My name is Ervan – Ervan M Wirawan – an information technology (IT) student in my last semester at a private university in Yogyakarta. Being an IT engineer has been my dream since high school.I’m also working remotely as a UI/UX designer for mobile apps (iOS, Android) and websites in a Canada-based software house. However, photography has been my passion since I was in elementary school and I have also won a photo competition in my hometown.
Long story short, I had the opportunity to participate in the European Development Days 2015 (#EDD15) on June 3-4 in Brussels, Belgium. I won a photography essay competition held by the European Commission that was themed “Our Future is on the Table!” During the #EDD15 event, the winners’ photographs, including mine, were showcased at several locations of the #EDD15 venue and we were required to present our photographs to visitors.
I first found out about the photo competition via Facebook. I can still recall when a friend of mine shared the screenshot announcement of the contest on her timeline around March. Having read the requirements and delving into the “Our Future is on the Table!”theme, I immediately remembered about the photographs I had taken with my Jogja Shutter Camp friends a few weeks ago on how to make jenang rongkop, a traditional sweet sticky snack. Without thinking twice, I quickly sent several photographs, along with a description/essay.
On April 22, 2015, coinciding with my birthday, I received an email notifying me that the photographs I had sent had been selected and that I would be one of nine finalists invited to Brussels, Belgium. At first, I disregarded the email as I had forgotten about sending a photo essay to the competition because I was busy with work, deadlines and revisions for a never-ending thesis. J A few days later, Claire Veale from #EDD15 sent me an email asking me whether I was willing to be travel to Brussels in early June. “Well… this is a great opportunity,” I said to myself. However, tight deadlines had left me confused whether or not to take the opportunity. I could imagine how complicated it would be to apply for a visa and other related stuff, which I believed would be time-consuming.
A representative from the Delegation of the European Union (EU) in Jakarta contacted me and convinced me to take the opportunity. It was the EU Delegation and Claire who assisted me in processing a Schengen visa, which I secured without any hassle.
I landed at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam on June 1 and continued my trip to Brussels by taking a Thalys express train. Claire was already waiting for me at Bruxelles-Midi train station. While heading to the hotel, she explained several things to me, including transportation, accommodations and the agenda during my stay in the city.
The next day, on June 2, I finally met the other finalists, namely Anshul from India, Mustafa from Afghanistan, Luca – who became my roommate – from Italy, Aleksandra from Serbia, Alejandra from Columbia, Huy from Vietnam, Daryll from Trinidad & Tobago and Jean Luc from Rwanda. On the first day of our arrival, we were accompanied by our tour guide named Laurent to enjoy the city of Brussels. I’m not sure why, but it was probably due to our shared common interest that we – the finalists – became good friends effortlessly, joking and laughing together. It was a new and amazing experience for me to interact with new friends from all over the world. Working as a UI/UX designer, I often interact with people from Canada, the United States, Australia, Turkey, Latvia, etc., but it had all been behind a computer monitor over the Internet.
In the evening, we attended a gala dinner with 14 young adults selected as #EDD15 Future Leaders, and I met with more new friends from, among others, South Africa, Morocco, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Kenya, Brazil and Canada. What I admired from the Future Leaders was that despite their young age, they had insight, a vision, mission and solution to overcome issues in their respective countries. Take Lia from Germany for example; she discussed the energy crisis and its solutions.
June 3 was the first day of the #EDD15, which was held at the Tours and Taxi building. State officials from all over the world participated in the event. Honestly, I was not very familiar with any of them. The only speaker I recognised was Melinda Gates – wife of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. Melinda was among the speakers at the opening of the #EDD15. During the event, we – the finalists – were required to present our photographs to the audience. Despite my nerves, I was able to explain all my work to the visitors. At the end of the event, a representative from one of the #EDD15 sponsors surprised each of us with a gift, a DSLR camera! J
The second day of the #EDD15 was a little more relaxing than the first day. Some of us chose to join panels with our friends from the Future Leaders to discuss specific themes, which they had previously raised together with representatives from EU Member States and journalists. Some enjoyed cultural performances held at one of the #EDD2015 stages. For the photo competition finalists, the event ended with the announcement of the winner, who will participate in a future expo held in Milan in October. Aleksandra Kostic from Serbia won with the majority of votes. Well, I’m not disappointed at all… but going to Milan would have been nice and another whole new experience J
That evening, the entire team and #EDD15 committee, including Claire, held an afterparty at a bar in the heart of Brussels to celebrate the success and mark the closing of the #EDD15, which had taken almost seven months of work from preparation to final execution. All the participants from the photo competition and the Future Leaders joined the party. It’s good to see everyone with their casual outfit just hanging and chilling out… As a Muslim, I actually felt a little awkward seeing everyone consume authentic Belgian beer, renown as the most delicious beer; meanwhile, I chose to simply enjoy a Diet Coke while chatting with the other guests that night.
Nothing really special happened on June 5. We and our friends from the Future Leaders held a de-briefing session, sharing our experiences during the #EDD15. Then, several friends of mine and I chose to visit Atomium and Mini Europe. Some others visited the Green Week event. We held a small farewell party that night. Despite the short encounter, we felt like we had created a strong bond among us and really wished we could spend more time together.
On June 6 at 3 p.m. local time, I departed from the Bruxelles-Central train station and headed to the airport to take a flight back to Jogja.
To end this blog, I would like to thank everyone who contributed their time directly and indirectly to realise the event. It was a really valuable experience for me to have met new friends from all over the world. This amazing opportunity and experience has boosted my desire to spend more time in Europe. I hope to continue my postgraduate studies in Europe after I complete my undergraduate program next year.
For more information, please go to the following links:
- #EDD15 “Our Future is on the Table!” Photo Contest:
- #EDD15 Future Leaders: