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Meeting our chapters up-close: Sophie’s Travelling Journal

Over the years, we as a society have taken up a more digital approach to life, with the internet allowing us to bridge the longest distances across the globe with relative ease and connecting people like never before. From simply connecting with peers thousands of kilometers apart to hosting large online events welcoming oikees from the whole community: the past two years allowed us to foster more inclusive and easy communication within our network. It drew the community closer and opened up new possibilities. However, it became clearly visible that the confinement to online meet-ups for over a year also meant drawbacks to some extent, and surely was not equal to in-person connections.

For this reason, Sophie, the Co-president of oikos Interational, found herself on the road as the summer began and the travel restrictions loosened, visiting oikos chapters around Europe. With determination and good spirits, she met up with active and alumni oikos members, getting to know our chapters from the inside, including their current highlights and challenges. From this exciting journey, Sophie returned with valuable insight into the needs of our community, along with new ideas to be shaped into plans for the future! Get enchanted by her journey and learn more about our community through her travel journal!

July 1, 2021 – Brussels: The start of a colourful summer

Dear travelling journal,

Summer is here and it will be the summer of oikos! For years we have been talking about visiting our chapters and experiencing what is happening on the ground – and for years we couldn’t put our focus and resources there. Now is the time, and I find myself on the road to see some of our oikees in their natural environment. Beyond this: I cannot even imagine what will happen once we get back together for our two onsite meetings at the end of July and August. I am excited and curious about what I will hear and learn!

July 5, 2021 – Copenhagen: Coping with a rotten system & the joy of being together

Copenhagen welcomed me as a first stop on my journey.
I met two generations of oikees for a little city walk which flowed into a beautiful Indian dinner at the place of the adjourning president of the local chapter. Over dhaal and chapati, we started exploring the current developments at the international and chapter level – and all were impressed by the similarities and overlaps we could identify. It became clear that what we share is more than the name of our organization – and that we have to increase our communication to exchange more often on our learnings. Kata, one of last year’s board members shared about their struggles in building the team in covid times, the importance of the human factor and the motivation the new regulations might bring now. We all agreed that we can learn a lot from the time and that the challenges we faced should be normalized. Beyond this, the chapter is currently facing a very tough situation, as their business school might be forced to hold all courses in Danish instead of English in close future. This would mean a de-internationalization and therefore a big break for admitting European students without fees. With a reach to a mainly international audience in the local chapter, we were sitting together and started realizing the depth of the impact on the work of oikos Copenhagen. Rethinking the membership, the target group, the handover processes, and even the mother university moved into tangible distance at that moment – a scary and uncertain future. Looking into M’s eyes, as the incoming chapter president, I knew that she already had accepted the challenge before we sketched out the potential impacts. The strategy was written and signed by the government, everyone, including the board of the university, their favorite professors and supporters were sitting in the same uncertainty and many might have to leave. Not even a petition of faculty from across the country had any influence and many students would have to change their plans in the midst of their studies. ‘Now, what can we do other than venture out to other universities and at the same time focus on strengthening the Danish core of the chapter?’ What a strong person, what a strong support network, what a strong chapter! I left with the promise of being in their back with the whole oikos International team, and I am curious to learn how the group turns the challenge into the next big opportunity.

July 13, 2021 – Paderborn: The art of Sustainability

After my first stop in Copenhagen, I jumped on a train and was warmly welcomed in the city of Paderborn. What is important to know here is that the Pader is the river that lends its name to the place – and supposedly 90% of the local businesses around. Right after arriving, I got to see the surroundings with my friend and co-oikee D who I met over 3 years ago in our leadership program LEAP. What a journey we have been on ever since! 

In the evening, the local oikos chapter hosted one of their monthly meet ups and I got to learn about their current projects – an impressive portfolio of workshop series, special events and a podcast that truly made me think back of my own time in Reutlingen, where I did my undergrad and joined oikos over 7 years ago. So many parallels! From business students in their master studies to physics undergrads and engineering doctorates, Paderborn is one of our chapters that reflects the transdisciplinarity of the whole network. The meeting was joined by a collaborating artist who introduced a creative project and invited us to get our hands on. In the next minute, we found ourselves sketching designs for a new oikos t-shirt for the chapter – fun! From oi-Kois to tree heads and treehouses, the group came up with amazing ideas which started to unfold as we merged them together. What stood out: we all could connect to one of the meanings of the Greek word oikos, which in German can also be translated into ‘Geborgenheit’, a beautiful word that tells of the warm, cozy feeling of belonging. Like a true home. I cannot wait to see the final results! Being motivated by the art, we started dancing and closed the night in celebration of the great work of the chapter. GRATITUDE!

