Most of the happiest moments of my life are born out of either pure luck or fate, whichever you prefer. 

Luck is how I attended the one student council meeting (as an alternate) that chose representatives for the youth town council and ended up with two years of fun and community. Luck is how I saw a random YouTube video about Discover EU, and ended up applying and winning interrail tickets, four days before the deadline. And in tradition, it’s also how I found my university’s Facebook post about the European Student Assembly. 

I’m a global development student in dire need of international experience, and I also love international relations and politics. It seemed too good to be true, to find such an experience when procrastinating finishing group work on a random Tuesday in October. All I had to do was to apply, easy enough, right? 

The European Student Assembly. Photo – Banu Bekirova

What is the European Student Assembly?

The European Student Assembly is a grassroots project that gathers students from all around Europe, to create policy proposals to be implemented in different institutions throughout the EU. The assembly is divided into panels, with two coordinators and about 20 participants. The panels focus on different areas of European politics and issues, and over about a year, participants are expected to do research, create policies, and disseminate them. The 2024 assembly is the 3rd edition of ESA, and from more than 2200 applicants, 251 were chosen, representing more than 50 nationalities. From the 10-12th of April, the assembly was held at the European Parliament, in the heart of Strasbourg. 

The Preparation Phase

I applied as both a coordinator and a participant, and in December I was rejected, as expected from being a coordinator. A disappointment, but not a surprise. After another month of waiting, I got an email declaring my acceptance as a participant in January, and I was over the moon. All participants attended an onboarding session, which after each panel scheduled their future meetings. I was accepted to Panel 9, which aimed at making institutions of higher education more inclusive and a place of opportunities for all. Our preparation phase consisted of our panel being divided into policy areas, where we would do research in smaller groups, to create final policies. I worked on policy areas surrounding students and mental health, and student mobility programs. Through three months we met almost weekly, and we also attended expert meetings and workshops. When April finally arrived, we had created 11 policies, and we were ready to head for Strasbourg to spend three days in the European Parliament.

The ESA experience was incredible. Photo – Alice Soleng

Impostor syndrome and solo travelling

Throughout the online process, I doubted myself, and my acceptance to the assembly regularly. A clear case of impostor syndrome. Most of the participants were both older than me and more educated. It was a mental barrier I had to overcome, to realise that my fewer years on the planet didn’t mean that I did not belong there. I was surrounded by talented people who had accomplished great things, and in the beginning, I felt more threatened instead of taking inspiration as I should have. However, I learned quickly that I had to get over myself, and I’m happy that I did.  Most people on my panel were encouraging and attentive, and I learned a lot from them.

On the 8th of April, I left Kristiansand for my home outside of Bergen, because it was easier to travel from there. Living on 3,5 hours of sleep, I somehow survived both packing, a university presentation, a lecture, and getting to Bergen in one piece. Travelling home is not unfamiliar to me, but I have never left the country alone, and on the 9th I got on a plane, then a bus, and arrived in Strasbourg. All without losing my passport, or forgetting my things somewhere. Although I did miss out on how far away from my hostel the bus would drop me off, and had to walk 2km through an unknown city at 20:00 to get there. 

Photo – Alice Soleng

European Student Assembly 2024

I spent five days in Strasbourg, and I still can’t fathom everything that happened. Walking into the European Parliament on the first day of the assembly felt surreal, and I got a taste of how my future could be, if I decide to continue pursuing development and international relations. On the first day of the assembly, we were welcomed and introduced to the assembly, and we got to work on finalising our policy proposals. My panel came into the assembly with 11 policies, and we had to narrow them down to 8. Three months of work, only to have to remove a policy or merge two, to get to the final 8. It was brutal, and while we agreed on some decisions, others were heavily debated. On the second day, we got to give feedback on other panel’s policies and continue finalising our policies, based on the feedback we received. As the clock ticked closer to 17, on our final panel meeting, we were twisting in our seats. The final hour felt like five minutes, but we submitted it on time, and were ready for the final day. ESA’s main event is voting on everyone’s policies. Seated in the main room, everyone got to either vote in favour, abstain or vote against the policies.  The crowd was electric as the results were revealed, and our hearts were beating as our policies appeared on the screen one by one. Looking around the room to see how people voted, trying to anticipate the result. In the end, all my panel’s policies were adopted and will move into the dissemination phase. An accomplishment we couldn’t be more proud of. Although we didn’t all work on all eight policies, our panel was a team, and the final day of ESA felt like a victory.

Until it was all suddenly over. 

What I learned from leaving

I could have said I left Strasbourg delighted by everything I had gotten to experience, but that’s not the only truth. I was and still am grateful. Almost all of my experiences with ESA were incredible, which made getting on that bus back to Frankfurt Airport awful. Throughout the five days I spent in Strasbourg I learned the horrible realities of travelling. You’re going to meet amazing people, and you’re going to have to say goodbye to them, without knowing when you’ll see them again.

Rewinding to my first night in Strasbourg, I met the people on Panel 9 for the first time, face to face. We ate Flammkuchen at Flam’s, a local restaurant, while nervously trying to find conversation topics. It’s crazy how just a few days later, we were dreading saying goodbye. When you spend almost every hour with a group of people, you will get to know them well, which is what we did. Throughout five days we made nicknames for each other, got inside jokes, and started planning our future reunion. We celebrated when our policies were approved, and woke up early to say goodbye to everyone. On our final day in Strasbourg, we said goodbye to everyone one by one. Panel 9 holds a special place in my heart, and I will never forget adventuring Strasbourg with you. 

On a final note

I would like to encourage all of you to please go for the things you want. When I applied for ESA 2024, I thought I would be rejected, but I still applied just in case. And I got an amazing experience out of it. Attending ESA was both fun and enlightening. I got to do a lot of networking, learn from students from all over Europe, and create policy proposals we are proud of. There are many events and opportunities like ESA available for students, but most of us don’t know about them. Again, I wouldn’t have known about ESA if it weren’t for a Facebook post. Not only did I get relevant work experience from ESA, but I also got great friends and fond memories. ESA’s also an annual thing, so you could go next year if you want. My point is: when you see an opportunity and think, maybe you should go for it. 


Go for it.  



Header image by Alice Soleng


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1 Comment

  1. How nicely shared. Kudos to the writer. ⭐️

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