July 6, 2020

“When I think about my time in EYP, I primarily think about how heavily it impacted me, how it made a better and smarter human, and how it paved the path for my further successes in life.”

Interview with EYP Alumni Mila Pestun (BY), Barbara Vanhauter (BE) and Hadrien Segond (DE)

On the 6th and 7th of June 2020, 150 EYP Alumni living in 32 countries gathered online for a Digital Alumni Reunion. They reminisced the history of the EYP with the organisation’s founder Bettina Carr-Allinson, joined different speaker’s corners, participated in networking talks per industry and debated rising nationalism in a panel discussion. Of course there were also teambuilding and casual hangouts! From this incredible network of active citizens, we interviewed three participants.

Mila Pestun participated in her first EYP event in Belarus in 2006. She now works at World Bank Group in Washington DC on projects that help small farmers across the globe adopt climate-smart agricultural practices. Barbara Vanhauter from Belgium was active in EYP between 1995 and 2002. She attended sessions in Gothenburg, Dublin, Milan, Munich, Thessaloniki, Barcelona, … She is now a senior director at a big international bank. Hadrien Segond from Germany started EYP in 2002 and went to around 40 sessions! He is now Program Director at the German Children and Youth Foundation.

What was always your favourite aspect of an EYP session?

Mila: Teambuilding, hands down!

Barbara: Euroconcert and Euro-market were great, while the General Assembly and the official openings gave me the chance to go in many parliament buildings.

How do you look back on your time in EYP and what is your favourite EYP memory?

Mila: It’s definitely hard to single out a specific memory. One is playing the Chiki-Chiki game with an entire session, which is claimed to be invented by EYP Belarus. Another is spending sleepless nights before General Assembly polishing resolutions and having a sense of doing something bigger than me… That’s what made me come back again and again. And friends, of course. Some of the best people in my life are one way or another linked to EYP.

When I look back, I see a lot of things that we shouldn’t have been doing or should have been doing much less… Some of the games we played or jokes we made would be considered appropriated or celebrated today. But when I think about my EYP times, I primarily think about how heavily it impacted me, how it made a better and smarter human, and how it paved the path for my further successes in life.

Barbara: With the chairs and organisatie in Thessaloniki 1998 I think. We went to someone’s parents’ house and we were singing for the whole night. Super nice house, super nice people, … What a night! Bonding friendships during a lovely, warm evening. Really one of the best days of my life. My time in EYP was a fantastic time, a way of developing yourself and growing while getting to know such a great group of people with different backgrounds. Making friends, no, more: EYP is a family forever.

Did EYP help you professionally?

Barbara: I am in my position because of my broad view on the world. Part of that is thanks to EYP.

Mila: EYP was at the roots of my current career journey. After I graduated university, I looked for a job that would allow me to apply my NGO experience and my English speaking skills – a significant added value from EYP for sure. That’s how I ended up in an international development agency and decided to stay in this field.

EYP helped me shape many soft skills that I still use in my professional and personal life. For instance, the more clear-cut professional aptitudes like project management, people management, organizational skills, but also interpersonal skills like listening to others, respecting opinions different from your own, the value of teamwork… I know that many people value the public speaking skills that they acquired at EYP sessions. But to be honest, I was always nervous about that, and still am!

Do you have a message for young Europeans?

Barbara: Enjoy EYP and learn the most out of this fantastic experience which will mark you in who you are or will become…

Mila: With the rise of populism and nationalism along with radicalism that is typical of young people, it’s easy to fall into thinking that might be destructive rather than constructive. I urge young Europeans to think critically about their realities, learn from their own mistakes and from the mistakes of others, to take a habit of examining your opinions once in a while and to be okay with changing them when you realize that you are wrong. Choose constructive actions over destructive ones, such as be inclusive rather than distrimative, look for the good in people rather than focusing on their faults, choose unity over separatism… And always, always fact-check your information sources!

Join the EYP Alumni Facebook group to reconnect with old friends and get updates on future reunions.