From 8 to 11 June 2021, some 40 undergraduate students from Sciences Po, Bocconi University, the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) and The London School of Economics (LSE) took part in the first edition of the CIVICA European Week. This event, a central element of the CIVICA Engage Track, aimed to foster social engagement in bachelor students from all over Europe through four days of fast-paced learning and team working with peers from varied backgrounds.
Hosted by the Stockholm School of Economics in a hybrid format due to the health context, this year’s first edition revolved around the theme of “Practical household finance”. The European Week aimed to raise students’ understanding of this social challenge and support Swedish organizations’ work to address it. Bachelor students from across CIVICA, as well as 10 Swedish high-school students, worked in small groups on projects and challenges brought to them by partner companies and organizations working to spread knowledge about household finances.
Two Sciences Po students shared some thoughts about their experience: Léa Fournier, a second-year student in the Middle East and Mediterranean programme on the Menton campus, and Marco Gerbino, second-year student in the Europe-North America programme on the Reims campus.
What were your motivations for joining the CIVICA European Week?
Marco Gerbino: I already knew about CIVICA from communications we received throughout the year. I saw that it was the first ever European Week, and its structure sounded very interesting: a relatively small scale event, students from LSE, Bocconi, SSE, a mix of lectures, working with companies around a very interesting topic … I chose a minor in international trade and finance for my second year on the Reims campus, so finance and financial literacy were already in my scope of interest. I thought the European Week would be a great experience.
Léa Fournier: When I received the email, I researched the websites of CIVICA and the different partner universities, and I saw the European Week was based on the concept of social engagement and exchange at a European scale, with students from different backgrounds. That sparked my interest. I was also intrigued by the theme of financial literacy: it is not a topic that I had studied in class, and I had only had one economics class in my first year at Sciences Po. The programme said they were looking for different profiles and backgrounds, and I wanted to see what I was missing out on!
How did the European Week go for you?
Léa: Although many of the other students were majoring in economics or business, I didn’t feel left out because of my lack of experience in these fields. A tutor explained to us that the variety of profiles and backgrounds was chosen on purpose, to multiply the different perspectives on the challenges we were given. We had three lectures introducing the topic of financial literacy, which were very useful for me to catch up. Then ten companies presented ten different challenges: my team worked with a Swedish bank, looking into how we could encourage young people to invest in housing. There was a strong communication side to it too, in which I could be more active thanks to my background at Sciences Po.
I loved the fact that we were working with people from very different academic backgrounds, nationalities, interests and experiences. We used very diverse and multicultural models from our respective countries. And I particularly liked producing and presenting something concrete in the end – some groups proposed very innovative ideas! I think it was exactly what the companies were looking for. It showed me that, even at this stage in our studies, we are already able to work and produce projects for large companies.
Even in an online format, the programme was very rich. SSE students organized social events, there were Zoom links to meet for lunch and breakfast with possibilities to order food wherever we were, multiple breakout rooms and even an evening celebration on Zoom on the theme of travel: people dressed up, changed their video background, and the moderators were dressed as flight attendants!
Marco: The week went very well. We all hoped it would take place in person, but even if it was fully online for me, I enjoyed it very much. I think the staff, the student representatives and the teachers from SSE managed very well to implement what was supposed to be in person in an online format. We worked about 70% of the time in small groups. I think we really managed to not only work on the topic in an effective manner, but especially to bond and get to know each other, although we were thousands of kilometers apart and from very different backgrounds. It was a very enriching experience.
My main takeaway of the week would be: don’t be afraid to expose your ideas and discuss with others. Especially in an online format, in a group with people we didn’t know, communication was key: discussing and welcoming each other’s ideas, and not being scared of putting forward your own knowledge and confronting each other’s views.
How do you think this experience will have an influence going forward in your personal, academic and professional life?
Marco: On a personal and academic level, I think I gained confidence in relating to other students – collaborating with people I didn’t know, under pressure because of time constraints, on a topic that we did not know much about… In this aspect it was really a great experience because it taught me to work better in an environment where I might not be comfortable, to get out of my comfort zone.
On another level, this experience will surely be helpful for my future civic engagement. Over the past two years at Sciences Po, I have been engaged in the theme of migration through the Civic Learning Programme: in my first year I worked with an association from the University of Palermo, which provides Italian courses to refugees and migrants, and during my second year I volunteered with the Restos du Coeur association, doing food distribution in Reims. I think the topic of financial literacy is very important for young people in general, but particularly for displaced people. Knowing how to manage one’s finances can become crucial, especially when you arrive to a place where you have nothing, and you have to build a future. In this sense I see a continuity with my past experiences, and I really would like to explore the idea of financial literacy and wellbeing linked to migration.
Léa: I gained a lot of skills in producing group projects. Even though economics is not my favourite subject, I saw that we could build a project from A to Z in only four days, and that taught me a lot. I am happy that the teams and the companies trusted the students – I think some of the companies were even positively surprised in the end!
I have also been working on refugee rights in my Civic Learning Programme and previous internships, and I saw that the working process we followed during the European Week was very similar to previous projects I worked on. It was really good to build self-confidence, to see that we are capable of producing concrete things, and to see where all our courses, internships and Civic Learning Programme opportunities can lead us.
Source: Sciences Po