"Lend us your legs!" - that's what Julian Walkowiak and his team at Ride for your Rights! are asking young Europeans to do. On the 3rd of July, they'll be setting off from Novi Sad for a summer road trip with a difference: taking their bike pumps, maps and an enormous supply of pasta, they'll be cycling 4000 km across Europe to St Petersburg. The trip is open to everyone: you can join them for a day, a week or a month. And it's for a good cause: Ride for your Rights! is demanding more student mobility.
E&M: You're about to cycle all the way from Novi Sad to St Petersburg. How do you feel? Nervous?
Julian: I feel hyped, motivated and full of energy, and at the same time a bit sleep deprived and worn out as starting something from scratch is never an easy task. Facing minor troubles beforehand seems to be unavoidable. But that's all part of the game I suppose, and I can't wait to finally pedal across Europe with all others joining the ride. With a great team by my side at all times and a wonderful network of helping hands in all the countries we pass through, my only worry is that we won't want to stop riding after the 4000 km.
E&M: What's the most difficult stretch your trip will be covering?
Generally speaking, the further north we get, the longer our daily stretches will be. But what I fear most are neither long days with a lot of kilometres to kill, nor the hillier stretches from Austria to the south of Poland, but rather the wind. A strong headwind is the biggest enemy and challenge for any cyclist.
E&M: Have you ever done a long trip like this before?
Julian: This trip doubles my previous cycling adventures in terms of time. In the past, I've done a 4 week trip from Austria down to the Black Sea and a 5 week trip around Ireland.
E&M: What will be different this time?
Julian: This time I'll get to share my passion for cycling through unknown landscapes, cities and cultures with more people by my side than just my best friend. Ride for your Rights! means raising our voices in a nonviolent, environmentally friendly way, packed with interesting encounters, people from different backgrounds, and adventures. I am most looking forward to getting to know all the tour participants from various countries and sharing our ideas on all the topics this movement touches upon. Naturally, culture clashes and insignificant conflicts could occur along the way but by the end of the day we will all be sitting on the same bike and we all want the same thing: to have fun, see Europe by bike and ride for a good cause. Plus, long distance cycling is like meditating and makes you appreciate the basics of life again. It will solve all problems by itself.
E&M: Where did the idea of "Ride for your Rights!" come from?
|Image: Andreas Reiterer|
|Taking to the streets: a "critical mass" cycling event in Vienna|
Julian: The idea was born in the Student Council of Campus Europae. I wanted to shed some light on the current situation of student mobility within Europe and highlight the importance of supporting innovative exchange programmes such as Campus Europae. We seem to be forgetting that a large percentage of university graduates will eventually end up in decision making and influential positions in the labour market and society of Europe. Be it in education, politics, arts or economics, anyone working in those fields should have experienced a holistic path of education. Respecting other cultures, languages, mindsets and respecting and living out Europe's core values such as Human Rights and freedom of movement are crucial for constructing a tolerant and young society in Europe.
Needless to say, this principle applies beyond the borders of our continent and I am the last person to be excluding anyone living outside the Union or to be in favour of a political and commercial Babylon in Europe, but we must start somewhere, and I happen to be living and studying within the EU. The sad truth is that even here students are facing many obstacles to unrestricted movement and access to education abroad. This needs to change fast and that is what Ride for your Rights! raises awareness for in the hope of some positive changes in the near future.
E&M: The "Bologna" process was supposed to make it easier for young people to study in foreign countries. What kind of problems are still preventing this?
One of the biggest obstacles students face is getting courses taken abroad recognised at their home universities. One signatory of our Manifesto from Hungary for instance left us the following note: "I could not do study abroad because my home university would not accept the credits I could earn abroad." One friend of mine had to take all the exams twice in one year: once when he was abroad at the host university and once at his sending university when he got back. PRIME 2009 (Problems of Recognition in Making Erasmus), a research project conducted by ESN, shows that only 66% of the students surveyed receive full recognition of their studies.
E&M: So if you could change one thing about student mobility in Europe, what would it be?
I would want to see "European course modular assembly kit" for degrees on offer. A student should have the right to choose freely where and when he or she takes courses as long as the total required amount of ECTS is collected. Dense and predetermined curricular designs bind students to their home institutions and leave no space for learner autonomy.
E&M: You mentioned that you come from within the EU, and Ride for your Rights is focusing on improving EU policies. But this year's odyssey starts and ends outside the EU, in Serbia and Russia.
It was my aim to start and end the trip in non-member states because there we face even bigger challenges. For instance, Serbian students who want to go to Portugal or any other EU member state are not able to get Erasmus grants. Campus Europae cooperates with unis outside the EU - in Ankara, St. Petersburg, Novi Sad...
E&M: You have a "bike of honour" which VIPs get to ride. Who has ridden it so far?
|Image: Andreas Reiterer|
|President Buzek signing the Bike of Honour at the award ceremony of the Charlemagne Youth Prize: Ride for your Rights! was the Austrian winner.|
Julian: So far we had Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, as well as Karlheinz Töchterle, Austrian Minister of Science, MEP Doris Pack, Chair of the Committee for Culture and Education and Germain Dondelinger, Premier Conseiller de Gouvernement Luxembourg. Their signatures on our Bike of Honour prove to me that we are on the right track and that not only students seem to be thinking that something is going terribly wrong in Higher Education politics. We are looking forward to many more riders of honour in all the countries we pass through this summer.
E&M: On your website, you reveal that you love the Lithuanian snack varskes surelis. What else will you be eating and drinking on your trip across Europe?
Julian: The typical cycling trip diet consists of the following: calories, calories and even more calories. We'll be eating them in whatever peculiar and particular form we find them in front of us in all the different countries. However, we are prepared for the worst to come and we are equipped with a camping stove and a gigantic pot which will fill the empty stomaches of all riders. Italian carbohydrate-loaded cuisine for everyone - pasta!
E&M: Tell us about some of the events which will be happening in the cities you'll be passing through.
Julian: During the tour, participants will experience a variety of events ranging from workshops, to concerts, to visits to historical sights, to meetings with politicians, athletes and university rectors, to Sauna evenings in Finland, to sightseeing tours, to parties, to moments of relaxation on the shore of the Baltic Sea... the list is endless.
E&M: Sounds great! Only trouble is, I don't have a bike... What can I do to support you?
Julian: Everyone can show their support of the idea by signing our Manifesto on our website. The more signatures we collect from students, the more pressure we can put on decision making people and institutions after the ride. You also send us other proposals not mentioned in our Manifesto in order to improve the situation for all students in Europe. And of course the usual, like us on Facebook, follow our weblog and spread the word. Find out more here: www.rideforyourrights.org.
You'll be able to follow Julian on his trip in E&M: check our Sixth Sense blog for updates, or to find out where the team is and join it!
Teaser photo: Andreas Reiterer