How European do people feel in Las Palmas, Porto or Sankt Peterburg? How do the AEGEE antennae in these cities cope with living on the edge of Europe? In the fourth part of the series “Living on the edge of Europe”, Daria Synkova, Network Subcommissioner and former board member of AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg, reports from the former Russian capital.

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Excluded from Europe? “No way”, says Daria Synkova.

Golden Times: Let’s start with the basics: how many members do you have? And in what year was your antenna founded?
Daria Synkova: AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg was founded in 1996. Currently we have officially a bit more than 90 members, but really active members are more or less 25 – depends on season of the year, exams or work.

Golden Times: How European-minded are normal people and students in your city?
Daria: I think in St. Petersburg we are quite European-minded, we are very close to Estonia – about two hours – and it’s only about three hours to Finland. Also I would say that many Europeans say that St. Petersburg looks very European. For example, I feel myself in many European cities like at home. So if I would be asked whether I feel myself European or not, I would definitely say “YES”.

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AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg. Photo by Evgeniy Morev

Golden Times: Is it hard to find members?
Daria: It is not very hard to recruit members, of course our most powerful tool is the Summer University, but it is harder to keep them active, to involve them on the local level. But for that we have done many years in row Local Training Courses, which we consider both a good team-building and “AEGEE inspiration” lesson.

Golden Times: What do you tell potential members when they say: “AEGEE sounds nice, but all the events are far away…”
Daria: I think we don’t have this problem, because most people are eager to travel and better far away from their hometown, to discover new corners of the world and learn new cultures.

Golden Times: Are there also positive aspects from your geographical location?
Daria: In my opinion St. Petersburg is situated very well compared to other AEGEE antennae in Russia. We are close to the European borders, we have a special way of applying for visa. We are situated in the North-West of Russia and we have a wonderful season: the “White Nights” and “Open Bridges” season due to navigation on the Neva river. So our location gives us the unique chance to see this beauty and to show it to others! And we have sea as well! That is also an advantage!

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AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg. Photo by Evgeniy Morev

Golden Times: How much does travelling cost to Central European locations, such as Munich or Vienna?
Daria: I have just checked prices to Munich for February. They start from 150 Euro for a return ticket, to Wien it is around 200 Euro – return as well. Generally I would say that it is possible always to find a return ticket for 200 Euro. If bought early enough it can be much more cheaper! Once I had the luck to buy a return ticket to Düsseldorf in August to travel in November for just 100 Euro direct flight! If only all tickets would cost the same… Unfortunately we don’t have low cost carriers, so to travel for 1, 2 or 20 Euro for us is impossible…

Golden Times: Is getting visa for events a big problem for your members?
Daria: Nowadays it is not that hard. But it is not the most pleasant procedure. A lot of documents, papers, copies of bank statements, proof of the paying capacity and other things. The plus which we use now is that for a cultural exchange we can get visa for free. This fact cheers us up!

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Daria: “We are not on the edge of Europe!”

Golden Times: Roughly how many foreign members are attending your events year year?
Daria: Generally we have three international events per year – at least one SU, our Winter University, at least one exchange per year. So all in all it is around 100 international students.

Golden Times: Did you cooperate in 2012 with other antennae?
Daria (smiles): We like the word “cooperation” a lot! Yes! We do! In 2012 we cooperated in a great way! We had the Winter University together with AEGEE-Moskva, an exchange with Italian locals and an SU with AEGEE-Moskva and AEGEE-Sevastopol. Also in 2011 we made a great SU with Tallin and Helsinki.

Golden Times: Great! Will you continue that in 2013?
Daria: In 2013 we also have good plans – on the 6th of February our event “All over cartOOns” starts, organised together with AEGEE-Moskva. Later this year we will have an exchange with AEGEE-Porto and not all plans are set for autumn 2013. So we are always ready for cooperation!

Golden Times: Which other international events are you planning for 2013?
Daria: Next to our Winter University and the exchange with AEGEE-Porto we will have a Summer University, but this time it was decided to be independent.

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AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg event. Photo by Evgeniy Morev

Golden Times: Do you sometimes wish your antenna was more central or do you enjoy being at the edge of Europe?
Daria: AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg belongs to the Nordic Stars area, which comprises of Northern locals. Maybe that helps us to make us feel closer to the European Union, but we are definitely not on the edge of Europe! If to answer precisely that question: geographically Europe ends on the Ural mountains – there is a line, across which the participants of the Transsiberian Dream SU usually jump – so the distance from St. Petersburg to Ekaterinburg is 2204 kilometers, from St. Petersburg to Berlin it is 1797 kilometers… So, my arithmetic has proven that the edge of Europe is far away! But sometimes for sure it would be nice to live somewhere central to have that great possibility to reach all countries fast.