The world does not stop at the Mediterranean Sea. Many matters that happen in the Arab world, also have an impact on Europe. “The EuroArab Project of AEGEE-Europe helps to break stereotypes and tensions by bringing European and Arab youth together”, says Sandra Oborska, The 23-year-old Core Team member of the project and former President of AEGEE-Kraków told the Golden Times why the EuroArab Project has such a big importance for AEGEE.

EuroArab logoGolden Times: Sandra, 2014 will be a big year about the EuroArab project. Can you tell us what the project is about?
Sandra Oborska: The EuroArab Project’s aim is to break stereotypes and tensions by bringing European and Arab youth together.

Golden Times: How do you want to do it?
Sandra: The idea is to create increasingly stronger relations between youth from both regions and empower them to exercise their rights in order to create and develop an active and strong civil society. Essentially, we are upholding a platform where young people can share ideas, exchange values and provide experience of the current situation in Europe and the Arab world. This increased awareness and cooperation, in turn, will hopefully reduce destructive phenomena such as racism, Islamophobia and antagonism.

EuroArab Team Budapest
EuroArab Team presentation at Agora Budapest, 2012

Golden Times: AEGEE is mainly dealing with European issues. So why a project about Arabic countries? What can AEGEE achieve or contribute?
Sandra: The world is more and more globalized and what happens around us, affects us. Therefore to be able to fully understand certain processes in Europe we should understand the processes that occur in the neighboring region. Even inside Europe we still have a lot of issues that need to be addressed, like social exclusion of the North African immigrants, Islamophobia and xenophobia. Additionally I have personally experienced the benefits of Euro-Arab collaboration. Besides the fact that it has been an amazing, inspirational and fascinating experience, such cooperation brings different perspectives. We were able to build up on each other’s ideas. I strongly believe that this kind of cooperation can really drive innovation in different fields. There is just simply so much we can learn from each other! For me Euro-Arab collaboration is also a peacebuilding process.

EuroArab Theatre WS Zaragoza
EuroArab Theatre Workshop at Agora Zaragoza, 2013

Golden Times: In what way?
Sandra: Once we let ourselves have an open mind, learn about the other person’s culture, customs, beliefs and mentality, we will be able to develop a mutual understanding. Empathy is the key! At some point I have noticed that in spite of all the differences, we still have the same needs, everyday problems and big dreams! Once we discover this – we bond. Why not work together for common causes? What is also worth mentioning is that by interacting with young Arabs I was able to deeply reflect on my European culture and identity. Having to explain our customs and mentality to my Arab friends, I now have a better understanding of what it means to be European. Why not provide other AEGEEans with the opportunity to learn and discover more about themselves and the world that surrounds us?

Golden Times: The Arab world is big. Are there some issues or countries that you focus on in particular?
Sandra: We are pretty much focused on topics such as social injustice, democracy, gender equality, social inclusion and youth participation – especially the role of youth in social movements and in developing the societies, which is my favorite topic. Normally we choose a topic that is relevant to a certain country or local society. Now we are working on organizing local EuroArab events in Europe, which means that we have AEGEE antennae cooperating with the local Arab society to organize an activity or event together.

EuroArab Egypt
AEGEE-Kraków in Egypt

Golden Times: Can you give an example?
Sandra: Yes. For example, as there are currently a lot of Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey and Armenia, we are holding talks with AEGEE-Yerevan and AEGEE-Istanbul to implement a project tackling this issue. As for international projects, we have been mostly working with North African countries, though I would love to expand our cooperation with countries from the Gulf.

Golden Times: Which activities took place so far?
Sandra: Before we established the official EuroArab Project in AEGEE-Europe, there was a EuroArab exchange organized in Alexandria by Shift-Network in cooperation with Diana Lesko from AEGEE-Debrecan. Afterwards we organized another exchange with the same partners – this time in Kraków. The theme of those events was Media and Culture, therefore there were a lot of activities and discussions about how media create images of our cultures and societies, how the social media fastforwarded the start of the uprisings in the Arab world and how we can use different online tools to practice intercultural dialogue. Afterwards AEGEE-Kraków was a partner of the EuroArab Youth Forum, hosted by Shift-Network in Alexandria – below you can find more information about it.

