils learn how much countries consume and the overall global impact.

Environmentally sustainable practices have to be about education,’ says software engineer, Hariklia Tsalapatas, who was behind the games’ creation. She believes that through education, children will become more responsible citizens in the future. The ENVKIDS project’s success demonstrates how effective immersive learning games are. It also shows the crucial role schools play in explaining that the planet’s wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility, and what we as individuals can do.

Nadine Norgeot-Véron – 52 – France

Nadine Norgeot-Véron – 52 – France

Higher education – United Kingdom, 1988

Vocational Education and Training Strategic Partnerships - Scotland and Norway, 2014-17

Studying abroad makes you accept risk-taking, overcome fears and be open to new opportunities. I wanted my students to have those experiences.’

As one of the first French Erasmus participants, Nadine did not know what to expect from her 6-month exchange. But ever since, her career has been devoted to encouraging other people to follow her footsteps and participate in Erasmus+.

After her experience in Leeds, Nadine veered away from a career in international business and commerce to become a teacher. For almost 22 years, she has been involved with Erasmus-funded projects: Vocational Education and Training, School Education and Adult Education.

Working for the Head Office of State Education in Normandy, Nadine coordinates a cross-sectorial, multinational strategic partnership called Winds and Tides, which creates training designs for students about marine renewables.

This project produces tools for teachers of Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education in France, Scotland and Norway so they can offer training opportunities, qualifications and skills for the future workforce in this fast-growing industry.

By providing quality education, fostering workers mobility and supporting the production of clean energy, Nadine says that the project contributes to sustainable development, and ‘helps people have a better life in a better, cleaner environment’.

So not only does Nadine encourage students to explore Europe, she is also leading a project that helps protect it, all through Erasmus+.

Ewa Smuk-Stratenwerth – 63 – Poland

Ewa Smuk-Stratenwerth – 63 – Poland

Adult Education – Poland, 2014-17

I believe in what Grundtvig claimed: the big part of true learning happens during practice – when you truly engage for your personal benefit and the benefits of others.’

Ewa, a dedicated environmentalist and social activist, has been running educational projects for adults from marginalised communities since 1995. She organises educational activities at her organic farm in a small village of Grzybow, which are inspired by Danish philosopher Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig’s folk high schools.

Socrates - Grundtvig funds (earlier name of Erasmus+ programme) contributed to adult courses focussed on sustainability; they cover craftsmanship and art, IT skills, health and ecology, and personal development. Ewa also invites school children to the farm for trips that raise awareness about the environment and ecology.

With funds from Erasmus+ and Danish Velux Foundation, a full-scale folk high school called Ecological Folk University was established in 2014. The university offers 104 days of classes and 14 months hands-on experience on 17 farms in Poland. This occurs as a 2-year course on organic farming and sustainable development.

The outcomes from the project: curriculum, guidelines, handbook and final publication including good practical examples, conclusions and recommendations – are distributed for free to promote sustainable development in Europe and to assure Grundtvig’s legacy continues.

Agata Babina – 35 – Latvia

Agata Babina – 35 – Latvia

European Voluntary Service – Spain, 2004

‘Life should be about sharing, volunteering, hosting and travelling.’

Eager to improve her Spanish, Agata came across a leaflet on European Voluntary Service (EVS) at her university in Latvia. Agata not only improved her language skills, she also met her future husband in an EVS preparatory meeting and ‘quickly became addicted to the project experience and wanted more.’

Agata's volunteering experience transformed her into an active citizen: 'You learn to think, to criticise and to empower others to change', in fact, after her EVS she was involved in setting up an environmental NGO Radi Vidi Pats (Make the Environment Yourself) with 9 other young volunteers, and soon became its leader. As Agata explains: 'none of us are scientists. The environment is a tool for our activities, while our NGO focuses on youth and is community-based.'

Radi Vidi Pats hosts volunteers from abroad, who learn how to think, to be critical, and empower others to change. They make videos, talk to local politicians, and run some media campaigns raising awareness of environmental issues. Many of Radi Vidi Pats participants have gone on to become youth workers or work in municipalities.

Agata encourages young people to play more of an active role in society. She is hopeful for the future of sustainability, at least in Europe: 'being Eco and green is trendy and has become fancy, this is how it should be. It is just normal to be friends with the environment - we depend on it anyway'.

