Explaining AEGEE to border guards at 4 AM? Having a cow as unofficial participant of an NWM? That’s just an ordinary day for Margarita – or shorter – Rita Semchenko from AEGEE-Voronezh. You will see her soon on the Agora stage in Bucharest, running for the Network Commission in order to create even more memorable moments for everyone.

Golden Times: Where would you be now if you hadn’t joined AEGEE?
Rita Semchenko: I ask myself this question pretty often lately and it’s scary to imagine how much I would have missed out on if I hadn’t joined AEGEE back in the day. I definitely wouldn’t have had amazing friends all over Europe, didn’t go to study abroad or maybe even start volunteering. I also wouldn’t have been the person I am today without the skills and experience I gained during the past three years. I was simply scared to talk in public and definitely wouldn’t believe if someone told me that I will organise international events or transfer 30 people through the Russian-Ukrainian border. This was actually the most memorable presentation of “What Is AEGEE” at 4 a.m. in my life!

GT: How did you join AEGEE exactly? How did you find out about it?
Rita: I joined AEGEE in February 2016 when I simply googled “How to travel cheap in Europe” and found some blog post about volunteering and student organisations. That’s how I found AEGEE-Voronezh as the closest antenna to my home city, applied for a Summer University – and here I am now!

GT: How long did it take you from the first moment until you signed the membership form and joined AEGEE?
Rita: Just a few hours. I read the information on the Summer University website, wrote to the outgoing responsible of my antenna and joined.

GT: What’s the typical drink & food you bring to European Nights?
Rita: Surely vodka! I think if there is a Russian table without it, no one will understand. But I also like to bring homemade liquor or some non-alcoholic drinks to the table and in terms of food always my favourite matreshka-shaped candies or Russian gingerbread cookies.

GT: At an AEGEE party, where will we find you? On the dancefloor? Talking at the bar?
Rita: I think both, you can find me everywhere. I love a combination of dancing for some time, especially when it’s an undying classic and you sing along with everybody in the room and then I’ll most probably be talking until early morning about nothing and everything with someone. However, lately, I am not much of a party person and more into soulful evenings with closest friends, gathering next to a bonfire place, when someone is playing the guitar and we all are just in the moment.

Rita with current Network Commissioner Polina from AEGEE-Sankt-Peterburg

GT: What was your first position in the local board?
Rita: My first position in the local board was PR responsible and it was quite challenging at the beginning. I still was quite a newbie to the organisation, not understanding many things but thanks to that term I realised how AEGEE actually works. Those scary circles I saw during the first presentation about AEGEE were not just unknown words and acronyms anymore. I learned how to use Photoshop or how social media work now and many other things.

GT: What was your favourite event as an organiser – and why is it your favourite?
Rita: It is definitely my last organised event: the NWM Voronezh “#3YearsChallenge”. It was my first event as the main organiser and I am very happy that we were able to achieve all goals and have a very cosy Network Meeting that all participants enjoyed being a part of. We were unplugged from the city life and were indulging into nature around. We also unofficially called it Network Milking, because of a cow which belonged to the neighbouring house. We even gave her the name and considered her an unofficial participant of the event. Overall, I loved how much it felt like we were one big AEGEE family and I am very excited about the ideas of future events and potential cooperation we are now working on.

GT: What was your first Agora and how did you feel there? Happy, excited, overwhelmed, lost?
Rita: My first Agora was Agora Kraków in 2018 and I think all these adjectives can describe my feelings and emotions there. I was happy and excited about everything throughout the whole event, overwhelmed by how popcorn it turned out to be – who wasn’t, right? And surely I felt lost a bit, but overall it was a 100% positive experience and one of the best-organised events I have ever visited.

GT: Do you like cooking and what’s your favourite dish you like to cook?
Rita: I love cooking and in my family everybody knows their way around the kitchen, so I couldn’t but pick up this from them too. I don’t think I have a favourite dish to cook though, but I do enjoy making veggie soups and every time experimenting with flavours.

GT: What’s never missing in your fridge?
Rita: Tomatoes! I just love them and while others tend to take an apple or banana as a snack in 99% cases I will take tomatoes – yes, I’m weird sometimes… There are always two or three kilos of them in my fridge.

GT: In a typology of members there are the three aspects fun member, career member and idealist – to which percentage are you which of these aspects?
Rita: I think we join AEGEE being a fun member, since most of us start from Summer Universities, seeing mostly the fun part. Then over time and the course of events we have a better understanding of how everything works and want to develop ourselves by joining different bodies and having more experience in organizing something ourselves which make us more career members. At this very point, I would say that I am 30% fun member, 30% idealist and 40% career member.

GT: What other hobbies do you have aside from AEGEE?
Rita: For over five years I am keen on photography and drawing. I am extremely grateful to my grandfather for teaching me how to draw and for giving me my first camera, making me understand how to look at the world from another perspective and appreciate little moments by capturing them.

GT: Did you consider joining a political party or maybe want to do it later?
Rita: Not at that very moment or maybe ever. I just cannot imagine myself being a part of any of them simply because I haven’t seen a political party which I would want to be a part of or whose values I can truly share.

GT: What do you study – and why?
Rita: I study Pedagogy, English and German. Since I was little I loved imagining that my toys are my students and when I was in high school I plunged into learning English. After school I wanted to combine these two passions and here I am finishing my teaching degree now.

GT: What’s your dream job?
Rita: This question I have been asked too many times and especially now with my upcoming thesis defence. The answer is simple: I won’t know until I have it. We can build a picture of a perfect job in our minds, for sure, but I don’t want it to be just a dream but a reality, so let’s see, maybe I’ll be lucky and land it already this year.

GT: What’s the favourite city or place on this planet you ever visited?
Rita: My current favourite city is Prague. I was lucky to be able to study one semester there and these months were truly amazing. I love that it is located in the heart of Europe and that despite being one of the most popular tourist destinations, it still doesn’t feel like a big city. When you know places apart from the three most visited districts you can truly enjoy it in its fullest and discover its hidden beauties.

GT: And where would you really like to go?
Rita: I would really like to explore Russia more. There are so many places I haven’t visited yet and hope in the next years I’ll be able to do it with my Russian friends but also foreigners. The majority cannot even imagine how beautiful and diverse it is: whether it’s volcanos in Kamchatka, mountains in Altai, northern lights in Murmansk or the endless Baikal lake.

GT: What’s your biggest frustration in AEGEE?
Rita: There are some but I think that lately, we all have noticed a lack of participation and motivation of members. Many seem to lose the purpose of their work and those who still do it, burn out over time and feel unappreciated for the work that has been done – which is a pity.

GT: Please complete the sentence: “AEGEE is for me…”
Rita: Is a chance to develop myself, learn a lot from the organization itself and its members and share this knowledge with others.

GT: How would you describe yourself in a few keywords?
Rita: Wanderlust. Adventurous. Curious. Intuitive. Courageous. Resourceful.