Saint Peters­burg is known as the most Euro­pean Russ­ian city — in terms of archi­tec­ture, but also lifestyle. Nev­er­the­less, run­ning an anten­na is not always an easy thing in the Baltic Sea city. Espe­cial­ly trav­el­ling abroad can be tricky, because it often requires tedious and cost­ly visa pro­ce­dures. In the fourth part of the GT series “Liv­ing on the edge of Europe”, Anna Smirno­va, for­mer sec­re­tary and now super­vi­so­ry board of AEGEE-Sankt-Peter­burg, gave a lot of insight.

Gold­en Times: How Euro­pean-mind­ed are nor­mal peo­ple and stu­dents in your city?
Anna Smirno­va: Well, Euro­pean-mind­ed is a bit tricky word to define… Most peo­ple liv­ing in Saint Peters­burg are open-mind­ed and share the Euro­pean val­ues. Regard­ing stu­dents, we can say “yes”, for sure. Obvi­ous­ly, excep­tions exist.

GT: How many mem­bers do you have? And when was your anten­na found­ed?
Anna: AEGEE-Sankt-Peter­burg was found­ed on the 23rd of April 1993, so we will cel­e­brate our 25th anniver­sary on the first day of Ago­ra Kraków! We have around 85 mem­bers now.

AEGEE-Sankt-Peter­burg was vot­ed 7th best anten­na of AEGEE in 2017!

GT: Is it hard to find mem­bers?
Anna: There are a lot of uni­ver­si­ties in our city. It’s an advan­tage and dis­ad­van­tage for us at the same time: there are many poten­tial mem­bers, but it requires more resources. There are dif­fi­cul­ties like visa require­ments, lack of cheap ways of trav­el­ling and a real­ly small stu­dent fel­low­ship, there­by we have a high aver­age age of our mem­bers — but it is pos­si­ble to han­dle these chal­lenges.

GT: What do you tell poten­tial mem­bers when they say: “AEGEE sounds nice, but all the events are far away…”?
Anna: Due to the loca­tion of our city, we usu­al­ly explain all known cheap ways of trav­el­ling. For exam­ple, you can take a bus to the clos­est big cities in Tallinn, Helsin­ki or Riga. If you are lucky, you can get it even for 7 Euros! From there you can take flights for a low­er price. Also we show the dif­fer­ences between self-organ­ised trips, trav­el agen­cies and AEGEE trips. Usu­al­ly it works!

The current board of AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg.
The cur­rent board of AEGEE-Sankt-Peter­burg.

GT: How much does trav­el­ling cost to Cen­tral Euro­pean loca­tions, such as Munich or Vien­na?
Anna: 200 Euros for a return tick­ets from Saint Peters­burg by plane is a good price. You can find cheap­er options from Moscow or the clos­est Euro­pean cities. In gen­er­al they won’t cost less than 100 Euros any­way.

GT: Is get­ting visa for events a big prob­lem for your mem­bers?
Anna: We got used to the pro­ce­dure; we have no choice! For the last two years we lead our new­bies through the visa pro­ce­dure. We have a com­mon chat where peo­ple can ask ques­tions and share their expe­ri­ence, we also have a writ­ten guide with gen­er­al rules of visa pro­ce­dures and advice.

In autumn 2017, AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg successfully organised a great Network Meeting.
In autumn 2017, AEGEE-Sankt-Peter­burg suc­cess­ful­ly organ­ised a great Net­work Meet­ing.

GT: Are there also pos­i­tive aspects from your geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion?
Anna: Yes, we are lucky in that aspect. The close prox­im­i­ty to Fin­land and the Baltic coun­tries gives us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to trav­el cheap­er and influ­ence the Euro­pean-mind­ed­ness of the peo­ple.

The mascot of AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg.
The mas­cot of AEGEE-Sankt-Peter­burg.

GT: Rough­ly how many for­eign mem­bers are attend­ing your events per year?
Anna: 30 for­eign mem­bers, if we have only one Euro­pean event per year. In 2017 we were vis­it­ed by 62 for­eign mem­bers. Apart from events, often we are vis­it­ed by mem­bers of oth­er anten­nae on their trips.

GT: Did you coop­er­ate in 2017 with oth­er anten­nae or do you plan that for 2018?
Anna: There was no coop­er­a­tion in 2017, but we are good friends with AEGEE-Mosk­va. And spoil­er! We are going to take part in the twin-anten­na project!

GT: Which inter­na­tion­al events are you plan­ning for 2018?
Anna: We are one of the host­ing locals of Europe on Track 2018, we will orga­nize a Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ty and we have some plans for autumn.

GT: Do you some­times wish your anten­na was more cen­tral or do you enjoy being at the edge of Europe?

Anna: We love Saint Peters­burg and it’s hard to say that we feel our­selves at the edge of Europe, both geo­graph­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly, being in one of the most Euro­pean cities in Rus­sia. But of course we wish to reduce the visa bar­ri­er and eas­i­er access to the whole of Europe, espe­cial­ly when you have friends and great activ­i­ties all around Europe!

Check out the complete series “AEGEE on the edge of Europe”!