Urban Green Train – Italy

Urban Green Train – Italy

Higher Education – Italy, Netherlands, France, Germany 2014-17

‘Urban agriculture fulfils important functions such as environmental sustainability, food security and social cohesion.’

Don’t have a garden but still want to get your hands dirty? You may be interested in an innovative, 150-hour training course that equips students and entrepreneurs with the knowledge and skills needed to bring urban agriculture to life. From flowers grown on a roof to potted plants on a balcony, urban agriculture can ‘boost environmental sustainability, food security and social cohesion’. 

The course shows students that urban agriculture is not ‘simply a hobby’. The lessons are ‘strongly practical, with a lot of group work to get students to develop their own ideas and be able to pitch them,’ explains project coordinator Dr Francesco Orsini from the University of Bologna in Italy. Some students have already been able to gain credits by completing modules, and are taking ‘the first step towards developing a full Masters course on this subject’.

Funded through Erasmus+, the pilot project has also built a European cluster that connects academic institutions, think tanks, entrepreneurs and civil society. Their first international meeting will take place this September.

Racines (Francesco Cury & Ugo Federico) – 33, 38 – Italy

Racines (Francesco Cury & Ugo Federico) – 33, 38 – Italy

Vocational Education and Training – Belgium, 2016-18

‘Working with Erasmus+ means tapping into the richness of young people. They are the ones who have to build the future that we want to achieve.’

Through promoting sustainable practices, celebrating local excellence and encouraging cross-border exchange, Belgian-Italian restaurant Racines is in many ways a perfect example of the European project. Established by Italian duo Francesco Cury and Ugo Federico, their Brussels-based restaurant serves organically grown, local produce and receive Vocational Education and Training trainees from Italy. Aged between 19 and 21, Francesco explains that the trainees are at the age ‘when you begin to realise what you are capable of and what opportunities are out there’. The trainees not only learn about restaurant life but also experience it through a sustainable approach. After their traineeship period, they leave with an ‘ethical conscience about the world’ and memories that will stay with them for years to come with.

The Racines team consists of 14 staff members and 4 trainees, who work against the trend of the ‘extremely wasteful’ food sector by using vegetables grown in a 30km radius and purchased through cooperatives. Moreover, by focusing on ethical and sustainable considerations, Racines actively reduces the carbon footprint by not using meat products. According to Francesco, this shows that for the Erasmus+ generation, 'sustainable living is normal and necessary'.

Sustainable Islands (SusI) project – Spain

Sustainable Islands (SusI) project – Spain

School Education – 6 countries (Spain, Cyprus, France, Portugal, Iceland and Italy), 2013-15

‘Residents became more aware of where they live and were filled with a new-found pride in their homelands.’

Living on an island can make a community feel isolated, and problems associated with sustainability become magnified. The Sustainable Islands, or SusI project, aimed to counter this by looking at society, the economy and the environment on islands through sustainable eyes.

Project coordinator, Guillermo Raúl Navarro Montesdeoca, lives on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain and explained that the project offered practical advice to islanders such as how to produce high quality food locally and how to protect wildlife.

Trees were planted on all of the 6 islands involved in the project, while residents were encouraged to rely less on expensive low-grade imports and protect sea life by releasing turtles into the water. The project also aims to educate the younger generation to be more ecologically aware, 'we also brought students to sustainable places, such as a geothermal energy plant in Iceland, which made them reflect on their everyday energy consumption and its implied links to food production, transports, waste management and, generally speaking, a sustainable way of living'.

Thanks to the project, residents from the different islands began cooperating closely and as a result, realised that they suffer the same problems and learned how to find common solutions. As Guillermo explains: 'there was a realisation that each island has a lot in common and this brought the islands together. People became more aware of their islands and took pride in them.'

 

Aykut Subaşi – 23 – Turkey

Aykut Subaşi – 23 – Turkey

Youth Exchange – Turkey, 2016

‘Partnership is vital because sustainability means that different areas function together in harmony.’

Ever wanted to live and work in a rural village? Soon you may be able to thanks to Aykut, who has developed a fully sustainable Youth Village model.

Before he discovered Erasmus+, Aykut was struggling to find a clear career direction but he ‘finally realised that [he] could fulfil [his] dreams’ and his self-confidence grew.

