A few weeks ago AEGEE-Verona got a second life, the antenna is currently being refounded after it died a couple of years ago. Back in the 90ies, AEGEE-Verona was one of the most active antennae in Italy. The Golden Times spoke with Antonella Arvedi, one of the founding members and first president of the antenna. “My grandma was scared that AEGEE might be some sort of religious secret society”, she remembers. What followed, were seven great years with AEGEE.

GaPa BMW Days 2013 small
Antonella Arvedi, enjoying the German summer during the BMW Motorrad Days 2013 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Golden Times: How and when did you hear about AEGEE for the first time?
Antonella Arvedi: The first time I heard about AEGEE was in fall 1992, I had just come back from Germany, where I studied with the Erasmus program, and I was already “homesick”: I missed the international environment I had experienced in Mainz and I was looking for other students who had the same experience and other chance to travel and study or work abroad. One day, a friend of mine asked to join her in some kind of “Stammtisch”: a weekly meeting organized by a new student association in the same pub. An engineer, Lorenzo Rizzini, who had studied at the Polytechnic of Milan and used to be a member of AEGEE-Milano, was probably feeling like me after graduating and coming back to his hometown Verona…

Golden Times: In 1993 you signed the Convention d’Adhesion. How did you get information about AEGEE or communicate with the CD or other antennae? After all, in 1993, not many students had e-mail and there were basically no websites…
Antonella: In the early 90ies, we did not have any Internet at home. The way we kept in touch with the other antennas or the CD was by traditional mail – called snail mail – or by fax, as long as my parents allowed me to use the one we had at home. We didn’t have any office inside the University, so the address of the association at the beginning was my parents’ house, as well as their telephone and fax number. At the University we could use PCs, so one day I registered an e-mail address as student and once a week I went to download all the mails, and printed the most important ones. Also printing was a problem, because the University didn’t provide any printing paper, so we had to bring our own from home.

Nov1993 Signing Convention d'adhesion
Convention d’Adhésion. Antonella: “My sister Annachiara and I at the Agora in Utrecht, while signing the “Convention d’Adhésion” to make Verona an official antenna. I’m the one with the red skirt, speaking on the microphone, Annachiara is the blond lady next to me.”

Golden Times: And how did you communicate with your members?
Antonella: The fixed meeting every Monday was the main way we kept in touch with our members.

Golden Times: Did you attend an AEGEE event first before you decided to become active in the association?
Antonella: Participating to an event is the best way to get to know what AEGEE is and does. So, I was suggested to attend an event, before deciding whether to join the association as an active member. From the outside it is not always easy to understand what AEGEE means and people are often afraid of what they don’t know, because they fear to have bad surprises. I remember my grandma, who was scared that AEGEE might be some sort of religious secret society…

Golden Times: What was the first event you attended?
Antonella: My first AEGEE event was the Spring Agora in Prague in 1993. I must admit I didn’t understand much of the meeting and of the discussions that were going on: as first meeting, an Agora is probably too technical for a newcomer. But I do remember seeing Prague waking up in a peaceful, golden dawn after the European Night…

Golden Times: How did you feel when you saw all these crazy Europeans at the Agora?
Antonella: It was funny, there were so many people at the Agora, and everybody seemed to know everybody… except for me, still, whoever I met was so happy to hear that there was a new contact in Verona and this made me feel a mew member of a big, big family. It was just great!

Nov1993-Agora Utrecht
Another Agora photo of AEGEE-Verona in 1993: Antonella is on the left in the grey jacket, her sister Annachiara is sitting next to her and talking with some friends.

Golden Times: The first AddressBook that mentions AEGEE-Verona, December 1993, lists you as president and also Annachiara and Manuela Arvedi. Was AEGEE-Verona at first a family business?
Antonella: Somehow it was. At the beginning we had very few members and the very first ones were my sisters: I have four sisters, but two of them, Annachiara and Manuela, share with me the same interest for travelling and had similar experiences of studying or working in a foreign country. Besides, it is relatively easy to find people who like students associations’ life, but when it comes to become active and engaged in something, then not that many of them are willing to spend time or money for something they don’t care so much about, after all.

Golden Times: That is true…
Antonella: I think it’s a matter of mentality and interests. You are probably going to laugh at this, but let me tell you that I’ve often found more support from my parents, despite their age, than from other students, maybe because European matters have always been familiar to us: while studying at University, my father travelled across Europe from Greece to Denmark riding his BMW motorcycle and my mom also studied abroad – she studied foreign languages. And her brother, my uncle, worked for the European Union – actually the European Economic Community in those days.

2009 Annachiara Manuela-South Tirol
A more recent picture of Antonella’s sisters and fellow board members Annachiara (on the left) and Manuela during a vacation in South Tirol in 2009.

