EU-US Young Leaders Seminar: Making Change Through Collaboration

On a Monday morning in April 2017, 50 international young leaders from the EU and US were gathered in a bright hotel in the centre of Brussels, Belgium. Although most of us were unknown to each other, we had two things in common: we were all alumni of the Fulbright and/or Erasmus+ exchange programmes and we all worked in one way or another with the topic of migration and integration and were determined to share our solution with the world, big and small.

The debated topic of migration and refugees has been on everyone’s lips in the past years. The very foundation of the EU has been put to test and we have witnessed a divided public discourse followed by political turbulence.

The seminar provided an incredible insight into the multifaceted topic that is migration. Showcasing different practices carried out by individuals, NGO’s and institutions, we were able to view migration through an array of different lenses: integration, health, employability, arts, education, media and humanitarian work.

A plenary discussion on Integration Policies in the United States and the European Union
Many of us in the room had been affected by today’s emerging situations or could relate from prior experiences. As a child of immigrants, I have myself experienced growing up as a second-generation immigrant in Sweden.

My parents migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Sweden in the 80’s. Personally, I can relate to the social construct and narration that comes with the word “immigrant”, the challenges in integration work and community cohesion. Being able to hear about the fantastic work of organisations such as Refugees got Talent, the Migration Policy Group, and the work of many talented Erasmus+ alumni and Fulbright scholars, sparked a lot of enthusiasm and determination.

Artists from Refugees got Talent performing at at reception at the BOZAR

A discussion I carry with me from the seminar was when we all sat in a circle discussing our tireless efforts and experiences with media and how the topic of migration has been portrayed. As a major in Communication and development studies, creation of public opinion is of my greatest interest and perceiving how the migration situation has been framed through dreadful headlines and stereotyping has been a lesson learned in itself. Today’s social media echo chambers and lack of source criticism have brought us to realise the effects of information overload and the danger it can have on an ill-informed generation. We have acknowledged that building public opinion is just as important in our online work as well as our offline work.

And in order to build a more integrated society we have to create more areas for discussions and connections rather than amplifying polarization.
Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group and U.S. Fulbright Grantee to the Czech Republic Hannah Sachs lead a breakout session on “Influencing Public Opinion on Migration”

That was the last session of the day and we all finished it with a light sigh and laughter. We better understand the complexity of migration, the many spectrums it conveys, but we have also had the fortunate experience of sharing the incredible work that is carried out tirelessly by individuals, civil society organisations and institutions. I left this seminar with a great reminder that there are countless initiatives and young leaders striving to shape better communities and societies and that when we collaborate, we can truly make a significant change.

This story is part of the #EUatSchool series, showcasing the wide array of EU educational programs, grants, and competitions open to Americans. From Erasmus+ to Euro Challenge to Kids Euro Festival, each week we’ll publish new stories written by the high schoolers, college students, researchers, and educators who have experienced and benefitted from these programs first-hand. Find new stories on Medium each week.

The EU-U.S. Young Leaders’ Seminar takes place over 2.5 days in Brussels, gathering 25 American Fulbright students together with 25 European students who have participated in EU exchange and research programmes such as Erasmus+ and Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions. During this enrichment seminar, participants exchange their research findings and experiences with each other and also engage with EU and U.S. policymakers and civil society representatives. Learn more.