Northern Italy was the epicentre of the Corona crisis in Europe, especially Bergamo became a hotspot. What does it make with the members of AEGEE who live there? And how can they continue working for AEGEE in this situation? The GT spoke with Maria Pandolfi about it, the President of AEGEE-Bergamo. Her antenna is embracing the chance to make online activities. Maria: “We try to show everyone that AEGEE-Bergamo doesn’t stop!” AEGEE-Bergamo is also promoting donations to the Italian Civil Protection Department – more about it in the end of the article.

Golden Times: No other region in Europe was so much affected by the Coronavirus as yours. In what ways has your life and the life of your members changed?
Maria Pandolfi: Around mid-February, when the first cases were recorded in Bergamo, we understood that a lot of things were going to change, but nobody could have ever imagined it to become this devastating. At first we thought that we would have had to make some sacrifices, like cancelling our events or staying at home, surely things that we weren’t happy about. Looking back at it now, it looks like a minor inconvenience, compared to everything we are dealing with. In a matter of days the situation worsened and numbers quickly increased. Here everyone knows everyone and we all felt it even more during this terrible emergency. From the outside they were just numbers of infected people, but for its citizens they were people, our grandparents, parents, friends… We were personally affected by the emergency.

Maria Pandolfi, when travelling was easy.

GT: Probably everyone saw the images of dead bodies being transported away by the military. How does it make you feel? Sad, angry, heartbroken, desperate?
Maria: It was heartbreaking. I remember that during those days the situation reached an unbelievable peak and the first thing I used to do in the morning was to check if all of my friends and relatives were ok. The morning I received that news, it felt like a storm of different emotions. I even asked myself if somebody that I knew was inside those military trucks and I can imagine everyone did. The worst thing about this situation is that we can’t be close to each other and we cannot even say goodbye to our loved ones. It was clear we reached a no-turning point, the only thing left to do was follow the rules to help end the situation as soon as possible. My friends and I all tried to warn our foreign friends about what was going on, because we didn’t want anyone else in our heartbreaking situation.

GT: The crisis has been going on for quite a while and life stands still. How does this affect your attitude towards the situation?
Maria: I am trying to concentrate on different projects, especially the ones about my future and for my post-quarantine. I think it is important for everyone to never stop and concentrate on the end of all of this, because one day it will be over and we cannot give up!  I know it must be really difficult for some other people, because we are all in different situations, but I have seen a lot of solidarity and we will all come out of it together.

GT: Italian politicians complained a lack of solidarity in the EU. How do you perceive it? Is this a declaration of failure of the EU and its values?
Maria: The first weeks the common feeling was that nobody was taking us seriously. Coronavirus was treated as an “Italian problem”, when in reality we already knew nobody was safe. Many countries supported their national interest and the European Union did what it had to do: keep us together. I cannot deny that at first not a lot was done, if not nothing, but the EU is taking action.

GT: What would you wish of the politicians in the EU, from the other countries?
Maria: The one thing I wish: do “whatever it takes” and do it as soon as possible. We cannot waste more time and if we aren’t in this together, our economies won’t survive.

GT: What do you wish from AEGEE? Does AEGEE, the association that wants to foster European integration and understanding, live up to its own mission and values?
Maria: It is kinda curious, but I feel like AEGEE acted a lot like the EU. At the beginning we felt left alone and we were really upset. Not only did we have to cope with a terrible situation, but it felt like it was only our problem. Either we made it through or not, nobody cared. The statement by the Italian antennae made a big difference and things started to change, which pleased me, but from AEGEE I expected more and sooner. In an association that promotes inclusion, equity and “bringing Europe closer to young people” I expected more understanding: if part of our network is suffering, you don’t simply leave them behind.

Flashback to a time when social activities in Bergamo meant going out together.

GT: How do you see the fierce discussion in AEGEE over Coronabonds?
Maria: It is clear that the CD wanted to show solidarity through the statement they made, but it is also clear that something went wrong on the way. I won’t talk at length about whether or not the CD should have supported Coronabonds, because I am no financial expert, and I won’t even argue how they made this decision. What I would like to point out is that I find it deeply disgusting to see that some people have the guts to make such harsh comments about the emergency our countries are facing. Just to put it into perspective what we are going through: the number of deaths in Bergamo increased by 400% compared to the average of the past years. AEGEE is a space for dialogue that should strengthen mutual understanding and solidarity. Instead of ranting about the topic under a public Facebook post, we could have talked internally, listened to each other, learned and come up with a better solution. I hope reading this interview made some people rethink their harsh comments.