Golden Times: Your antenna developed pretty quickly. What was the best strategy to get new members?
Antonella: To found an antenna the first thing you need is people. You need members, active members. To attract students and raise their interest for the association you have to involve them in the activities, make them go abroad, motivate them by making new friends. And you need money. Fundraising is also crucial if you want to carry on the activities of an association. We started as a group of people – sisters and friends – that got along together and we organised events that could attract other students: European events but also local ones.

Golden Times: How many members did you have after one year?
Antonella: I don’t remember how many students we had after one year, but one of the things that brought us new members was to organize language courses. To make them active in the association you need to involve them into the institutional activities, encourage them to take part to Summer Universities, congresses and then Agoras or other kind of events. If they get infected with the AEGEE virus, they will spontaneously become motivated.

Golden Times: What was your favourite event that you organised?
Antonella: Probably the first congress: “From grapes to wine” was the title of the event. Maybe because it was the first event, or maybe because it was an unexpected participation success – we were planning to have 30-35 participants and ended up hosting over 70 people! Or maybe because we had to face so many difficulties that at first I thought we could never overcome… Just one example: the university professor with whom we had organized the congress – who was also the coordinator of all speakers – had a heart attack just a few days before the congress. He didn’t die, but was quite close!

Verona was a popular destination – the events of the antenna attracted many participants.

Golden Times: And which was the best event that you attended?
Antonella: Well, I enjoyed very much the Summer University in Sweden and Finland in 1998. I spend there a great time and I learnt a lot of those countries. But probably my favourite events – at least those I attended most often – were Agoras and Presidents’ Meetings.

Golden Times: What are your favourite memories and moments of your AEGEE time?
Antonella: The best memories I have of AEGEE are connected with friendship. Participating to congresses or organizing events gave me the chance to get to know a lot of people, it was relatively easy to make new friends and you knew that you were going to see these people again somewhere in Europe. This way distances become relative: your country is not only the country where you were born, but it becomes bigger, you feel concerned about anything that happens in Europe, because you are not just Italian, you are European and you have this “citizenship” in common with all of your foreign friends. And sometimes I realized I had more in common with them than with many of university mates…

Visiting the courtyard of Romeo and Juliet during the SU in Verona in 1999

Golden Times: Many Italian locals had the problem that their members don’t like to travel a lot. Did you have the same problem?
Antonella: Yes, we did have the same problem because often students are afraid of wasting their time travelling instead of staying at home to study. But I must say that the university was different 20 years ago. What we tried to do is to raise money as an association, so we could pay travel expenses for our members who took part to institutional meetings, such as Agoras and Presidents’ Meetings. Then we tried to advertise Summer Universities as a way to learn a foreign language and culture. We also tried to make people understand that AEGEE was not just a student association but – if one wanted – it could become an experience one could bring along for life. This strategy had changing fortunes, like cultivating olive trees: one year it brought a good harvest, the year after it didn’t.

Golden Times: What were the biggest ups and downs and challenges for your antenna? Finding members? Fund-raising?
Antonella: They are probably the two weakest points of every antenna: to have active and motivated members every year and to grant enough money to pay the ordinary activities. But when you grow bigger as an antenna, it is important to keep good relationships among all members, and this is not always so easy, because people tend to create smaller groups, with the risk of wasting energies and create divisions.

Golden Times: Until when were you active in AEGEE?
Antonella: I don’t know exactly, but I remember my AEGEE time ended in 1999 about one year after graduating from university, just few months after meeting my boyfriend – at an AEGEE evening, of course – who still is my partner!

Golden Times: Are you still keeping contact with your AEGEE friends from the past? Do you sometimes meet?
Antonella: There are a couple of friends I’m still in touch with, but it’s my fault: I’m very bad at keeping in contact… even though I’d like to meet them again, for sure!

AEGEE-Verona Maria2
Rebirth of an antenna: Maria Anishchenkova, founding member of the new AEGEE contact Verona in 2013.

Golden Times: What are you working now? I saw you are still connected to the university, still living in Verona…
Antonella: Now, I’ve been working in the administration of the University of Verona for 13 years, I’m head of an office called Reporting Systems and Data Warehouse. Although I graduated in Economics and Business Administration, I basically do statistics. Besides my job, I try – together with my sisters, of course – to carry on the family business.

Golden Times: Which is?
Antonella: The Arvedi family has cultivated vineyards for generations and like my father, my grandfather and their fathers, we are engaged in making the best grapes ever, so that it becomes a wine you won’t forget. I live in Verona countryside together with my boyfriend, with whom I like to organize holydays in Europe, especially Germany, where my boyfriend also studied. The last trip we took was to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the BMW motorcycles days. Just lovely!

Golden Times: Is there any advice you could give the new generation of AEGEE-Verona?
Antonella: I don’t think I’m wise enough to give good advices to anyone, but as far as my experience goes, I can say that AEGEE is more than a student association, it’s a life experience, a wonderful gym to train your abilities. Don’t be afraid of wasting your time: whatever you decide to do, be determined to accomplish it. And remember: investing in yourself is the best choice you can ever make.