“Marija Valentina Žuvic” is written on her candidature, but please call this dedicated AEGEE-Zagreb member Valentina, not Marija. “Only professors and officials call me Marija”, says the candidate for the Network Commission at the upcoming Agora in Bucharest. For Valentina AEGEE has really been a life-changing experience – and now she wants to support other members and locals with her knowledge.

Golden Times: Where would you be now if you hadn’t joined AEGEE?
Valentina Žuvic: I can’t imagine where I would be now, because right before I joined AEGEE I was in a pretty weird period of my life. I couldn’t pass the last exam for my bachelor’s degree; I didn’t have any goals set up for myself and many other things weren’t in place in my life. I worked for a Korean touristic agency as a photographer of Korean couples and probably I would still have that job if I hadn’t joined AEGEE. I am sure that I wouldn’t know a lot of things, I wouldn’t have developed myself as a person or have the motivation to finish my faculty.

GT: How did you join AEGEE exactly? How did you find out about it?
Valentina: Like every average newbie finds out about AEGEE: through the promotion of Summer Universities. In 2017 I went to a promotion event of my faculty and I listened to two people who were so hyperactive that I thought: “I don’t want to join AEGEE, they are telling us very stupid things, it is not possible”. I was very sceptical about it, but I decided to give it a go then. I went against my anxiety and I haven’t regretted it!

Valentina at the HR Days of AEGEE-Zagreb “ADVENTure vol.3”

GT: How long did it take you from the first moment until you signed the membership form and joined AEGEE?
Valentina: It took me a week because the next meeting was on Monday after the promotion of Summer Universities. I had some seriously arguing with my parents where I will go to on an SU first – they didn’t want to let me go to try beers in Belgium but let me go to Italy instead. Finally, I went to a regular meeting to pay the fee and sign the membership form. For a good half an hour I nervously walked up and down in front of the building where the meeting took place before I went inside to sign the membership form and pay the fee. And then I ran away from my new AEGEE family after five minutes and didn’t show up on regular meetings until autumn when I suddenly applied for a board position. I could say that the SU that year gave me wings to fly!

GT: What’s the typical drink & food you bring to European Nights?
Valentina: I usually bring Rakija with me because everybody likes it apparently and Domaćica cookies. But I remember my first European Night when I was such a gullible girl and didn’t know how European Nights really look. I have been in SU Napoli 2017 and I brought Napolitanke – you see the word game – and… Cedevita. Cedevita is an instant vitamin drink, which is prepared just before consumption by dissolving the granules in a glass of water and has a fruity flavour. I could say that some of organizers really liked that drink and have been very happy that they got some break from alcoholic drinks during the Eurotrip. [smiling]

GT: At an AEGEE party where will we find you? On the dancefloor? Talking at the bar?
Valentina: You will rarely find me on the dancefloor or even rarer talking at the bar if the place is very loud. I am usually outside of the party, probably you will find me in a yard, garden or somewhere on the grass under the night sky if it is warm weather talking with other people about random things.

GT: What was your first position in the local board?
Valentina: My first position in the local board was as a secretary. I applied randomly for that position because in that moment I was totally in the ‘’you are only live once’’ mood. I got elected together with another six people who already knew each other somehow, and I was like a black sheep who avoided them all till I was forced to meet them.

AEGEE-Zagreb board 2018-2019

GT: What was your favourite event as organiser – and why is it your favourite?
Valentina: My favourite event was definitely the Summer Course “Smells Like Green Spirit”. It was my first big event where I completely got out of my comfort zone in every field of organisation. My main role was incoming responsible, which was a big challenge for me because I was afraid of communicating with participants – not before the SU, but during it. I was afraid that I won’t hear them well, so I won’t understand their needs. I want to mention that I will remember this SU especially for a workshop about deaf and hard of hearing culture, which I held together with Franjo. It was a precious for me because that was my first time ever that I speak about my disability in front of everyone, about the problems, which I am facing every day and I showed the participants how it is to be a person like me in a hearing world.

GT: What was your first Agora and how did you feel there? Happy, excited, overwhelmed, lost?
Valentina: My first Agora was spring Agora Krakow 2018 where I went as a delegate. I thought that I would go as a visitor because I had been only one year in AEGEE and I hadn’t had experience in Agoras like many other members of my local. I was scared in the beginning that I won’t hear and understand anything. I was lucky that I had supportive friends who helped me a lot during the Agora when I needed their help and they made this event even better than I expected. It is one of my favourite AEGEE event I ever visited.