Lesko and Oborska
EuroArab Project coordinator Diana Lesko and core team member Sandra Oborska in Brussels

Golden Times: So when was the EuroArab Project of AEGEE-Europe officially established?
Sandra: This happened in Brussels in August 2012. Since then we have held a number of workshops and presentations inside AEGEE – during Agoras and Network Meetings – as well as outside AEGEE, during different international conferences. We held two Youth in Action exchanges: one in Kraków about political transitions with the examples of Poland and Egypt and then the second one in München about the interplay of religion and politics. We created possibilities for youth from both regions to interact and discuss online hot socio-political topics and those that concerned youth. We had Skype conferences and an online forum. Recently AEGEE-Budapest and AEGEE-Granada organized local EuroArab events where local Arab society or experts on certain topics were invited to collaborate.

Golden Times: What were the most interesting results in your opinion?
Sandra: Every single initiative we have organized has been amazing and mostly included a follow-up. Though for me the most powerful and impactful project I contributed to would be the EuroArab Youth Forum that took place in Alexandria, Egypt. At the time AEGEE-Kraków was invited to be the partner of the conference by the Egyptian organization Shift-Network. Young people from Egypt, Poland, Algeria, Qatar, Morocco, Palestine, Netherlands, Greece, England, Denmark and other countries gathered to talk about Sustainable Development and how international and intercultural cooperation is crucial in achieving effective results. The outcomes of the conference were amazing! Besides the fact that we created a network of young activists, we empowered the local young Egyptian people, there were also so many new initiatives being born afterwards! Not only in the youth field, but there was also an innovative social business start-up born in Algeria. This event had a real impact and multiplier effect.

Euroarab Mariem Ben Ltaifa
Mariem Ben Ltaifa, main organiser of the upcoming EuroArab event in Tunisia

Golden Times: What are you planning for 2014? Can you tell date, place and topic of the activities that are going to take place?
Sandra: We have recently received twice the funds from the Youth in Action programme for Euro-Arab exchanges in Leuven, Belgium, about social entrepreneurship and Valletta, Malta, about youth participation and intercultural dialogue and communication, which will be held in spring. We are also preparing exchanges in Tunisia as well as in Ganja, Azerbaijan, for AEGEE members, a workshop for Agora Patra and hopefully EuroArab local events in Istanbul, Paris, Yerevan and Osnabruck. We have some further plans but for now I will still keep it a secret…

Golden Times: So AEGEE members have actually opportunities to visit Arab countries?
Sandra: We are already working on an exchange to be held in Tunisia in a few months with amazing Mariem Ben Ltaifa heading the preparations. In general it is much more challenging to organize an initiative in the Arab World than in Europe, where we are having AEGEE initiating or leading the implementation process, though we have built some great partnerships with Arab organizations. Hopefully those partnerships will soon bring fruits.

EuroArab Budapest2
EuroArab Project info desk at Agora Budapest

Golden Times: Finally, a few words about you. Where are you from, how old are you, what do you study?
Sandra: I was actually born in Melbourne, Australia, from Polish parents and lived there for nine years, after which my family and I moved to Poland. I am currently 23 years old, I finished my bachelor studies in Tourism and I recently got a full-time job in an outsourcing corporation.

Golden Times: How did you get involved in the EuroArab project? What is your personal interest?
Sandra: It is actually quite a long story and of course it started with organizing the EuroArab CST in Kraków in March 2012. There are many reasons why I continued my involvement in the EuroArab field. I started to be fascinated with Arabic culture, people and their beliefs. I was moved when I heard all the stories from my Egyptian friends about how the Arab Spring looked like, about what they witnessed and experienced on the streets during the uprisings. I was inspired by the efforts they were making for their country and society and at the same time felt furious when I saw what the dictatorship was doing to all those innocent people! My friends were risking their lives, fighting peacefully for justice, freedom, equality, dignity! For that they could have been arrested, tortured, even killed!

