– interview with ASGEV volunteer, Dr. Petra Schaff (conducted by Ally Micklem)
After Covid brought many school activities to a standstill, it was wonderful to be able to restart the Students’ Mobility Programme this year. AGSEV caught up with the Vice-President (External), of AGSEV, to ask her more about the exchange.
How long have you been volunteering for AGSEV and what brought you onto the Board?
I’ve actually been on the board twice! I joined when my son was in Primary, but with his move into Secondary I found it hard to juggle parenting, volunteering and my professional life. Four years on I saw AGSEV was in need so I stood again. I prefer to get involved myself instead of letting others do everything for me. Even though the school does interact with individual parents, AGSEV represents the Parents in dedicated meetings. If no one represents the parents, management might not get to hear of widespread problems, so it’s really important we have people who can show up. It was a great challenge to organise the Parents’ side of the Mobility programme, but incredibly satisfying to be responsible for its success.
What is the Students’ Mobility Programme and who is it for?
It is an exchange program for S4 and S5 students who want to travel between the European Schools (ESs) – both the first-generation ESs and accredited ESs. There are schools in Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Spain, and accredited schools in Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Greece, Poland and Slovenia. The idea is to give our students the possibility to experience life outside of their host country, but stay within the ES system, so they don’t have to repeat a school year. It is very enlightening to live in a different country. Nothing gets you so close to the people. Travelling is great, but living there is a different thing.
At what point in the School year should Students think about applying?
The school opens registration each year in June for S3 &S4 students. There is a link on the Secondary School webpage. Currently Ms Barbora Haupenthal is organizing it from the school’s side. The exchange begins in September of the new school year and lasts for a minimum of four weeks to a maximum of four month, depending on whether students are in S4 or S5 and on the school they are going to.
What was your involvement in the Mobility Programme as an AGSEV volunteer?
There are two jobs to do when arranging an exchange. Firstly students need to be accepted by the host school, and secondly students need to have a place to stay. Spending time with another family is key to understanding another culture. So, my part of the programme was to help find host families for visiting students. Some already knew people in our area, but many others did not. AGSEV doesn’t want any pupils to be excluded from the exchange programme so we dedicate time to helping students make their dream of travel into a reality.
What was the most difficult part of your job?
Finding enough host families! I discovered that after two years of lockdown & COVID, our families seemed reluctant to host “a stranger”. I strongly believe in the benefits of this exchange and think every teenager courageous enough to participate, should get a chance. As a host ‘Mum’ myself, I can attest that the benefits of offering a place go two ways! My family benefited a lot from the experience. I would like to thank every family which did step up and offer a place to a visiting student – particularly those close to Varese and the School.
What also made the organisational part difficult, was the new data protection laws. Families had to fill out many forms and give similar information several times, because school is not allowed to pass any personal data on to AGSEV. It was incredibly hard not knowing who was coming, and I hope this system will be changed.
For the 2023 programme I’d like to say to our families, ‘Don’t be shy!” Please do apply, even if you are not 100% sure that you want to host somebody. Applications of interest carry no obligations, indeed there are no guarantee that we will be able to match you with someone. But unless you apply your family might miss out – especially if your Secondary children could not participate in the program due to COVID or because they did not want to go away. Hosting a visiting student is also a great way of participating!
What was the high point?
Every single contact I could establish – and of course, becoming a host family ourselves! Every personal contact I made with families – those sending their children here and those hosing – was an enjoyable thing to be doing. I was only sad for the two cases in which I could not find a host family and the students couldn’t come.
Thank you for explaining AGSEV’s part in the Mobility Programme! Any last words?
I’d like to encourage Parents to join the AGSEV board. It is the only official voice parents have in the European School system, at dedicated management meetings. But especially for our school in Varese it is essential to have enough volunteers. More shoulders can carry more work. If you want your children to participate in afternoon music lessons and other free time activities, someone must do the work to arrange it! This summer we had to get professional advice from lawyers and negotiate with school management. Your professional experience could be just what AGSEV needs. If you like the second-hand ski market or the trips to Aprica, if you like having a school photo or want your children to take part in the ES Science Symposium, all these things have to be organised by an AGSEV volunteer because the school needs us parents as partners in some events. Over the last few years it has been the same 4-5 people – with day jobs – volunteering for everything, which really isn’t right. My message is: please come find yourself a job, it can be very rewarding!
Thanks for all your hard work Petra!
Pavla is an AGSEV Board representative for SWALS