«Making Europe (and the world) everyday reality»

The «Europa macht Schule» location in Hamburg
Reading time: 8 min.

Hamburg is one of the oldest locations of the programme «Europa macht Schule» (Europe meets School, EmS), which was launched in Germany in 2006. Ever since the 2007/08 programme year, EmS has been active in Germany’s second largest city with its diverse university landscape, with just a few short interruptions. Hamburg has also played a pioneering role in opening up an initiative originally aimed at bringing Europeans together to the rest of the world. Since 2018, guest students from European but also non-European countries have been carrying out projects here – as they have at a number of other locations.

A brief review

«The development in the last few years is really gratifying. We can definitely say that.» Leonie Frey’s sense of pride and a certain satisfaction are palpable. Over 30 projects were carried out in just four programme years until 2021/22, which exceeds the number conducted in the 10 years since «Europa macht Schule» was launched in Hamburg in 2007/08, says Frey, a student of Universität Hamburg’s MA programme in Interdisciplinary Public and Nonprofit Studies. Together with physics student Hauke Damerow, also at Universität Hamburg, she is responsible for location site coordination in Hamburg.

This was by no means expected, adds Damerow, who has been a volunteer with the location team since 2018 and is therefore its longest-serving member. By the mid-2010s, the programme had weakened slightly in Hamburg. This is reflected in the number of projects carried out, a project-free period in the programme years 2014/15 and 2016/17 and also by the fact that the location team had just one member in 2017/18. But that, he assures us, is history. «Europa macht Schule» in Hamburg is once again well placed to face the future. Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a decline in the number of projects here as in other locations, has not fundamentally changed this.

Picture of EmS Hamburg Team
To play video, please click on image. Please note video host will have access to data.

Manageable workload

Frey and Damerow agree that a dedicated location team is absolutely key to the success of its endeavours. In Hamburg, the team currently consists of Antonia Steinweg (PhD student of law at Bucerius Law School) and Anahit Mikayelyan (business student at Universität Hamburg). Volunteers have to be interested in meeting students from Europe and all over the world, enjoy intercultural exchange – and have time to do voluntary work. At the start of a programme year in October and November, each team member may work up to four hours a week recruiting international students and new volunteers. Organising the kick-off event, the so-called coordination meeting, in early December is also time-consuming, Frey and Damerow admit. However, things get quieter again in the following months because international students plan their own projects with teaching staff. 

«We get busier again towards the end of the programme year, so between March and May. This is when we have to collect and check project reports, apply to DAAD for the compensation of expenses and reimburse students. We also have to plan and host the closing event. This can involve everything from finding a room, calculating participant numbers, preparing the agenda and inviting external speakers to organising catering,» explains Frey.

Promoting the programme

To promote «Europa macht Schule», the Hamburg location team, like colleagues in other cities, draws on a whole range of communication channels. For example, they recruit students in language courses, through the General Student Committees (AStAs) at Hamburg universities, PIASTA (a service offered by International Office at Universität Hamburg), International Offices but also via posters and flyers. The Hamburg team also uses posts in WhatsApp groups, advertisements in volunteer exchanges and job posting sites to find new members.

However, the location team does not have to worry about contacting the schools. This is the task of the team responsible for programme administration, «Student Engagement for Europe», which is part of Department EU05 «Communication and Student Engagement for Europe» of the Erasmus+ National Agency for Higher Education Cooperation in DAAD in cooperation with the Pädagogischer Austauschdienst (PAD, Pedagogical Exchange Service). At the start of a programme year, PAD, in consultation with the NA, sends out registration details to schools in the respective cities. Teachers then register independently on the platform. «Communication with the schools subsequently occurs only via the participating teachers,» explains Damerow. «We support them throughout the programme year and are available to answer questions and help solve problems. Some teachers have been involved in ‹Europa macht Schule› for years; some were even EmS volunteers themselves.»

A selection of projects coordinated by the Hamburg location team

Project year: 2018/19, country: Norway, subject: Playing Norway («Spielend Norwegen»), school type: Comprehensive school («Gemeinschaftsschule»), school year: 6

Project year: 2020/21, country: Egypt, subject: All Egyptian and ‹Especially Alexandrian› («Alles Ägyptisch und besonders »), school type: Comprehensive school («Stadtteilschule»), school year: 5

Project year: 2020/21, country: France, subject: France Meets Germany («Frankreich begegnet Deutschland»), school type: Primary school («Grundschule»), school year: 4

Project year: 2020/21, country: India, subject: From India to Germany: A wonderful cultural exchange, school type: Grammar school/high school, school year: 7

Project year: 2021/22, country: USA, subject: Winter holidays in the USA in comparison to Germany, school type: Primary and comprehensive school («Grund- and Stadtteilschule»), school year: 8

Project year: 2021/22, country: Belgium, subject: Belgium with all the Senses («Belgien mit allen Sinnen»), school type: Grammar school/high school, school year: 9

Project year: 2022/23, country: Kazakhstan, subject: Kazakhstan’s Many Cultural Dimensions(«Kulturzwiebel Kasachstans»), school type: Primary school («Grundschule»), school year: 1


A look at the projects

Projects that have been carried out over the years have been diverse and wide-ranging. The students address all kinds of country-specific subjects according to the needs of the school type and year. Most students come from Europe, but in the last two years, students from non-European countries have also participated at Hamburg’s EmS location. This has been possible since 2017.