GT: What will happen with your studies? With people who wanted to graduate now? And with members who have jobs to earn some money for life and travels?
Maria: Even if it’s difficult, we are all trying to not stop. People are following online classes, some are graduating online and we are waiting for this situation to be over, so we can go back to our normal lives!

GT: Let us talk about what the Corona crisis is doing with AEGEE-Bergamo. How is your antenna dealing with it? How does it affect the life in your antenna?
Maria: I am really proud of our antenna. Every family has been affected by the Corona crisis, but we never stopped! Before anything, we are like a big group of friends and I have to thank all of them because they are really supportive and helpful.

GT: How is it for you being president in this time?
Maria: I had to deal with the consequences of the emergency in my personal life too and it was surely scary at one point, but I have never doubted the power of my antenna. I am trying as much as I can to show support to our members and to give them a space to distract themselves. My role didn’t change, I just changed the way I work.

GT: Did you have to cancel many events? Your antenna is quite active for example in taking care of Erasmus students…
Maria: In February, when everything started, we already had ahead of us a fully planned semester. We were even starting to plan activities for the summer! We started cancelling our infamous APErasmus, then our RTC, various workshops and other events. Luckily, while we were cancelling our events, we started other online projects and we didn’t stop.

GT: Indeed, your antenna was quite the frontrunner in the network in coping with the situation by making many online activities. Can you give examples?
Maria: Thank you! The first thing we did was to move our monthly meeting online. We did it just the day before the meeting, so we were scared it wasn’t going to work out, but it was a success. More than 30 people participated and one of them even became a member.

GT: Can you give advice to other locals what to do?
Maria: I don’t think it is important how many activities you make, but to always make them accessible to the members. We use different instruments to have great communication between the group and they always know what activities are going on and how they can contribute to them.

The Aperasmus is a typical event for Erasmus students in Bergamo – of course they had to be cancelled.

GT: How are people appreciating these online activities?
Maria: Absolutely a lot; we don’t make anything mandatory, it’s always up to what they feel like doing and they appreciate it.

GT: Spring and the SU application season are also important for recruiting and HR management. How can you do it in these times?
Maria: Since the beginning we stopped promoting travelling. I know it is sad, but health comes first and we didn’t want anyone to be in danger. For now we concentrate on our social media pages and we try to show everyone that AEGEE-Bergamo doesn’t stop!

GT: Will your antenna shrink becaue of the crisis?
Maria: I don’t think so. Our activities are still going, we are a united group and we cannot wait for this situation to be over so we can meet up again!

GT: You just started a new initiative, asking for donations for the Italian Civil Protection Department. Why do you do this initiative?
Maria: The idea came when we did a donation ourselves. We decided to donate the surplus from our last party to the hospital of Bergamo. We would have used that money to fund part of our RTC, but instead to keep it for ourselves, we donated it to help the hospital. As for everything, the more people you include, the better it is. A donation campaign not only helps facing the emergency, but it shows solidarity and makes everyone feel closer.

GT: Why did you choose the Italian Civil Protection Department as beneficiary? Can you tell the network what they will do with the money?
Maria: The Italian Civil Protection Department is the national body in Italy that deals with the prediction, prevention and management of emergency events. We chose it because we are sure the money is in safe hands and they will be used where they are most needed – for examples in hospitals and for equipment. Moreover, the Italian Civil Protection is also the national unit that is always in the front line when it comes to helping other European countries. Not everyone knows it but there is an ongoing “give and take” partnership in the EU which means that now we are being helped and whenever another country will need it, the Italian Civil Protection will be able to return the favor.

GT: You will choose your twin antenna based on the donations. How did you get the idea and what do antennae have to do to be chosen?
Maria: Even though we invite every antenna to make a donation, no matter the prize or our campaign, we thought for a long time how to challenge antennae to always do better. If an antenna supports our campaign with a donation, we will support them in the future by being their twin antenna! It is really easy to participate: after making a donation, we ask the president to fill in this Google form and send us an email with proof of the donation at If you are reading this interview, share the campaign with your antenna:

GT: Can you tell the bank data and the deadline?
Maria: Sure! Make a bank transfer starting from 10 Euros to:

  • IBAN: IT84 Z030 6905 0201 0000 0066 387
  • Account name: PRES. CONS. MIN. DIP. PROT. CIV.

GT: What will your antenna do when the Corona crisis is finally over?
Maria: What we have always been doing: strive for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, but we will also party a lot in the meanwhile!