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Shaping the Sustainable European University

Students of Spanish, Rachel Weller and Gabriel Vargas, talk to us about their involvement in the second Una Europa Student Congress.

Gabriel and Rachel in Madrid
Gabriel (l) and Rachel (r) at the Una Europa congress in Madrid

Una Europa is a community of eight research universities who are working together to shape the idea of a European ‘University of the Future’.

To date, the alliance has held two Student Congresses – the first (February 2021) looking at what the University of the Future could be, and the second (October 2021) focusing on the sustainable university.

Rachel Weller, a final year Spanish and Classics student, has attended both congresses. She was so inspired by the first that she emailed the Una Europa Student Board to get more involved and was invited to help organise and host the October event.

Gabriel Vargas, who is also in his final year of a joint honours Spanish degree (with Politics), was one of only six other University of Edinburgh students to be offered an in-person place at the second congress in Madrid which most people attended remotely.

Bilingualism in action

Having discovered Una Europa through an email from our department of European Languages and Cultures, Rachel collaborated with other Una Europa students to organise three of the sessions at the sustainability congress and host the event at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM).

As well as introducing both days of the congress, her tasks included designing a presentation, liaising with guest speakers, and figuring out to how to run breakout rooms on a hybrid basis.

Asked in what ways the congress added to her experience of studying languages, she says “It was interesting to be studying an honours course in bilingualism at the same time as working with a variety of people who were speaking their non-native language to organise everything. This was especially present on the day as many people, not just from Complutense (the host university), spoke Spanish! Therefore, it was very good to see the code switching between Spanish and English taking place – especially as someone fortunate enough to understand both.”  

She adds "It was also a great opportunity to be involved in an international opportunity despite my Year Abroad being cancelled (due to COVID travel restrictions in 2020), especially as this was my first time visiting Spain. UCM was the university I should have gone to, so it was bittersweet.”

The benefits of language learning

Like Rachel, Gabriel found out about Una Europa through an email from the University of Edinburgh, which is one of the alliance’s eight founding members.

Initially drawn to the congress because it was being held in Madrid, he started to learn more about Una Europa and became interested and excited about the community’s potential, which helped when he applied for a place through a very competitive process.

Speaking about the event, Gabriel says “What I enjoyed most was the chance to meet and network with students from many different universities around Europe, all with common interests. While the congress was carried out in English, during networking periods and meals together we were exposed to lots of different languages which was fascinating.”

“I got to practise plenty of Spanish with students from the UCM, and even practised some French with students from the Sorbonne Université which I hadn’t spoken since my A Levels! It was a unique opportunity which really showed me the benefits that language learning can bring. I am very grateful for it and would encourage other students to apply for future Una Europa student congresses”.

Get involved in Una Europa

Are you interested in studying European Languages and Cultures at Edinburgh?

We offer one of the widest range of languages of any UK university, including eight of the languages of the European Union. We also offer an extensive range of joint degrees, for example, two languages, or a language with another humanities subject. We are unique in Scotland in offering students a full academic year abroad within the four-year honours programme, regardless of whether you spend the year studying or working. Opportunities to build professional skills include an ambassador programme which involves outreach with schools and communities.

Find out more about European Languages and Cultures at Edinburgh

Related links

The University and Europe