GT: Do you like cooking and what’s your favourite dish you like to cook?
Valentina: I am enjoying cooking because you can improvise a lot and be adventurous – unlike baking, where you must strictly follow rules. I love to experiment with spices, and I mean a lot of spices, especially from Asian cuisine like India, South Korea or Thailand, but also from Italian cuisine. I like to cook a lot of dishes and I can’t decide just for one because every time I try to make different meals. But every time when I host someone, I always make pancakes for the breakfast. It is my secret weapon to win the guests’ hearts. [laughing]

GT: What’s never missing in your fridge?
Valentina: Vegetables and fruits! My fridge is never missing any seasonal vegetables – I am dying right now for asparagus – and fruits. I cannot wait for the season of raspberries.

SC Smells Like GREEN Spirit: Beach cleaning

GT: What do your parents think about the idea that you are so active in AEGEE?
Valentina: Sometimes they complain a lot because they think I don’t work anything for my faculty and future, and that AEGEE takes too much time from other things in my life. I am showing them every day that I can do everything what I imagined. I will even graduate this autumn, which I couldn’t imagine three years ago, neither my mom [laughing]. Fingers crossed! They are proud of me now and they were surprised when I told them that I am running for NetCom now.

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?
Valentina: I don’t know. I would tell for myself that I am the idealist till the core. I always organize things to make changes and make little booklets of everything with advice how to do something, because I keep in mind that someone would inherit me and my work, and I want to transfer everything what I know to next generation. I strongly believe in knowledge transfer. So, 90 percent I am idealist, 7 percent career – because these things would look beautiful in my CV – and 3 percent fun member even though I have been to more fun AEGEE events than serious ones…

GT: What other hobbies do you have aside from AEGEE?
Valentina: I read a lot of books, draw pictures which are usually small ones, but with a lot of details, and I take photos whenever I can. When I feel the urgent need to run away from everything I am hiking in order to be surrounded by nature and silence.

GT: What do you study – and why?
Valentina: I am studying art history in a contemporary and modern art course, ethnology and cultural anthropology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zagreb. I have always been interested in the cultural field, I even wanted to study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. It is a funny story though. After I dropped my goals to become an academic painter, I applied for two different field of studies: maths on one hand and art history with ethnology and cultural anthropology on the other. I couldn’t choose which one I want to study because I love both field a lot and I could find myself in both. Maths and art are connected in every part even when you can’t see it. So, I played “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” to decide. Looking back, it sounds dangerous to depend on a game to decide about my future, but I don’t regret it.

SC Smells Like Green Spirit – Valentina’s workshop on deaf culture

GT: What’s your dream job?
Valentina: My dream job is to be a photographer for National Geographic, a freelancer photographer or to work in cinematography in the field of photography. I really like to listen to people’s stories and take their portraits or spontaneous moments where you can see their deepest core. My biggest influences are people who stand behind ‘’Humans of New York’’ and ‘’The Atlas of Beauty’’ and they are making the world a better place nowadays. What is better than traveling and taking photos while you are listening to people’s stories? But I can say that I have a dream job already. I am working in the Tošo Dabac archive where I take care of old negatives and photos by Tošo Dabac, a Croatian photographer of the 20th century. I am enjoying analysing and learning something new about Yugoslavian and Croatian history from these photos.

GT: What’s the favourite city or place on this planet you ever visited?
Valentina: I can’t just choose one, so I need to mention my two favourite cities: Vienna and Naples. What is surprising is that they are as different as night and day. Vienna stole my soul with its artistic history, rules and old traditions. It is my second home. Anyway, Naples stole my heart with its people, food and that wild spirit, which is truly pervading.

GT: And where would you really like to go?
Valentina: I have a bucket list with cities where I want to go next and I have crossed several of them from it already. I would really like to go to South and North America. There are three top places, which I really want to visit, and these are: Patagonia, because of its nature. New Orleans, because of its traditions, southern charm and, especially, comfort food. And last but not least, Detroit. Detroit sounds dangerous for a solo traveller like me, but I am interested in its history and the people who live there.

GT: What’s your biggest frustration in AEGEE?
Valentina: My biggest frustration in AEGEE is how to motivate demotivated members or attract new ones. I am trying every day to find new ways how to approach people through thematic workshops, organisations of events and other means, and I am happy if I get from that really interested people who will continue to pursue their ideas in AEGEE.

GT: Please complete the sentence: “AEGEE is for me…”
Valentina: AEGEE is for me a whole universe full of different emotions, struggles, friends and everything else, which make my life richer.

GT: How would you describe yourself in a few keywords?
Valentina: I would describe myself as a hardworking, ambitious, creative and sometimes as an addle-headed person.