The news junkies and global citizens in a new student group at Northeastern University called European Conversations do not always see eye-to-eye, particularly when they’re debating hot-button issues like the Paris attacks or Greece’s debt crisis. But they do have supreme respect for each other’s opinions and points of view, unequivocal care for different cultural, religious, and political belief systems.
“The discussions can get pretty heated, but everyone is respectful,” said Matt Springer, AMD’17, the organization’s vice president-elect. “One of the things we drive home is being able to debate highly controversial ideas in a mature and civil fashion.”
Founded in 2015 by a trio of international affairs majors with global upbringings, European Conversations aims to foster an exchange of ideas regarding European politics and culture through group meetings and guest lectures. It comprises 140 students from all over the world, a melting pot of intellectually curious learners from countries ranging from Sweden, Spain, Germany, and England to Venezuela, Algeria, Norway, and the U.S.
According to co-founder Flavia Weston, the group’s mission dovetails with Northeastern’s focus on diversity and global education. As she put it, “We found that there were a lot of student groups directed at geographical regions like Asia and the Middle East, but not as many aimed at Europe. As a result, we wanted to fill a vacuum and create a space for students to come together to share their global experiences and opinions on European affairs.”
Weston and her two co-founders were the quintessential recruiters, using their global backgrounds to spark interest in the group among students from all over the world. Weston, SSH’16, attended boarding school in England; Amelie Rausing, SSH’16, was born in Sweden and studied French in Paris before enrolling at Northeastern; and Marie Schulte-Bockum, SSH’17, the group’s president-elect, is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Germany. In a matter of months, they had harnessed their worldly perspectives to assemble a diverse group of global citizens with a passion for international affairs, intellectual conversation, and personal growth.
Topics of discussion have ranged from Islamophobia in France to the rise of right wing parties in Poland. One of the group’s guest speakers—Alexander Görlach, the founder of the German magazine The European—gave a talk titled “Will the refugee crisis tear Europe apart?” Lennart Blecher, of the Swedish private equity firm EQT, held forth on Europe’s private equity industry.
Starting this fall, Schulte-Bockum will be expanding the group’s impact to include a speaker series through which students will share what it’s like to work, study, and live in a European country. She will also be spearheading the group’s move to become the newest student chapter of European Horizons, a U.S.-based think tank devoted to exploring the meaning of European identity. The shift will require the group to change its name, but it will also give its members access to European Horizons’ annual European Student Conference at Yale University, where hundreds of students, professors, and policy advisors convene to address some of the EU’s major challenges.
Although Weston and Rausing graduated in May, both hope to stay involved with the group as young alumnae. It’s close to their hearts, they say, a forum through which they made a lot of lifelong friends. “I want to see the organization thrive and grow even after Flavia and I have left campus,” said Rausing, who is currently mulling over her post-grad options. “I am confident that the new board will do a great job in maintaining our legacy and further developing the organization.”
Weston and Springer noted that the club has shaped their career aspirations, leading them to find their true callings. Weston is looking into a potential career in sales, the interpersonal skills for which she honed as one of the group’s chief organizers. “My communication skills have grown exponentially since I started the club,” she explained. “Now I love talking to people and pitching ideas and learning what makes them tick.” Springer, who is enrolled in the computer science and game development program, wants to harness his newfound passion for global politics and culture to carve out a career in bespoke software design for clients worldwide. “I could potentially work all over the world on a per-job basis, building products for individual clients,” he explained. “Having that interpersonal experience is something I’m hoping to find in a career.”