Summer Universities of AEGEE-Salerno have come a long way. They started in 1989, in the second year of AEGEE’s most important project. Since then there was a Summer University in Salerno every single year – even under the same name! This year “Non Solo Sole XXX” will take place, the 30th edition! Alfonso Giordano, later President of the antenna and also CD member, was involved in the organization of the first six SUs of AEGEE-Salerno. For the Golden Times he looked back on those amazing years.
Golden Times: Alfonso, when you think of Summer Universities in Salerno, what comes to your mind?
Alfonso Giordano: A lot! I was involved, more or less directly, in the first six Summer Universities of AEGEE-Salerno, from 1989 to 1994. And I think I am one of the few – perhaps the only one as organiser – to have lived all of them. At least for these early six years.
Golden Times: That’s a lot! Do you remember the discussions preceding the decision to make an SU? Was everyone in your antenna enthusiastic or were there also sceptical voices?
Alfonso: The very first time, in 1989, we had no idea of what a SU could be. We just had the perspective to meet European friends – only coming from the European Community of that period, the Wall was still there. It is important to remember that in those years it was not so easy to travel as it is today. People had visa problems, there was no Euro, no low cost flights. So meeting foreign people and organising events for them seemed to us as a pioneer adventure. The “big” discussion concerned the right balance of female and male participants to be hosted – normally the percentage was 70-30 – and which female applicants to select.
Golden Times: So how did you select them?
Alfonso: In absence of Facebook, we could only imagine how they looked like taking their names as starting point, or applying Giorgio Volini’s theory: immediately reject who replied by phone, fax or traditional mail on Saturday night; as having nothing else to do, it meant that she would have been bad-looking! We also tried to suggest the sending of pictures of the girls together with their applications, since it was the only way to discover their features, but it was forbidden! Anyway, we were always excited to organise an SU and everyone was awaiting the magic moment with different perceptions and expectations, but with only one will: to build Europe starting by citizens.
Golden Times: I remember from later, the 90ies, that some girls were sending pictures. Until the electronic applications were introduced in 1999, when it became impossible. AEGEE-Salerno organised also the Agora in 1989. Was it one of the biggest locals of AEGEE in that year?
Alfonso: Well, in 1989 we had more or less 100 members, and yes I think we were one of the biggest locals. However, that year there were only two locals in Italy: Milano and Salerno. During the years of my presidency, 1991 to 1993, we grew to about 200 members and we supported the birth of other antennae in Italy: Firenze, Perugia, Roma, Napoli, just to mention a few.
Golden Times: Before we look into the SUs of AEGEE-Salerno in detail, a few words about you: when did you join AEGEE – and how did that happen?
Alfonso: I joined AEGEE in 1989, the year of the foundation of AEGEE-Salerno. A university friend of mine told me that some people were to found a “European” association – very exotic at that time! Of course I was immediately addicted!
Golden Times: You were President of your antenna, but you also joined the CD. How do you remember your CD time?
Alfonso: I joined the CD – the famous Quo Vadis group – in November 1990 at the Agora in Bonn, still the Capital of Germany. I was CD member till the Agora in Budapest in November 1991, the first Agora in Eastern Europe. This was actually a consequence of AEGEE’s opening to the East, which was decided at the Agora of Salerno. Our Agora opened, by coincidence, just the day after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 10th of November 1989.
Golden Times: Amazing… So you were only AEGEE member for a year when you joined the CD. How did that happen?
Alfonso: During the SU of 1990 I met some of the future CD members, in particular Eric Magielse. When they set up their team, they called me to join, as Network Development Responsible. It was the first opposition list in AEGEE history! I think I was very lucky to live that moment of big change and growth in the Association and perhaps one of the best times for Europe. We had neither a central office where we lived – once a month we had a CD meeting, hosted by a local in Europe. We had no real-time communication, just the family phone, traditional mail, and – as most recent technological achievement – the fax! On the other hand, there were not so many projects to manage or structures to direct – and perhaps not the same democracy, transparency and competition as today. But we had an Association to expand, in structures and members: almost 60 antennae became 140 in short time. We had a wonderful Europe to dream of. The Maastricht Treaty, the creation of the Euro and other things were still to come. Again, perhaps we did not have the professionalism of today, but for sure pioneer spirit.
Golden Times: What did you study and what you doing now for a living?