Local EuroArab event in Budapest, December 2013

Golden Times: So now you are giving your own contribution?
Sandra: Yes, I decided I wanted to contribute to creating a better future for all of us – Europeans and Arabs – in a way that I was capable of! Basically that’s what drives me to take action until now, but it would not have been possible to found the EuroArab Project of AEGEE-Europe in the beginning without brilliant and devoted people like Diana Lesko, Karolina Mazetyte, Morgane Hoarau and many others! Today our team is much bigger and we keep going on also thanks to Stephanie Müller, Nico Dunno, Mariem Ben Ltaifa, Lana Tomić, Ahmed Wahid, Eefje Wielders, Mahmoud Tharwat, Houssem Eddine Kassah Laouar and Kate Jenkins.

Golden Times: When did you join AEGEE and what are the main highlights of your AEGEE career so far?
Sandra: I joined AEGEE-Kraków in October 2010, after I attended a three-day LTC for fresh members. Since then I have been active – first I organized a lot of local and international projects, like training courses, Summer Universities, exchanges and conferences, after which I was elected president of my antenna for the term of 2012/13. Nowadays I support my antenna as a member of the Supervisory Board. As for the European Level, besides working on the EuroArab Project for nearly two years, I am also currently a member of the Pool of Representatives, which means I am eligible to officially represent AEGEE-Europe at different conferences and meetings.

EuroArab Exchange Muenchen
EuroArab Exchange in Munich

Golden Times: How did your antennae develop during your term as President of AEGEE-Krakow?
Sandra: I think the most important developments during my board’s term would be implementing more thematic projects, which were consistent with the Strategic Plan. We also brought the European level closer to the local level – we tried to be involved in as many initiatives of AEGEE-Europe as possible, like the EuroArab Project, Policy Officer Consultation Meeting on EU Neighborhood policy and others. Now AEGEE-Kraków continues its contribution to big scale projects, like the Y Vote Project or Europe on Track. We would also send as many members as it was possible to different exchanges, conferences and training courses on the European Level or within the Youth in Action programme, which had an effect in their higher engagement in AEGEE afterwards.

EuroArab Media Culture Egypt
EuroArab event about Media and Culture event in Egypt

Golden Times: People tell about you that you were a good teamplayer, facilitator and motivator as president. How should a good president be in your opinion?
Sandra: A good president or leader should first have a good understanding about who he or she is, what drives him or her to take action, what are his or her values, which are the basis of one’s work. A self-aware leader knows which strengths he or she can use in work and which weaknesses need to be addressed. A good leader is a good coach – somebody who brings the best out of people, finds their hidden potential and supports. He or she has a vision that inspires others to take action and constantly decides consciously to come out of the comfort zone. A good leader knows how to use different tools and resources that are around and is able to turn ideas into action.

Oborska Krakow
Sandra Oborska – in love with AEGEE.

Golden Times: What hobbies do you have aside from AEGEE?
Sandra: I very much enjoy reading books, of course I love travelling, skiing, I like working out in the gym and listening to ambient music. It is probably no surprise that other cultures fascinate me.

Golden Times: Please finish the sentence: “AEGEE is for me…”
Sandra: …a place where brilliant ideas are born, which come to life and eventually make a difference! AEGEE is: people, values, friendship, action, caring, contributing, experimenting. AEGEE is all about creating a world we all want to live in.

Golden Times: How would you describe yourself in five keywords?
Sandra: Determined, devoted, solidary, idealistic, creative


Find out more about the EuroArab project

The project website is nearly ready, until then all people, who are interested in the project are invited check out the Facebook page: In addition, here are a few links with different articles or publications about the EuroArab Project: