From the 28th of December 2014 till the 2nd of January 2015, altogether 27 amazing participants partied hard and also enjoyed the thematic parts of the programme of the New Year’s event of AEGEE-Utrecht – dealing with various aspects of the topic peace. It was a big success, a “Peace of Cake”, as the event title suggested.

Written by Carina van Hoof, AEGEE-Utrecht

Carina van Hoof
Carina van Hoof, author of this article and main organiser of this event.

The group of participants was a very varied one, nothing less than 15 different nationalities, 16 if you include the Dutch organizers, which would make for interesting discussions, for this NYE wasn’t just about partying, it also had a thematic side.

As organizers we had chosen to organize a NYE with a thematic side for three different reasons. Firstly because we found it more interesting and more of a challenge to organize a thematic event, secondly because an international group of people can make for interesting discussions since everyone comes from a different background, and a theme, we thought, would help incite debate. The last reason was more a financial one, as having a theme would make it easier for us to apply for funds; and yes, we got support from two!

The participants enjoyed the thematic discussions of the event.

It wasn’t that much harder to organize a thematic event in comparison to just a fun event, but I would say it did cost more time. When choosing a theme for your event, it is important that you implement it in the programme in more ways than just having one thematic activity. Our theme was Peace, and we had several activities around this topic. We had organized a lecture about Local Peace-building in conflict, focusing on the case of the Former Yugoslavia, we had a day-trip to The Hague where we visited the Peace Palace and the Humanity House; an interactive museum where visitors get to experience what it is like to be a refugee.

Discussion about local peace-building in conflicts.

We also had a workshop about stereotypes and discrimination, as these are factors that can eventually lead to conflicts. Less connected to our theme, but still interesting was also the Utrecht Underground tour, a less conventional city-tour with an ex-homeless/addict as a guide, who led us past some spots in the city that had been important during his life on the streets. Needless to say, this tour was accompanied by many stories, often quite shocking.

What we maybe hadn’t realized before, was that some of our activities were hitting quite close to home for some participants. During the visit to the Humanity House for example it turned out that quite a few of our participants had a lot of refugees coming to their countries, for example from Syria. Also during the workshop, we discussed discrimination in small groups, after which participants could share their stories with the group. It turned out that almost everyone in the group had experienced some sort of discrimination in their lives, which of course isn’t nice to hear, but it was interesting to hear each other’s stories and if we had more time we could’ve discussed about it even longer than we already did.

utrecht05We found that having a theme definitely added value to the event, as it incited people to discuss about more difficult topics, and share more personal stories than they might have done in a traditional fun event. We think this positively contributed to people getting to know each other better and the group bonding process. This doesn’t mean however that difficult topics cannot be talked about during fun events or that group bonds can’t be strong during those events. We just feel that having a theme made it easier for people to broach these subjects, as they could link it to the activity they had just participated in.

But, next to all these thematic activities, of course the event still remained a New Year’s Event, and there were many fun activities as well! We climbed the Dom tower, had a Crazy 88 city rally where participants had to complete as much crazy tasks from the 88 task-long list as they could, we had a very abundant European Night and for those who wanted there was time to go ice-skating.

The participants discussed hard and partied hard!

Our New Year’s party wasn’t in a club, instead it was a typical Dutch student house party, at the top floor (18th!) of a student flat, where three different living rooms were turned into dance floors, and the gallery outside made for a perfect view of the fireworks exploding all over the city at midnight! The next day we took the train to go to the beach at Zandvoort, where our participants would run with thousands of Dutchies into the four-degrees cold North Sea. With a few exceptions, everyone joined and stripped down to their swimsuits, ran screaming into the water, mostly to run straight back out a few moments later. Everyone enjoyed it a lot, we even got a certificate saying we had gotten the “Freshest start of 2015”, and indeed, what better cure for a hangover could there be?

The New Year Dive – legendary!

We held a Peace Party on the last day, which was also a white T-shirt party, and it showed what an amazing group of people had come together this NYE, for everyone was so enthusiastic in writing sweet and funny words about each other on their shirts, it made for the best souvenir of the event. One last night of partying, and then on the 2nd of January, unfortunately it was time to leave, but plans for reunions were already in the making!

The participants and organisers wrote each other nice memories on their shirts.

This NYE “Peace of Cake!” organized by AEGEE-Utrecht was definitely a success, if we may say so ourselves, and the combination of theme and fun was one we were very happy about and will consider using more! Our antenna is already busy with organizing two other thematic events, one for the Democracy in Practice project, and we will also be the host of the Self Development European School. As for another NYE, let’s see what the new year has in store for us!