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ESN STARland Portugal and its inspiring presidents

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As ESNers, we know ESN is a great organisation where you can learn a lot, have fun, meet people, and develop yourself. But what kind of an impact can it really have on your life? Who better to ask than the current and two former presidents of the 2016 recipient of the STARland award, ESN Portugal.

So who do we have here?

João Costa, 29 years old, former President of ESN Minho and former International Coordinator of the ExchangeAbility project team, currently President of ESN Portugal and Liaison Officer towards the European Students Union (ESU), trainee at the European Commission, PR and Communication Manager at the Trainees’ Committee.

Bruno Nunes, 24 years old, former president of ESN Aveiro and ESN Portugal, intern at the Portuguese International Internship Programme in Brasil.

Daniel Varela, 29 years old, former President of ESN Aveiro and ESN Portugal, now an engineer at a private company.

How did you start your ESN adventure?

João: My adventure in ESN started with a challenge from someone well-known in the network, the National Representative of ESN Portugal - João Pinto. During that period, I was in AIESEC Minho, but as expected, after a while, I had to choose between the two organisations. Although I was in a leadership position of AIESEC, I felt “more at home” with ESN Minho.

Bruno: My first contact with ESN was through a friend who had already participated in the Erasmus programme. So in one conversation he told me that he was going to have a dinner with some international students and of course I asked him how he knew so many international people in Portugal even after his Erasmus. So the first time I heard about ESN was because of the buddy programme. I decided to join ESN before my Erasmus experience, just to have the first contact with international students before going abroad.

Daniel: It started when I was in Aveiro when a friend of mine had the idea to start an ESN section in my home university and he knew me and thought that it would interest me and  that’s how I ended up founding the section in my home university. I was very active in the student associations’ scene: I was a member of the TUNA - the university band - and I was also on the university TV , so I had the right connections and I had experience in starting projects so my friend asked for my help, and it started like that but then I got more and more involved and I wanted to organise the projects for myself.

credit: Filipe Matos

How long did you stay engaged in the work of ESN? What did you do?

João: To be honest, the question is: What haven’t I done (laughs). My first task was being the responsible for the Erasmus in Schools project and some other ones related with the very first contact Erasmus students had when going abroad – finding a home. Then after one month I was invited to the board. While I was busy with the section I was also ExchangeAbility coordinator, which was in fact my first contact with coordinating an international team, after being Vice Main Organiser of SWEP (South Western European Platform) Minho 2014. Since August, I’ve been the president of ESN Portugal, and since January, the Liaison Officer towards the European Students Union.

ESN is the organisation I’ve stayed in the longest for the simple reason that it has been the one that I have given as much to as I have received from.

ESN is very broad. Projects that go from my area of studies - Biomedical Engineering, till broader and complex research projects. ESN has allowed me to see that we have a whole world where we are connected and where we can put everything in practice with any kind of academic background.

Bruno: When I joined ESN Aveiro, I was responsible for organising trips and sports events for the exchange students. Six months as local member passed really fast and then suddenly the president of ESN Aveiro was motivating and challenging me to assume the charge of the organisation. Without thinking twice, I accepted the idea and I became president of ESN Aveiro for one year. Meanwhile, the president of ESN Portugal at that time, was the previous President of ESN Aveiro and by the end of the year he was motivating me to apply as president of the National level and embrace a new challenge. One busy year was enough to understand the dimension of our network and I wanted to be more involved in the international level too, so that’s how I arrived at the National level.

Daniel: I stayed in ESN actively for 3.5 years and did a bit of everything. First as President of my section, then on the National Board, as NR (1st mandate) and President (2nd mandate). Both in the local and in the national level, my main tasks had to do with building the foundations for the organisation.

What are the most crucial skills you developed through ESN, how are they useful now?

João: ESN not only provided me that “extra glitter” on my CV with what we so like to call the “added value”, but definitely allowed me to achieve the goal of getting into an European Institution where I am working right now. The funny thing is that this goal was even discovered through my involvement in ESN. I saw beyond the goal I had of being a teacher at the University, a researcher, a “lab rat” into someone that can aim for more. Aim for something that actually picks the knowledge gained from that work experience into (trying) to change people’s lives in a more work related environment.

Bruno: Companies, now more than ever, are looking for someone with international experience. They want someone proactive, resilient, responsible, oriented by results and able to work in a multicultural or stressed environment. I would say that ESN is one of the best organisations to create your profile in these terms.

Daniel: ESN gave me a lot of skills. 90% of the time I work remotely with people from all over the world. India, Canada, USA.

The skills given to me by ESN are even more useful now that I’m trying to ramp up a business. When you start something, you need to be a bit of everything, you need to build a website, then you need to do Human Resources, then Marketing then Communication and in ESN I went through all of that..

So in that way it helped me a lot for sure.

credit: Patrick Doodt

Has ESN changed the way you see things now?

João: I changed so much myself. In terms of soft skills, strategic thinking and all qualities related to it that show the importance that details have on the big picture and the impact that different backgrounds have on different activities. I had to learn how to react in very stressful situations, in multitasking, well not only multitasking, but in multitasking while multitasking.

Bruno: I would say you become more open to accept and learn how to respect others and their cultures.  Nowadays, when I’m visiting another country I always try to find out the reason for people’s behavior and of course adapt to their lifestyle. And that was one of the most important things that I’ve learned with ESN, how to respect others and to adapt to a different environment.

Daniel: It made me think of things on a bigger scale. I have a better understanding of how people interact inside organisations, what motivates people. I’ve seen many things while in ESN: friendships that overcame distance, memories that stay, what people can do when they put their minds on it as a group, it’s fascinating to see.

I see that you were in ESN for over 3 years and that during this time you passed by the local level and national level and with that of course you created many valuable memories. But if I asked you to choose one, which would it be?

João: Two that are one. The signing of the contract that legally created ESN Minho and being on stage getting the award for the STARlight. Those are the ones that I hold dearest.

Bruno: Well, it is hard to select one because I have so many valuable memories but here are two. The first one happened during one edition of our Erasmus National Meeting (ENM). It was really difficult to find a team and especially a place to organise the event and therefore we created a new model. The second highlight happened at the AGM when receiving the STAR awards. It was my first year as president and ESN Portugal won the 2nd place of the STARland award – as second best country of the network.

Daniel: There was one particular moment when I felt really, really good. I felt that I had a lot of support. That was during an NP in Aveiro at the end of my mandate as NR, at the time I thought it would be my last NP and there I felt a total support of the sections.

What made you stay for so long in ESN?

Bruno: I think that many people stay longer than planned. In ESN, you can meet people from all fields of expertise, people who have different visions and different ideas so it really helps you to develop yourself with all the lessons learned. In the end you want to leave your mark in the organisation that would make you really proud of all the efforts you spent.

Daniel:  At some point we were driven by the idea of building something very, very big. I used to call ESN our baby, and then we didn´t want to leave the child abandoned until it could walk on its own. The second time that I runned for the national Board, that was the main motivation - I though “I went trough all this trouble to make it more or less ok, so let´s make it stable now”. But also because I had made ESN my life, it was really hard to leave. All the people that I gathered with were from ESN at that moment. Leaving ESN was like leaving my social life.

We strongly encourage everyone to follow the example of these three and be as involved in ESN as possible: it gives you many skills and abilities, friendships and wonderful memories, you get to be a part of something big and important.

This article was co-written by Patricia Gonçalves and the Press Team of ESN Communication Committee