Inspired, he then developed the Youth Village model, which provides employment opportunities for young people in rural areas. These young people contribute both socially and culturally to the village and ‘the village offers young people living there all the opportunities they need’. 

It wasn’t long until Aykut received Erasmus+ funding to turn his model into reality. Over a few days in the Turkish highlands, he started constructing a Youth Village prototype with 42 young people from 8 countries.

Building on this experience, he has set up a rural development and social entrepreneurship association that provides consultation for institutions and offers free support to youth groups.

Aykut believes that the Youth Village could eventually serve as a blueprint for Europe and even the world, helping the international community in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Ana Garcia Martins – Portugal

Ana Garcia Martins – Portugal

Higher Education – Italy, 2002-03

‘For many young people, like myself, going on Erasmus meant leaving your home and family for the first time. It’s an incredible feeling of independence and liberation.’

For the writer of one of Portugal’s most popular blogs, Erasmus+ made her a ‘more complete’ person. To Ana, her time in Siena was one of the most important times in her life. A year later, she began the Vencedor Lifestyle blog of 2016, A Pipoca Mais Doce (The Sweetest Popcorn).

If it were up to Ana, she says every young person would take part in an Erasmus+ experience. For when she was in a new country, mastering the local language, she went on a journey to adulthood.

In addition to learning a new language and embracing new cultures, she had a chance to uphold key European values. ‘This experience sparks our curiosity and at the same time teaches us to be more tolerant towards other cultures,’ she added.

Today, Ana takes part in several solidarity initiatives, including raising funds for Lisbon’s main oncology wing and encourages her readers to mobilise in a ‘positive way’.  She is also the author of 5 books, including 2 children’s books.

Jens Schmitz – 24 – Germany

Jens Schmitz – 24 – Germany

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Spain, 2016

Jens participated in a VET apprenticeship at CASPA’s modern dairy factory in Oviedo. During his stay in Spain, he mastered not only the theory and technical skills from his mechanical engineering studies but he also got hands-on practice. He built up his confidence in Spanish and his own independence. As a football fan, Jens always believed that sport can bring people closer together so he made new friends at work and on the football field. In addition, thanks to techniques he acquired during his Erasmus+ experience, RWE, one of Germany's top Energy firms has offered him a permanent position as an electro-technician.

Antoine Bertouille – 24 – Belgium

Antoine Bertouille – 24 – Belgium

Erasmus - Higher Education

Poland, 2016

When Antoine went to Warsaw, he did not expect to see such a perfect example of a mix of culture. During his Erasmus+ programme, he made lifelong friends and now knows that there is an open door for him in most European countries. Having adapted to a new environment, culture and language, Antoine feels like he has grown as a person and feels more and more grateful for the opportunities that Europe brings. He recommends that anyone should take advantage of this ‘amazing, unexpected experience’.

Nazaret Bonal Rodríguez – 27 – Spain

Nazaret Bonal Rodríguez – 27 – Spain

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

France, 2015

Nazaret studied bakery, patisserie and confectionery at the Andrés de Vandelvira VET School in Albacete. Thanks to the Erasmus+ Programme, she enjoyed the unique experience of following an on-the-job training in Potel et Chabot, one of the most famous catering companies in the world. She was mentored by 2009 Patisserie World Champion, Marc Rivière, and met Michelin-stat chefs Anne Sophie Pic and Guy Savoy. She also had the extraordinary opportunity to take part in the preparation of the catering for Roland Garros and the Orient Express. This outstanding experience changed her life forever. She currently works at the exclusive nouvelle cuisine Don Gil restaurant in Albacete, where she was offered the post before finishing her Erasmus+ experience.

Mihovil Španja – 33 – Croatia

Mihovil Španja – 33 – Croatia

Erasmus – Sport

Germany, 2012

For Paralympian Mihovil, a placement at the headquarters of the International Paralympic Committee was an incredible experience. After 4 Paralympic medals, 4 European and World Champion titles for swimming under his belt, Mihovil then had the privilege of seeing what happens behind the scenes of the biggest non-profit organisation in the Paralympic movement. His advice to potential Erasmus students: follow your dream, it will help you both in your private and professional life.

