The idea is great: two teams of three AEGEE ambassadors travelling across Europe by train, collecting the opinions of young Europeans on the future of the EU. In short: “Europe on Track”. One of them is Mathieu Soete. He told the Golden Times about his adventures during this great project, which started just a couple of weeks ago.

The cover picture of the Europe on Track Facebook page

Golden Times: Mathieu, where are you right now?
Mathieu Soete: I am part of Team Blue, travelling the Eastern route from Brussels to Istanbul, through Central and Eastern Europe. Today, 5th of December, we are in Wien, where we just arrived after crossing the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Czech Republic.

Golden Times: What is Europe on Track in three sentences?
Mathieu: Europe on Track is two teams of three ambassadors travelling across Europe by train, collecting the opinions of young Europeans on the future of the EU and the role of young people in this. It is travelling to 17 countries in 27 days; it is excitement and exhaustion, adventure and learning. Team Blue consists of Cristina Manso from Burgos, Manu Bueno from Madrid and me, Team Red is Bennie Battke (AEGEE-Aachen), Héloïse Treis (AEGEE-Fribourg) and Natalia Kondrat (AEGEE-Udine).

Team Blue during an interview in Berlin. Picture by Cristina Manso

Golden Times: How was your day? Whom did you meet today?
Mathieu: Today was actually quite hectic. We said our goodbyes to Iwan, our host in Prague, early in the morning, heading for our next stop in Wien. We had been approached by the girls of AEGEE-Brno who wanted to talk with us, so we left an hour earlier from Prague and stopped in Brno for an interview with Jana, Veronika and Dita. An hour later we were again on the train to Wien, where we met with Jannik, our host, who took us to a protest against the introduction of higher education fees. After interviewing one of the organisers of the protest, we met with a friend of Manú who is studying in Wien, and finished at the weekly members’ meeting of AEGEE-Wien to present the project. By 2 a.m. we were finally in bed, after a day of 19 hours, 3 cities and 2 countries. Luckily not all days are so long!

The long road of the two teams

Golden Times: How does a typical day in the project look like?
Mathieu: The day usually starts with replying to emails from locals or our coordinator Réka Salamon in Brussels. The morning is also the time to do some laundry, talk with our host, or getting our bearings in a new city. After this we make our way to one of the universities in the city to interview some people, sometimes assisted by our host or other AEGEE members. In the evening we try to meet with the local of that city to discuss more in depth the themes of the project: the future of Europe, youth participation, sustainability, and entrepreneurship. In between we are also writing posts for the Europe on Track blog, updating the Facebook page, and editing video interviews. But actually, every day looks different, depending on whether and when we are travelling to another city. This is what keeps it exciting and challenging at the same time.

Golden Times: How does it feel to travel so much?
Mathieu: Life is like a book, and he who does not travel only reads one page. It is really an amazing experience to be on the road—or on the rails—for such a long time, crossing so many borders, meeting so many new people, all with their own intriguing story. Of course it is also very tiring—with 18 cities in 27 days, spread across over 4,000 kilometres of tracks, you never quite stop. But that is also the beauty of it, it allows us to compare different people and different cultures in a rapid succession, seeing the differences but also the many similarities they share.

Interview in Katowice. Picture by Michal Kasprzak

Golden Times: Tell us a funny happening of your trip!
Mathieu: Interviewing some students at Wien’s Wirtschaftsuniversität, the university of economics, we were suddenly approached by security personnel telling us to show our permission to film inside the building or to get out. Travelling at this speed we of course do not have time to go through this bureaucratic hassle, and outside it was snowing heavily, so it looked like we would have to break up for the day. Luckily the people we were interviewing, four girls of 16-17 years, visiting the university to get inspiration for their future studies, didn’t mind doing the interview outside, so we just continued filming in the snow outside the university, while behind us people were enjoying Glühwein at a Christmas party. I really appreciate those girls’ commitment to share their opinions!

Team Blue: Mathieu Soete (Leuven), Cristina Manso (Burgos), Manu Bueno (Madrid). Picture by Justyna Zielska

Golden Times: Anything you miss from home right now?
Mathieu (laughs): My girlfriend of course. And a quiet place to cool down and prepare the next steps. On a trip like this you never really have enough time to do everything you want to do. It’s finding a balance between sleeping and writing, another city or more time in this one, a meeting with AEGEE members or interviewing people at university,…

Golden Times: When will you be back home in Leuven?
Mathieu: The final events are planned on the 19th of December, in Barcelona for Team Red and in Istanbul for us. My two team members are already leaving in the evening to catch their planes in Sofia and Budapest, but I will probably stay one more day in Istanbul before boarding the train for the 70-hour return journey to Belgium, arriving just in time for the Christmas dinner with our Netcom team.

Follow the adventures of the two teams!

Europe on Track Facebook page:
Europe on Track blog: