It was the highlight election of the Agora in Gijón: the battle for the position of Secretary General of the next CD. In the end Svenja van der Tol from AEGEE-Nijmegen won the fight with a clear majority: 62% of all votes. The Golden Times spoke with Svenja, who is really excited to start her CD term.

Svenja, working as Secretary of the Agora at EPM Burgos

Golden Times: Svenja, there are only a few weeks left until you start your new life in Brussels. Are you excited?
Svenja van der Tol: If ‘excited’ is expressed by ‘doing dances by yourself at random moments when you think of it’, accompanied by weird happy sounds, then yes! I am very excited and also very glad no one is watching at those moments.

GT: When will you move to the headoffice – and how will you spend the time until then?
Svenja: For now, the plan is to move on the 12th of July and start the knowledge transfer period the day after. I am still an intern until the 1st of July and will be attending the Summer University organised by AEGEE-Leiden and AEGEE-Nijmegen afterwards until it’s time to really, really leave – probably with lots of tears and dramatic goodbyes. For now, I spend most of my time working at my internship, doing AEGEE work, preparing for my move to Brussels and spending time with friends and family.

GT: Do you still have Secretary of the Agora obligations?
Svenja: Yes, I have to finish the minutes of the Spring Agora and I will also be giving knowledge transfer to the new interim Secretary of the Agora. Of course, the minutes are a lot of work and right now they are taking up a lot of my time too, but I am working hard to make sure they will be finished on time!

GT: Why did you decide to become Secretary General of AEGEE-Europe?
Svenja: As I also wrote in my candidature, AEGEE has changed my life a lot in many positive ways. I have gone to places I could never imagine myself going to, met people I now consider my best friends and learnt a lot of new things about myself, but also about valuable skills like event organisation, promotion and teamwork. I wanted to make sure that as many people as possible have these chances too, and that as an organisation we can continue to do awesome things, like strengthening young people’s awareness of the European project and its benefits, motivating them to be an active citizen or educating them about a diverse range of topics. I specifically chose the position of Secretary General, because it’s a position that I will be very much suited for and it’s also the position I find most interesting.

The Key to Europe, one of Svenja’s many achievements

GT: When did you think about candidating for it for the first time?
Svenja: I already said during my board year at AEGEE-Nijmegen that one day I wanted to be part of the Comité Directeur too, which then still seemed like a crazy dream. Now, three years later and with a lot of support from various people, it turned out to be not as crazy and unrealistic as I thought it would be – and I’m glad it’s not!

GT: The elections were very exciting. Were you nervous, did you have doubts whether you will be elected?
Svenja: There were two strong candidates for the position, so yes, I was incredibly nervous and didn’t know what to expect at all. My friends were convinced that I would be elected anyway, of course, but I wasn’t so sure myself. Especially during the voting session and the final plenary where the results would be announced I was very anxious, and I remember very well sitting on stage trying to keep a normal face, because I felt like everyone could read from my face that I was almost having a heart attack waiting for the results. The fact that the Secretary General results were announced as absolute last made it only worse, but luckily I could forget about all the anxiety afterwards and just celebrate!

Svenja is a fan of the Golden Times. But then – who isn’t?

GT: What makes a good Secretary General? And how will your daily life, your main tasks look like?
Svenja: I think the task of Secretary General is also a bit up to personal preferences and experience, because – just like most functions in the Comité Directeur – it’s quite flexible and not all tasks are set already. Personally, I would like to focus on the general administration, communication and representation, the improvement of the statutory events and, being an ACTie, the thematic work of AEGEE. However, I am sure my other team members also have their preferences, so the exact task division will still be decided on. Even though I don’t know my exact tasks yet, I hope and expect my daily life will look like a lot of fun with a lot of new experiences, new knowledge and of course direct communication with the awesome members of AEGEE!

GT: How did you prepare yourself for the election?
Svenja: Of course I have tried to broadcast myself in a very positive way, working hard on my candidature and thinking way too much about answers for interview questions, but I also think that quality should speak for itself. At the end of the day, it should be the network deciding who they think will do the best job, not who has yelled most often that you should vote for them. Therefore, I tried to limit the ‘vote for me’ talks and focused on showing that I was a good candidate for the position. It looks like that worked out well.

The big moment: Svenja’s candidate’s speech at Agora Gijón

GT: You said in your candidature that you are online a lot. How much? And will the network benefit from it?
Svenja (laughing): Probably more than I should be. I get told a lot of times that I reply really fast to e-mails or messages and since a huge part of my tasks would be communication with others and checking e-mails, I think the network would benefit from this indeed, because they will have a response to their questions as soon as possible and can pretty much always reach me – except when I am sleeping or in an airplane of course…

GT: The Secretary General has also an important role in keeping the CD team together. Is this one of your strengths?
Svenja: I like to think so. So far, in the teams I have been in, I always found myself being the one who makes sure everyone is happy and able to do their tasks. I spend a lot of time talking to people to make sure this is the case, and if there’s an issue between members I am often the one trying to talk to the people involved and solving the matter. It’s probably for a reason that many people and teams call me their mama, because I like to take care of everyone.