July 17, 2021 – Bayreuth: Where past meets the future

After leaving Paderborn, my journey took me to another place that is deeply linked to my LEAP and oikos experience, given the many people that have been crossing my way as members of the always very considerate, reliable and proactive chapter. Bayreuth, what a picturesque Bavarian city, in a way a world on its own, with a lot of history and heritage, including some shady stories of privilege and racism that are not heard that often, but that found space over the wonderful conversations I had with my host and friend P. The soon-to-be doctorate always surprises and inspires me with her incredibly holistic, and detailed view of the world. We both had grown so much over the past years, becoming more vulnerable but also more clear in our perspectives and how we aim to act in the world – and we both felt that one of the important points in our journey was our leadership program LEAP, and how it opened us for our further commitment in the organization & beyond.

The other day, we met with current and future oikees in a beer garden and I felt a little unsure in the beginning: how should I introduce myself, what to say that is not too much or overwhelming, what is expected? After a short while of orienting, the conversations started flowing and I heard more about the emotionally challenging and, due to covid, incredibly difficult situation of the chapter. After weeks of looking for successors, the board finally concluded that they had to serve another term if they wanted the chapter to remain alive. Struggles in communication, the decreasing motivation and sensibility of acting online at this stage of the pandemic and the uncertainty of coming back to a more physical agenda made it hard for the people on the ground to persist and to find new, committed members for the association, even if there would be many actions that could be taken. ‘Wait, what is the positive impact rating?’ one of the new members asked suddenly. After a while, it crystallized that we might have found a new project lead, and that there is a lot of support we can offer from the international side to make it happen. The mood of the meeting shifted to one of optimism, and I encouraged the group to work in babysteps. All chapters are sitting with similar problems right now, and they do what they can. But that is no reason to lose hope or feel stuck. The night ended with the oldest oikees in the group gathering for a last drink and some further reflections and insights into where we are in our lives and where we are heading. This personal connection is so precious to our work, and to all that is happening around it. How lucky I am to grant space to it, and how inspired to take this with me for my next steps.

July 21, 2021 – Munich: Shift of perspective

Time for a quick shift of context & perspective. In Munich, I visited a dear friend of mine who recently opened a restaurant/experiential learning space in the city center. Accompanying her for 2 days was a big gift. Of course, as oikees can be found everywhere in the world, I could make use of this opportunity to meet one of our Alumni. S, who I met one year ago at the oikos Unconference, shared about his great work & progress in the world of medical technology. Fascinating, I am so grateful to see how diverse our network is and how interested our alumni are in learning and supporting our work. A field where we definitely can grow in the near future, there are many of us out there, so many empowering, rich stories to be shared.

July 26, 2021 – Leysin: Taking another LEAP

10 days in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by beautiful people and nature, and the intensity of a personal development journey that has started for me in early 2017. Hosting the hybrid version with onsite, online and connective sessions in parallel, keeping an overview and guarding the depth and safety of the experience for our participants and coaches, while feeling deeply nudged by the questions of the program itself – that was a lot. How great to have the support and heartfelt learning commitment of a whole team of hosts, and how amazing to see us making big steps ahead! Together, we made this week an incredibly deep, spacious, relational journey which will have an influence on all of our lives.

Read more about the LEAP Mid-Term Meeting experience.

August 16, 2021 – Belgrade: Hospitality, hurdles and hope

New week, new country, new city. These days, I am visiting Belgrade together with my fellow board member and dear friend D. We both found ourselves still sitting in the intensity of the LEAP, and with the need of processing all that had happened. How great to make space for that, in the context of learning more about her world, and getting to know her amazing family. I am so thankful for the hospitality I experience here, and I am reminded of my love to explore new cultures and understand what is lying below the stereotypes, behaviors and habits. The city is buzzing with cultural heritage, hidden beauty and lively people enjoying their summers. Meeting oikees here means to explore the space together, and the pride of my Serbian friends is infectious, it makes me love the place beyond my own judgement. Also here, the topics of finding new committed members, and finding supportive voices in the university, are some of the most pressing ones. What stands out is not the role of covid, but the culture where extra-curricular commitment is valued even less than in other places, like for example Germany. Also the nature of commitment the chapter envisions: Do you just want to have a name for your CV, or do you really care? Great conversations! This week was also a special week for the whole community: we elected our first-ever co-president who came out to be D herself. How glad I am that I could be here, to celebrate with her, and to set a tone for the journey ahead!

