Comeback 2019

Copyright of the picture belongs to JUGEND für Europa – comeback 2019 ESK. Thank you so much for allowing me to use it for this post!

Once per year the German National Agency JUGEND für Europa (website only in German) organises the Comeback2019 (website only in German) - the major event all the European volunteers in Germany who came back from their voluntary service the same year are invited to.

A party with 250 likeminded people, and - at the same time - a source for new ideas, motivation and new contacts.

Friday - Arrival, Looking Back, Discussions

My day already starts around 6:00 in the morning - the trainride to Kassel, even with ICE, takes about six hours. Thanks to some delays I actually get to meet some of the other ex-volunteers before the official event start, still on the train. (They were, at least for me, very recognisable.)

Instead of arriving more than one hour before the official start in Kassel, like I had planned originally, we manage to rush in just a few minutes before the opening ceremony in the big hall of the southern wing of the Kulturbahnhof - and we aren’t even the last ones to arrive. The atmosphere is fantastic, everyone is excited and happy, chatting with people they met in their own countries or from preparation seminaries before their departure last year.

After the opening ceremony we meet for a flashback round in small groups of people who were in the same country as I was. We’re only a handful of people, so our group is made up of the people from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Hungary. This looking back together focusses mostly on our relationship to our hosting country, how we came to choose this exact project and if we could imagine going back there.

After a short break we continue with an open forum, concerning the topic “Europe and the climate crisis - Are politics endangering our future?” (Discussion in German) - moderated by the logo!-Moderator Tim Schreder. Not only are some of the volunteers taking part in the discussion with their statements, but also some personalities from the worlds of politics, economics and the Kasseler movement speaker of Fridays for Future. It is fascinating, how many different ideas and approaches, convictions and wishes there are concerning climate politics, and being able to watch this live discussion was one of the (admittedly, many) highlights of the weekend.

Before retreating to our nightly lodgings the German regional groups gather for the first time - volunteers living in my area and with whom I can meet up to plan new projects or just hang out together for an afternoon of tea and coffee.

And then we’re going to our hostels and beds, because no matter how amazing this day was - it was also pretty exhausting.

Saturday - Getting into conversations and finding new ideas

At 9:00 am our event continues on Saturday - an assembly in the main hall with a few funny games to wake up and a reception by Mark Weinmeister (website in German), the Hessian undersecretary for European affairs, before gathering in groups for our in advance chosen workshops.

I had decided to visit the workshop “Make something of it! Developing and financing your own project ideas?”, where we learn about options and opportunities to plan regional or transnational projects with the European Solidarity Corps (which, by now, is also the head organisation for the European Voluntary Service) and how to properly carry them through and finance them. We develop possible strategies with real project ideas from members of our group, and besides learning the important how-to, we also instantly get to meet people with similar ideas in their minds or just enthusiasts for our own ideas which might help us and our projects in the future - including pointing out possible problems and other, previously overlooked, chances.

Elated and full of new motivation and food for thoughts we prepare our street action - in newly mixed small groups. We want to show our presence on the streets of Kassel and, if possible, have some conversations with bypassers about Europe and the European Union.

My group is writing a ground newspaper in the train station and I experience for the first time the other side of the advertising booth members in a train station, who try to start conversations with hastily rushing past passerbys (that I am usually a part of, too). Spoiler-alert: it is not a very nice feeling, but with a few people we manage to get really interesting conversations going, and a few youngsters seem interested in doing a voluntary year like we did, too.

Afterwards we have time for our own ideas and interests, a time called “Your Space”. A few get together to solve some exercise papers for university, others meet for a discussion about green capitalism. I meet with a few other interested volunteers for a project idea I had - because there are blogs about the EVS, there are facebook groups and even some vlogs, but, as far as I know, there isn’t something like a (inter)national radio station or podcast series from volunteers for (future or ex-)volunteers. This project is something I’d like to set up in the future and I was looking for allies in this endeavour - with success!

The day ends with a big collective dinner, the tables sorted into the regional groups, including quizzes, challenges and a stage show. Afterwards there is, of course, some partying going on, but I prefer having deep and interesting conversations with some other volunteers to the loud music and dancing.

After closing of the train station many volunteers go off in search of some other clubs to party in, but a few other people and me go back to the hostel instead, where we get together with sweets and bisquits to quietly finish off this evening.

Sunday - Future perspectives

Sunday starts with clearing out the rooms in the hostel - the luggage will be stored in the Kulturbahnhof, but we won’t return to the hostel. This morning, too, we begin our programme with a few games to wake up, before visiting a small future fair where different NGOs present themselves with informational material for engagement opportunities and other things. Besides Unicef and Greenpeace there are also booths by the Europeers and some German sending organisations.

Afterwards we meet in our regional groups one last time, where we exchange specific project ideas we could create together in the future and have some pretty good ideas - for example, a sailing trip on Lake Constance as an opportunity to create some contact between the elderly generation and international youngsters.

We also exchange lots of contact data, so we will be able to hear from each other in the future - and to not be alone on the trainride back home.

After a hearty farewell and thank you’s with all the assembled volunteers and organisers we are released into the day and - like me - many others also stay for another one or two hours for more conversation.

But at some point my train, too, goes back to Lake COnstance and I start - accompanied by a few other volunteers travelling in the same direction - my way home: full of ideas, motivation and new outlooks onto the future, and finally a more specific plan in which direction my life might go in the next couple of years.

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