"Back to school" is a recent initiative launched by the EU to reach out to youngsters. The idea is that people working for the EU institutions go back to their high schools for a day and talk about their experience working in a multicultural and multilingual environment. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take part in the project and go back to my alma mater in Békéscsaba, Hungary to do this. Here are ten things I learned by going back to school.
#1 Teenagers are a difficult audience to talk to. They are curious but impatient. Once you lose their attention, it is almost impossible to get it back and they don't pretend that they are listening when they are not.
#2 On the other hand, they can really appreciate if you are interesting.
#3 So while pointing out that the EP takes part in decision-making, going into details about the co-decision procedure is not advisable to say the least.
#4 Don't lecture, interact. Putting questions randomly to pupils is a great way to keep them on their guards. You will be surprised how much they actually know.
#5 Celebrities sell. I showed some slides with photos of famous people visiting the EP, since it is an open place and a forum for debate. In almost all classes girls cried out loud the name of Hugh Grant in unison when they saw him. (In one class it was a boy.) Bono was widely recognized as well. However, my audience fell silent when I asked if they knew the man with glasses shaking hands with the rock star. For those who are wondering: Hugh Grant was talking about media freedom, Bono about the importance of development aid in the EP.
#6 Personal stories work. I also talked about my Erasmus experience in Leuven that proved to be a turning point in many ways for me. I also encouraged my audience to look out for exchange programmes once they go to university. It's a pity though that lately one can only read about fiscal problems threatening the future of the programme, which is probably the best long term investment for Europe to connect people across borders.
#7 The aim of the "Back to school" initiative cannot be to depict the EP or the EU as masters of the universe.
#8 But it is a good way to make pupils curious about current affairs, languages, cultures or at least the EP's Facebook page.
#9 As a result, hopefully many of them will go and vote in the next EP elections in 2014.
#10 Teachers can see everything. I remember that we used to fight for seats in the back row of the classroom, just to be out of sight of the teacher. What a naive idea! Standing where my teachers used to, I could perfectly see all attempts to fiddle with smartphones under the desk in the back rows.