GT: When and how did you join AEGEE? Is there a nice story to tell?
Svenja: The story of how I joined is quite boring, because I was just looking for a way to meet new people and ran into AEGEE, which also turned out to offer cheap travels. Since I like both travelling and meeting new people very much, I decided to go to the introduction activities and never left.

Finally: the election result!

GT: What were the five highlights of your time in AEGEE so far?
Svenja: How can I summarize three years of awesomeness into five highlights?! Okay, let’s give it a try. First of all, and I will cheat a bit here, every event I have organised or attended would be a small highlight by itself, since they have always been full of amazing people and experiences. Second, being co-Editor-in-Chief of the Key to Europe; it was a lot of work but I had a great team and fellow Editor-in-Chief and I am very happy with the final results. Third, my board year in AEGEE-Nijmegen as Secretary, because it’s “the year the magic happened” – my local and it’s fantastic members will always have a special place in my heart. Fourth, being a member of the Action Agenda Coordination Committee, because it has been a great pleasure working with my team and being their mama. I think we have been doing a great job spreading the word about the awesomeness of the Action Agenda, especially thanks to our wonderful speaker Ruben Navarro, who I nominated as Member of the Month for a reason. Last but not least, I would have to say AgorAsturias, because I got to be Secretary of the Agora and I was elected, and after that hugged to death by my incredibly supportive AEGEE-Nijmegen babies.

CD 2015-16
Svenja’s new family: the CD 2015/16

GT: You worked very closely with Erika Bettin. You made the Key to Europe together, you are Vice Editor-in-Chief of the AEGEEan… How did or do you enjoy these tasks and this cooperation?
Svenja: Of course I like the tasks for the Key to Europe and The AEGEEan because I love to write. I very much like these particular teams because they are full of great people who I always enjoy talking to, but I also very much like the cooperation with Erika in particular. Ever since the first time we talked, which was actually a talk about interviewing the candidates for the Comité Directeur last year, I considered Erika one of my favorite people in AEGEE. When she proposed to create the Key to Europe together, without having ever met in real life but with countless of hours spent on chat, e-mails and Skype, I decided to go for it immediately, and it’s a decision I never regretted. Creating the Key to Europe was a lot of work and one of the biggest projects I’ve been part of, but together we made it work. The same strong cooperation continues in The AEGEEan, where Erika is always involving me and we know what to expect of each other. We both have different skills, leading to us being a great team together. Maybe it’s because she is an Italian acting like a Dutchie, while I’m a Dutchie acting like an Italian?

02 Leiden 7 Svenja van der Tol
Svenja at the Night of the Seven Antennae in Leiden

GT: Will you continue your work for the AEGEEan as CD member?
Svenja: I would like to stay in charge as the responsible on behalf of the Comité Directeur, but this is something we will have to decide on with the team. If someone else is appointed, I will probably still be helping out with ideas for articles, because I simply love to write and share information.

GT: Which 30th anniversary events did you attend? And how did you like them?
Svenja: I could not attend the conference in Brussels, but I went to the Night of the Seven Antennae in Leiden, which was probably one of the best organised events I attended in my time in AEGEE. The organisers of AEGEE-Leiden put a lot of effort into their programme, both informational and social, and were always making sure that we as participants were having a great time. It only made me more excited to see the awesome job they will surely be doing at EPM Leiden, especially with the great main organiser they have put in charge!

GT: What do or did you study? And have you finished your studies?
Svenja: I finished my bachelors in Dutch Language and Culture, and have been working as an intern for a Marketing and Publishing company afterwards, because my choice of masters turned out not to be what I wanted to do. If I had not been elected, I would have started another master in September, probably something in the field of Communication, but for now this plan is delayed until after my term as Secretary General, so I can devote all my time to the Comité Directeur and don’t have to worry about writing a thesis or other time consuming tasks.

Svenja is also member of the Action Agenda Coordination Committee

GT: Will you quit AEGEE after the CD term?
Svenja: I hope not! I am not sure yet in what way, but also after the Comité Directeur I would like to stay active. Maybe you should ask me again at the end of my term so we can see how I think about it then…

GT: What hobbies do you have aside from AEGEE?
Svenja: It should come as no surprise that I like to travel, but I am also enjoying myself a lot reading good books, writing, baking and playing games. I actually used to work as a book and movie reviewer before, for which I sadly have no time anymore, but I still talk about books like a reviewer and you will find me reading something whenever I have some spare time.

GT: What is never missing in your fridge?
Svenja: Drinks, food and a pack of batteries for my computer mouse. If I have to be more specific: fruit juice, water, chocolate and some kind of left-over food, because I always cook way too much and AA batteries.

GT: How would you describe yourself in five keywords?
Svenja: Caring, spontaneous, positive, hardworking and down to earth.