August 18, 2021 – Vienna: Vibes of a city

End of August is approaching and I realize that I have already been on the road for quite a while. I realize how I crave space to rest, or just space to process and be with myself for a little and just as I call for it, I find it – in beautiful Vienna! It all started with a moment of reunion over a rich breakfast with K, a member of my own LEAP peer group who turned into one of my best friends over the years. I also realize how much I have achieved in my other oikos roles in all of this time while travelling, next to the relationship-ing. And that this is more than enough, other than what the monkey mind tried to tell me over the past days. I find myself being hosted by M, who I met already in Switzerland as she helped us as a host for the LEAP, and we start exploring that we share several interests beyond oikos. How important it feels to be seen beyond this work, how much richer & how much more colorful it becomes when we bring in more of our identities and do trust that there is space for it all. I meet Me and L who are currently active in the chapter, and together we dream a little about all that will become possible now that the regulations allow it. ‘Let’s not think about what might happen later this year’. I agree. I cannot even imagine how my oikos experience would have looked without the physical element on campus – and I am incredibly proud about how the community navigates through all of these challenges and grows beyond. The time in Vienna ends with some live music & good laughs on a beautiful summer night.

August 20, 2021 – Graz: Thriving in diversity

And yet another beautiful summer night and so many lovely hosts! I am meeting oikos Graz at one of the most prominent viewpoints of the city – and the insights I get into the chapter life are just as stunning as the view. oikos Graz for me really is a chapter with a heart, the culture is one of true collaboration & friendship – and the results of this are outstanding and awe-inspiring. What amazes me is the diversity of the group, and the mixture of newbies and alumni that come together that night. It really feels like new connections are weaving and it is so nice to be invited into the space & share a little about our work and how I relate to the aspirations & challenges the oikees in Graz sit with. On a walk on my last day, my host S suddenly says ‘Now I understand more about what oikos is about. There are still several open questions – but at least I got a feeling & sense of it.’ Wow, what a gift to hear that and what a confirmation that this journey is just the right thing to do in this time after the pandemic hit all of us like a wave. And so nice to see new people joining the community wherever I turn! We are growing, individual by individual, and together at our own pace. This evening, I found myself on a night train from Graz to Turin, together with Mi, the current chapter president. We both feel like excited kids entering the train to our next adventure, being sure of only one thing: it will be a shared one & we will get to know each other and many more inspiring people over the upcoming days in Italy.

August 25, 2021 – Sestriere: oikos Camp Magic

Welcome to oikos CAMP! Do you know the moment when a vision becomes a reality? I am so happy to witness this in the Italian Alps, surrounded by oikees and friends of the community from all across Europe. I did not know what to expect in this place, but the energy the different groups bring, and the colorful ideas and boiling motivation of everyone, make me feel home and inspired in no time. I appreciate the spaciousness of the program, and the considerate way the agenda was built to address any concerns and wishes when it comes to the context we were meeting in. The camp is very different to the LEAP, there is more agency with the groups. And yet the moments where we all get together are full of joy and connection, and the cross-pollination between the projects is fascinating. How lucky I am to have only one role this week: hopping from team to team like a bumble bee and spreading the magic together with my transversal team, the so-called genies. What I really love about this: We thrive in our constellation, feed from our diverse strengths and inspire the teams based on thorough and honest observation and exchange. If I could choose to work like this forever, I would straight jump into it. Maybe I can offer my genie services at some stage in the future, who knows? The week flies by – and the outcomes of the work of all participants are stunning! How sweet to already see where we will meet again in the future, at the oikos Conference. I am sure that the threads of the projects will keep evolving until that point.

August 28, 2021 – Genoa: Some last takeaways

Learning can be so much fun, and so relaxing indeed! My summer is winding down and as I foresaw the intensity of the past week, I decided to schedule some quality time for myself in my calendar. Good food, the sea and just some time passing by as I walk up and down the lanes of beautiful Genova. One morning I wake & see pictures of other oikees having a good time in the region. What a great feeling it is to enjoy solitude, knowing that one is in the end part of something bigger and appreciated for just that: belonging to oneself. I take a deep breath, grab one last scoop of ice and find myself on a 16-h ride back to Brussels, dwelling in Italian Indie Pop as I observe this chapter closing.

September 1, 2021 – Brussels: Coming back home

What a blast of a summer! What a beautiful and intense time out there on the road. I still cannot believe that I am back, only 200m from where I started 3 months ago, in a new flat and with so many new stories. All of this is hard to grasp. I am so happy about this, about arriving and yet I see that I will need patience as my world will keep spinning, probably just as fast as over the past weeks. I feel that I will be asked about the themes and patterns that I see and that will need to be turned into action – but for now I want to just let it simmer. The action will emerge when we are ready for it. Breathing into this new chapter, curious what Autumn holds for me and how the learnings will show up and influence our next steps.