Dejan Kramžar – 37 – Slovenia

Dejan Kramžar – 37 – Slovenia

School Education – eTwinning

Italy and Austria, 2009- Present

History and German teacher, Dejan, has been a devoted eTwinning ambassador for years, and plans to stay so for many more. His eTwinning project ‘YES’ (Young Europeans Speak) won the Zlati kabel award for best Slovene project for 12 to 14-year olds. He empowered their achievement: the students not only spoke and wrote English; they also filmed and recorded themselves. Another eTwinning project he worked on developed a calendar and a board game with schools from Italy and Austria. No surprise that Dejan was named 2016 ‘Teacher of the year’ by the Ona Magazine in Slovenia.

Murièle Dejaune – 53 – France

Murièle Dejaune – 53 – France

School Education - eTwinning

17 countries, 2008

English and French teacher, Murièle, has developed 33 successful, original eTwinning projects with 17 countries and has won national and European prizes. She has also coordinated Vocational Education and Training projects for her students for 6 years. Working collaboratively has motivated her students: they are more open to the world, more curious and they have improved their language and ICT skills. Murièle is convinced that sharing ideas and working with European colleagues has enriched her professional and personal life. Her school is also a European Parliament Ambassador school.

Arturs Bukonts – 29 – Latvia

Arturs Bukonts – 29 – Latvia

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Turkey, 2006

Arturs is the managing director of 3 Latvian forest industry organisations: the Latvian Association of Independent Timber Harvesting Companies, Latvian Association of Wood Processing Entrepreneurs and Exporters, and is the CEO of Latvian Wood Association. Back in 2006, he participated in a 3-week traineeship in Turkey, while studying at Riga State technical school. He learnt new techniques of wood processing and met known specialists in the field. He also discovered different cultures and how this reflects on the workflow and productivity of larger and smaller wood processing companies. He also came across solutions to these challenges in enterprises that export their production to European countries.  Arturs' advice for future Erasmus+ participants is to keep their eyes and minds open to new knowledge and fully embrace different aspects of everyday life in a foreign country.

Serap Yeter Bilal – 30 – Turkey

Serap Yeter Bilal – 30 – Turkey

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Germany, Hungary, Romania and Belgium, 2007- present

Serap is an EU projects writer for the Turkish government, applying for funds to assist local initiatives. She participated in 4 Erasmus programmes as a student in Germany, a trainee in Belgium and Romania and a youth leader in Hungary. She organised numerous youth exchanges and training courses on EU youth programmes. Besides being a beneficiary, she also worked as a youth worker and Erasmus+ Vice Institutional Coordinator in a university. In Germany, she discovered non-formal education methods such as interactive teaching where students are encouraged to express themselves. Growing up alone, she describes the Programme as a regenerative energy and a supportive bough in her life. She thinks Erasmus breaks prejudices and reaches out well to people in difficult economic situations.

Pranas Kentra – 34 – Lithuania

Pranas Kentra – 34 – Lithuania

Erasmus- Higher Education

The Netherlands, 2005-2006

As one of the first Lithuanian jazz guitarists to study abroad, Pranas got the chance to play, improvise and compose with incredible musicians from different countries and continents. During his time at Prins Claus Conservatoire in Groningen, he learnt valuable life lessons, made valuable contacts and developed as a person and musician. Inspired by this experience, the guitarist returned to The Netherlands with his group 9 years later and released their debut album, Vague Memoirs. Pranas now teaches at Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University Music Academy, Vilniaus Kolegija University of Applied Sciences and the Juozas Gruodis Conservatoire. His latest album Centrifuge came out in 2016.

Mikko Hietala – 31 – Finland

Mikko Hietala – 31 – Finland

Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Austria, 2004

Mikko is the 2015 winner of reality TV show, Best bakery in Finland. During an Erasmus+ traineeship in Austria’s bakeries in Pinkafield, Mikko not only boosted his English, but learnt interesting baking techniques and enlarged his professional network. So it is no wonder that Mikko is now the owner of his own bakery and 2 cafés in Turku, Finland. Mikko's most extraordinary experience was working with Rinfhoffer Bakery, where he learnt a whole new skillset through studying local products and their production processes. Mikko's tip for Erasmus+ trainees: take full advantage of the stay abroad and apply their skills to various settings!

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