“Challenges in Europe” student conference in Amsterdam

22 June 2023

From June 7-9, 2023, the Aurora Pilot Domain “Culture: Identities and Diversities” collaborated with Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam to host the inaugural “Challenges in Europe” student conference in Amsterdam. The Student Conference marked the culmination of the hybrid course, which is an integral component of the Understanding Europe module.

Since April, students from various Aurora universities participated in the online course, forming four distinct groups. Each group, led by a professor from an Aurora member university, concentrated on a specific challenge in Europe” connected to a particular Sustainable Development Goal:

  • “Religious Heritage: Claims and Contestations” (taught by Irene Stengs, VU);
  • “Place Attachment in Mobile Europe” (Ólafur Rastrick and Guðmundur Hálfdanarson, UIce);
  • “Sustainable Tourism” (Florian Freitag, UDE); and
  • “Sustainable Language Education and Critical Pedagogy” (Marián Arribas-Tomé, UEA; Ulrike Jessner-Schmid, UIBK; and Spyros Themelis, UEA).

Throughout the online phase, students designed research projects centred on these themes, with topics ranging from “Community-based Tourism in Tyrol” and “The Future of Summit Crosses” to “Place Attachment in Boarding Schools” and “How Can We Teach about Colonisation?” The conference served as a platform for participants to present and engage in discussions about their research with fellow students and instructors from six Aurora universities, spanning various disciplines and countries. Moreover, students had the opportunity to discover the picturesque city of Amsterdam and the state-of-the-art facilities at VU Amsterdam.

Students particularly enjoyed meeting and discussing with their peers during the conference: “I found the conference in Amsterdam absolutely perfect. It was brilliantly devised,” one student wrote in her class evaluation. Co-organizer Florian Freitag thought the conference was an extremely rewarding experience: “Witnessing the enthusiasm and dedication of the students in attendance, their eagerness to learn, ask insightful questions, and contribute their perspectives was genuinely inspiring.” His colleague and co-organizer Guðmundur Hálfdanarson agrees: “The student conference was an extraordinary event that enriched the students’ academic experience and fueled my passion for teaching and research in my field. I am confident that the knowledge on place attachment in Europe and connections gained during the conference will have a lasting impact on the student’s academic and professional trajectories, and I wholeheartedly recommend this event to my fellow educators and students alike.”

The Understanding Europe initiative will continue in Fall 2023 with “Perspectives on Europe in a Global Context.” The “Challenges in Europe” course will return in the Summer of 2024.