One extended weekend in October was an unusual time at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences business campus in Raksila. The campus was the venue for an international student conference, with nearly 100 guests from northern Europe and beyond. Rarely are there so many students occupying the campus after-hours, so what would possibly attract this crowd? It was the Northern European Platform, gathering Erasmus Student Network (ESN) volunteers. Around the clock program included workshops, plenaries, networking and evening program in order to educate participants and to show-off Oulu. Local students and hosting section ESN Oulu were responsible for the practical organising of the conference. Budget for NEP Oulu was 15 000 € and it was made possible by main partners City of Oulu, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, Hotel Cumulus, Sodexo catering, OYY, travel agency Timetravels and Fuchka restaurant.
Bianca Beyer, a PhD-student from University of Oulu, was coordinating volunteers as the Head of Organising Committee. “It was a new challenge for our section to take on such a huge event, but with our pool of really dedicated volunteers, we knew right from the start we can make it happen,” explains Beyer. “We are proud that our section is one of the most active ones in Finland when it comes to variety of events for international students, and we manage to balance well cultural events and merely fun entertainment. Hosting this conference may have been the peak of our achievements. For our active members, this was one of the greatest opportunities to practice their organizational skills in stemming such a big conference.”
In the opening ceremony the participants were introduced to Oulu and its higher education institutions, University of Oulu and Oulu University of Applied Science. Thomas Pappas from ESN international board was impressed with Oulu right from the beginning, as he learned the messaging platform IRC was invented in Oulu and the first GSM-call was made in Oulu. “Anyone lucky enough to attend the Northern European Platform in Oulu managed to visit a place of great potential. Being the Web Project Administrator of ESN and therefore a person close with technology myself, I can say I saw that potential from the beginning,” states Pappas. “I witnessed participants from 8 countries get together in Oulu and by putting aside their differences they exchanged best practices on improving mobility, shared their struggles and experienced the benefits of volunteering. These young people returned home with many new ideas and motivation to help international students under our key principle Students helping Students, and I'm very confident to say once again that this would not be possible without the hard work of ESN Oulu and the support of the city and university of Oulu which they brought together.”
Main topics in the event covered communications, partnership management, team leadership, project coordinating, finance management and event organising. These are skills needed and gained everyday in student associations, but in a border-crossing organisation like ESN they get an international dimension. Erasmus Student Network is present in 39 countries, it has over 500 local sections and over 13 000 volunteers. The mission is to represent international students, promote cultural exchange and provide individuals with professional growth opportunities through volunteering. Training events like NEP are inspiring individuals and empowering the network.
Amongst the participants was also the ESN Oulu delegate, Omar Khalil. He tells about the experience: “As an international student in Oulu I was attracted to the multicultural environment ESN provides. Participating in NEP was an opportunity to get in contact with other people in the same situation as I am and to exchange ideas with them while gaining professional skills.”
ESN Oulu was founded in 2000 and it is run by local student volunteers. They organise events and trips to make sure everyone enjoys their exchange experience in Oulu. ESN Oulu serves students at both universities, Oulu University of Applied Sciences and University of Oulu, in close cooperation with student unions OYY and OSAKO. Learn more or join at esnoulu.org.