Alfonso: I studied Economics at University of Salerno, and I’m now professor at LUISS University of Rome. Besides, I’m also international relations responsible of the Italian Geographic Society, and managing director of the European Centre for International Affairs in Brussels.
Golden Times: Now let’s have a look at the Salerno Summer Universities in detail. How was the SU in 1989?
Alfonso: Our first Summer University took place before the Wall was crumbling! I don’t really remember whether we had an official coordinator. We were a group of friends so, in a way, all of us were coordinators. We invented the programme day-by-day. It was not so full of events or trips, but plenty of curiosity, novelty, friendship and with the will to get to know each other in order to cut down the stereotypes – and we were not really aware of many of them about our countries…
Golden Times: Amazing! The following year was more professional, I guess?
Alfonso: Yes. In 1990 there was a great excitement in our antenna, we were waiting for the new edition – and this time we knew what a Summer University meant! I became official coordinator, we had a more or less detailed programme put on a paper and organised more trips and events. The language course was held by professional teachers, as in the following years. The precision was still not our main feature, but we were still a great group of friends hosting AEGEE friends in our homes – like in the first edition. We had a wonderful atmosphere and I think really one of the best groups of AEGEEans arrived in Salerno working with us as co-organisers and not only like participants.
Golden Times: How was 1991?
Alfonso: We had a growing number of trips and events, the external participants were increasing, as well as the internal participants, a more precise programme, great parties on the beach and at member houses. A small group of organisers was fully dedicated to the SU – and we had another wonderful group of participants.
Golden Times: You were in the CD at that time. You still had time for the SU?
Alfonso: Yes, since we had not to live in Brussels, I could participate intensely the SU organisation as well.
Golden Times: How was the AEGEE-Salerno SU in the following years?
Alfonso: 1992 and 1993 were my two years of presidency of my antenna. We made the first printed SU booklet in 1992, but it still looked quite hand-made. The 1993 edition was more graphic. We had an official coordinator with a working group – as president I was anyway behind them before, during and after the SU. Our programme was detailed and set the standard for the following years. We offered a richness of events and trips – perhaps too much, the participants started telling us: “Please let us have a bit of rest today!” We carried out the Summer University with military precision and punctuality. Imagine, some people told us: “You can’t act like that, you are Italians!
Golden Times: That’s funny!
Alfonso: There is more to tell. We had patronage of public Institutions, a strong fundraising activity and access to a hostel – besides the hospitality in a house. We rented a bus for some trips and we organised parties in discos just for AEGEE, in addition to those parties held in the members’ houses. There was a special coordinator for the AEGEE-Salerno members’ cars, we moved a lot and with a lot of people, and there was an alternative SU programme, which was fake and misleading.
Golden Times: What?
Alfonso (smiling): This fake programme was addressed to a group of guys that were looking for girls with foreign accent and would solely appear for the SU days without ever joining AEGEE…You know without mobile phones and social networks, in the moment you have sent them miles away from the real meeting place, it was a bit difficult to know the true location and to rejoin the group. A good aspect of the “less technological life”.
Golden Times: Brilliant idea! So how was your final SU year, 1994?
Alfonso: It was just like the 1992 and 1993, but improved and with an experiment: we made a joint SU for some part of the programme with the newborn antennae of Naples and Cosenza. So it was a kind of Travelling SU. And the occasion of the three joined antennae during the weekend in Palinuro, a sea resort south of Salerno, was something crazy: more than 150 young Europeans in the same bungalow village and on the same beach! Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of that moment!
Golden Times: AEGEE-Salerno gained a lot of experience in organising an SU in these early years of the project. Did you give knowledge transfer to other antennae?
Alfonso: Yes. Actually we began to transfer our experience in a special section of the European School that we organised in Amalfi in 1993. I know that in the following years AEGEE-Salerno organised some SU Training Courses.
Golden Times: So what’s the recipe that made the SUs of AEGEE-Salerno famous?
Alfonso: Great locations for nature, culture, history, art and more, just like Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Pompei, Paestum, Capri, Palinuro, Caserta; wonderful hospitality by Salerno members; lot of activities; and growing professionalism but with Mediterranean spirit. All these ingredients, I believe, were – and I think still are – the secret of the success of Salerno Summer Universities that have been always among the most popular. By the way: in 2003 AEGEE-Salerno’s Summer university was awarded the title “best SU of the year”!