«This happened here for the first time in the 2018/19 programme year,» recalls Hauke Damerow, «my first EmS year in Hamburg. Back then, an Egyptian student and students from China contacted us, and they actually carried out projects. In fact, the student from Egypt continued to work with us in the subsequent years. Until 2021/22, she carried out altogether six projects at completely different schools. That’s impressive. But to be fair, I should point out that’s the exception rather than the rule.» Most volunteers conduct one EmS project because the majority of participating students only stay in Germany for one or two semesters, for example with Erasmus+. 

We see ourselves as European citizens and are committed to an inclusive Europe. We consider the cohesion of European countries to be essential and we want to foster exchange between young people from different countries with ‹Europa macht Schule›.
Hamburg location team

Reward for the effort

The members of the Hamburg EmS location team also emphasise the role the «Europa macht Schule» project plays in fostering intercultural understanding. Antonia Steinweg underlines this explicitly with regard to the European level, because it led to the foundation of the initiative and is still part of its name: «I’m passionate about the European idea, about cultural and linguistic exchange. And I am convinced that European unity can only succeed if we make Europe an everyday reality for the younger generation – that’s what we’re doing with ‹Europa macht Schule›.»

Contact with international students is equally important, states Anahit Mikayelyan. Other aspects the team considers relevant and worthwhile concern the schoolchildren, who receive first-hand information about countries that are usually foreign to them and are able to broaden their horizons as a result. And last but not least, volunteering offers location team members the chance to acquire soft skills that will benefit them in their subsequent career path and education. These include teamwork skills, experience in public relations, event organisation, financial administration and project management, a practical spin-off that should not be underestimated. 

I wanted to participate in ‹Europa macht Schule› because I think children’s feeling of belonging to Europe, in particular, can be strengthened if they have concrete experiences with people from other European countries and engage with them personally. It’s really important to me that this European feeling remains alive and is part of our everyday reality.
Corentin Rault carried out the EmS project «Frankreich begegnet Deutschland» (France Meets Germany) in the 2020/21 programme year.

EmS requests more support from universities

Asked how their voluntary work could be better and more effectively supported, the Hamburg team names three areas. The first is communication of their activities to students who have come to Hamburg universities with the Erasmus+ programme. «It would be great,» says Leonie Frey, «if incoming students could be made aware of ‹Europa macht Schule› and our team right at the start of their visit. This would increase the likelihood of even more exciting projects being created.» This would be beneficial for EmS, but also for the universities, she adds. «These activities would give their students a chance to meet people outside class, gain experience and maybe even improve their German language skills with projects at schools.»

Secondly, it «would be useful if Universität Hamburg – or another university – could allow us to use campus facilities or even give us a room where we could meet or hold our kick-off and final event,» explains Hauke Damerow. «It’s sometimes really difficult finding a room, because we’re not an official university group, so we’re only allowed a room at a university in exceptional cases. We would encourage universities to give all student initiatives access to rooms.» 

Finally – and this is a third, more general aspect that goes beyond Hamburg –, universities and policymakers could do more to promote volunteering positions, for example by enabling volunteers to obtain credit points or BAföG funding for an extra semester on top of the standard period of study. These relatively small measures could not only promote volunteering, they could also allow a low-threshold form of international exchange to be established at universities, for example to supplement mobilities. It would be a win-win situation: beneficial for both students and universities.

Island bay with lagoon character. Crystal-clear water shimmers turquoise on a secluded beach under a cloudless sky.
© Artemis Katsadoura, CC BY-SA 4.0

«Europa macht Schule» in school classes. Example of one project

«Culture and Tradition in Greece» − this was the name of a more country-specific project, to which Greek student Chrysoula Perathoraki also added a socio-political component. The pupils of a year-six grammar school (high school) class had the opportunity to discover Europe from the perspective of a different nationality rather than that of a tourist. «Chrysoula told us about her home country, things we didn’t know before,» concluded one pupil of Würzburg’s Dag-Hammarskjöld Grammar School on the school website. 

For the student of German and English language and literature, who lives in Athens but hails from the island of Gavdos off the coast of Crete, the class with very young children was a personal challenge. «But it was also an exceptionally rewarding experience for me. It gave me the chance to learn something new and develop ideas and methods for this age group.» 

A win-win situation where − thanks to «Europa macht Schule» − the EU tangibly brings everyone a little closer together. Even linguistically so. A brief digression into the Greek alphabet became a form of discovery learning for the pupils, who learned to write their names in Greek letters. And naturally, the children also gained a brief insight into Greek mythology, learning about the story of Odysseus, who met the sea nymph Calypso on Gavdos. The photos Chrysoula showed her class then presented a more tourist view of the island in the southernmost tip of Europe and the European Union.

Lutz Cleeves

Author: Marcus Klein