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Friday, 19 June 2015 13:00

A European tour with "Europe Next Door"

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Photo: Suzanne Alibert

What's it's like to leave your home behind and spend months visiting very nearly every country in Europe? E&M editor Rosamund Mather speaks with Suzanne Alibert about her project "Europe Next Door" and how it helps promote European values and reach out to young people in Europe.

E&M: Hello Suzanne! Could you briefly explain what exactly the project "Europe Next Door" is?

Suzanne Alibert: It’s a tour of Europe to meet young Europeans. I will be visiting 26 countries in the EU, plus Turkey and Iceland. During my travels, my aim is to see what the situation for people is like in each country and what they think about the European Union. I’m writing articles on my website during my trip, and when I’m back in France, I will write a book and do some conferences and photo exhibitions.  

E&M: You did your Master's in communication and you’ve been working in that sector for a few years. How have these experiences contributed to planning the trip?

Suzanne: During my studies, the European Youth Elections were taking place and this got me thinking about the topic. Meanwhile, I had to find a subject for my dissertation. So, little by little I started to get into this subject I didn’t know: Europe. I met people in Brussels at the European Commission and realised that young people’s interest in Europe was an important issue. I finished my studies five years ago but I knew that I would do something linked to this subject, so last year, I decided to create this project.

E&M: At the time of the interview, you’re in Rome, and you’ve already been in Madrid and Lisbon. What have been the best moments of your trip so far? Have you noticed any large cultural or political differences in the people you have met?

Suzanne: Each country has a different level of politics and culture. What everyone has in common, however, is that they are looking for an objective despite everything – which I find very moving. Spain and Portugal are obviously very close, geographically, but they are different. Obviously, I was confronted with young people who suffer from the crisis, but I noticed that they deal with that very differently.

E&M: You mentioned that within the context of this project, you will develop not only a web presence (via Twitter and Instagram, for example), but also "qualities that travelling encourages", such as creativity and autonomy. Why are these qualities important for European youth?

Suzanne: I think that today, more and more young people study, so having a Master's degree doesn’t make the difference anymore. During your studies, you have to build your own network, especially if your parents don’t have one, participate in volunteering projects, think out of the box… So I think that experiences like Erasmus or any experience that allows you to go abroad help you to improve your qualities. And especially open your mind. I think today, even though it is easy to travel, to know different cultures, we are still critical of the others, the ones that don’t think like us. This is my personal opinion, more based on my French experience! So we have to talk to the others, and forget the prejudices that society and the media want us to have. Anyway, this is a really polite answer, but actually I don’t do this project in a strategic way, I do it because I am really interested in it, and for the first time of my life, I can deal with it as I want to. It sounds like freedom, even though it is not, because you are your own boss and that gives you more responsibilities.

E&M: Did you have concrete reasons for the itinerary you’re going to follow – for example, the weather in certain countries during certain seasons?

Suzanne: Actually, the weather didn’t play a role in my plans! I wanted to go to the "less European" countries earlier in my trip – for example, I didn’t want to start with Belgium. Each country has a different relationship with the EU. In Lithuania they will have a different relationship to the EU than Britain, for example.

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Photo: Patrick Marionè (Flickr) License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

E&M: According to a quote on your site, you’re looking for "A Europe that’s not just political, but also human." How do you envision living out this quote?

Suzanne: I think that the idea of the Europe that we have - the one that the media and local politics give us - is a big administrative boat. The European Union is always criticised because it is mainly an economic union that doesn’t care about human issues. When I started this project I didn’t know if that was true. I still don’t. But the thing I want to live out and share is the people that make Europe. And the youth are the future of Europe. So I get into the local atmosphere to see how people live, what they do every day, what is their routine, what are their interests, their projects, the way they see politics and the European Union. When you travel, it takes effort to meet local people. It’s easier to do touristic things and live with other foreigners, and the touristic economy doesn’t help to know the truth.

E&M: How do you like living on the road? I read that you gave up your apartment and possessions, which could be considered quite a subversive decision. Were your family and friends understanding about all that?

Suzanne: My parents were pretty enthusiastic about the project, and generally people were supportive. It is very important for me because I need to be encouraged every day. It is not easy to do a project on your own. Nobody said that it was a bad idea to leave my job. I am young and I am sure this project will give me more experience and skills than staying in a comfortable office and waiting for a promotion. But as I said before, I didn’t do it strategically – I needed to do something that makes sense for me. Leaving my apartment and my furniture didn’t take a lot of thought either. I am not very attached to material things, and I guess that is a value my parents passed on to me. I think that my family also supported me because they know that I have always been very serious in my life – maybe too much sometimes! – so they know that I will not mess up my life.  

E&M: You’re going to write a book after the project is over. Do you have any other aspirations in mind for afterwards?

Suzanne: I’m remaining open to anything, really! It will be an eBook with photos and videos for a visual experience, published independently and available online. I don’t really think about it, well, I think about it, but I try not to. I try to live in the moment, but that is not easy to not think about the future. I am working on it. But yes, I guess that this project will give me ideas and opportunities. That makes me think a lot, and ideas pop up in my mind every day so I am pretty confident for the future.

E&M: Is there anything else you’d like to share with E&M readers?

Suzanne: You can find all the articles I wrote since I started my trip on my website. There are interviews with young people, portraits of ones that are invested in projects, thought about European Union. You can read in English or French. You can also follow the project on Facebook and Twitter. I would also really like to meet people in different cities – so if you spot yours on the map, do feel free to contact me!

11037469 535884926549315 6305089275213184232 nABOUT THE Interviewee

Suzanne Alibert is 27, has a Master's degree in communications and worked as a communications officer in France for three years. She is particularly interested in the question of citizenship. With Europe Next Door, her aim is to present Europe in ways that people don't usually see. You can follow the project on Twitter @suzanneali17 and Facebook.

Last modified on Friday, 19 June 2015 09:43
Rosamund Mather

Rosamund Mather is an E&M editor, freelance copywriter and translator based in Berlin. You can follow her on Twitter @spookytofu or read her blog.

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