Benedikt Grothe is a political science student at Leipzig University and has been part of Arqus since the end of 2021. In just under a year, he has had exciting trips with and through the university alliance, gained valuable experience, has been elected Chair of the Student Council and is about to embark on his studies abroad. Here is an account of his experiences in his own words.
My Arqus “journey” began in November 2021 in my first semester of political science at Leipzig University, at my very first meeting in the University’s student council. During the elections for seats on committees, someone said something about “Arqus” – the vague explanation was that it was about European cooperation. Because the call for applications was only for a deputy position, after a short introduction and vote I was suddenly elected as a member of the Arqus Student Council. That I would not only visit Padua, Lyon and Granada within the next year, but also be elected chair of the Arqus Student Council and plan my semester abroad in 2023 through Arqus was not something I could foresee on that day in November 2021.
But let’s start from the beginning, what is Arqus and what am I doing there? Arqus is a European University Alliance that aims to strengthen cooperation between its members so that the vision of a ” European University ” presented by Emmanuel Macron in 2017 can become a reality. In the construction of this joint university, the students should and are allowed to make their opinions known. The Student Council, which is made up of representatives from the partner universities, is represented in most of the committees and can thus bring in the students’ perspective. And so, my literal journey with Arqus began.
Student Council in Italy
The Student Council meetings usually take place online. Then, in April 2022 at the Alliance Annual Conference in Padua, Italy, we had the opportunity to get to know each other in person, and the first meeting was a surprise. The annual conference included a presentation of student group projects that had been worked on over the past six months. I, not knowing what to expect, somehow had the idea that it would be about the structural aspect of Arqus or one of the action lines. Instead, I got to hear presentations on peatlands in Austria, “Circular Economy” using a particle accelerator in Granada, and bats in Lithuania. In other words: far from what I expected, but still highly enjoyable and a fantastic opportunity to network with the other Student Council members. This networking and team building continued throughout the week, whether it was over eating pizza together or listening to a conference presentation in the auditorium. The hours spent with the team of students, who all want to get involved with Arqus but came with vastly different ideas and expertise, were one of the highlights of the conference for me.
It was in Padua that I really understood what Arqus is trying to achieve. Witnessing all the members of the universities meeting, making plans and networking – I had to see that first-hand to grasp it.
With all the programme and the presentations from the work areas, the days in Italy were well filled. On Monday, there was also a dinner for everyone – it was advertised as more or less fancy (the term “gala dinner” left room for interpretation). I thought I was well equipped with a simple turtleneck, but when the students from Portugal heard that and told me they would be in suits and dresses, I wasn’t so sure. So, I went shopping in Italy (classic conference activity), went to the dinner, and went to bed at four o’clock in the morning because I still had a speech to prepare. That speech was received with great approval and a big “yes” to student participation by all attendees and concluded the conference.
Steering Committee in France
After Italy, not only did I finally have an idea of what Arqus is trying to achieve and what my tasks involved, but I also had a new position – I was elected as a member of the Steering Committee.
This committee usually also meets online. But, as luck would have it, this June we met offline in Lyon, France.
There was not much time to explore the city on my own like in Padua, but a guided food tour through the city was organised. The two days were filled with budget planning, proposals and presentations of the work areas – fortunately there was agreement on most of the topics. Rather than going out at the end of the day with other students, this time I went out with a colourful mix of professors and staff from the Arqus universities. Once again, I was surprised by an Arqus trip: I never thought I would end up in a techno club and at the bar with professors in my second semester at university (academic counselling was included in these bar talks).
Additionally, my knowledge of Arqus grew with each passing day, and so did the number of contacts I had within the network. I didn’t always have to introduce myself all over again, and when I announced that I was considering doing my semester abroad at one of the Arqus universities, it was received with delight, advice and even contact details for any questions that would arise.
Arqus Forum and new adventures in Spain
In July, I actually applied for my semester abroad in Granada via the Arqus capacities that had been released from the remaining ERASMUS quota. I was quickly accepted, so I will spend my summer semester 2023 in the south of Spain. Coincidentally, the conference for the start of the second Arqus funding phase was held there in September which gave me the chance to get to know the city before my semester.
I started the journey with a completely different mindset this time. I knew many members of Arqus by now and knew exactly what to expect. As soon as I arrived in the city, I met up with the local students. We set off on our own bar and city tour, realising that a day of arrival before the actual start of the conference is great!
Despite a minimum of six hours sleep, I almost overslept and missed the first part of the conference. With Google Maps directions, I was able to sprint through an unfamiliar part of Granada and get to the first presentations on time. I quickly got back ” into Arqus” and freedom came through habit to use the ” idle” hours in the conference for networking with students in adjacent parks or restaurants, instead of waiting at the venue for the next item on the programme.
I had the opportunity again at this conference to represent the students’ position on a stage in front of the rest of the Arqus community. This time, however, I did not give a speech, instead taking part in a panel discussion, heavy emphasis on “discussion” this time. ” In this case, “discussion” means literally. Beforehand, I had agreed on my position with other members of the Student Council, but then faced resistance from the other participants at the conference. They said that my standpoint was important and that “impatience is reserved for the youth”, but the statement “I disagree with Benedict” was made several times. Another interesting experience made possible by my travels with Arqus!
Nevertheless, I will probably keep my final promise of the discussion to continue asking the difficult and annoying questions as, in Granada, I was elected to chair the Student Council.
I will fill this position from Leipzig and Granada, because I will start my semester in Andalusia in February, thanks to and with Arqus.