MAD for Europe: Here with us today we have Lourdes Fernández, the co-ordinating Director for Cultural Activities in the Department of Youth for the Council of Madrid. We wanted to have this interview as her department actively collaborate on numerous Erasmus+ projects, and we want to better understand their view on the situation of the European Union and its reaction to the HOSTVET project. Good morning Lourdes. Firstly thank you for having us.
L. Fernández: Good morning, thank you.
MAD for Europe: We’ll talk about HOSTVET. This project was approved in 2019 and its aim is to strengthen the role of Europe in different cities by offering opportunities to young people, in particular hosting European students through internships within businesses: How can we take advantage of this and do you think that it is feasible?
L. Fernández: I think that internships for young people within businesses will always be a welcomed opportunity. You would have to present yourself stating your objectives, which are very positive, and above all it’s very important to specify the number of people, the internship time and a little the resources offered by the participating companies, or what they are studying and what they want to do, in order to prepare a schedule to make a proposal. Although the pandemic has restricted the movement of people, we must always work in the long term. It is really good to tell companies about these proposals so that they can organise receiving such volunteers in the future.
MAD for Europe: Overall, this project is focused on internships within the hospitality and tourism industries. Do you think that, with the pandemic, it is easy for them to work in these sectors?
L. Fernández: In the world of hospitality in Madrid, I think it must be very complicated and that many employees are on furlough. Many restaurants have closed and some only offer take away food service, so it is currently a bit difficult. Offering them this option when they are in such a bad place is somewhat complicated. Even the owners go to great lengths to keep their workers, and many times they cannot. In tourism I think it is different because there are more options. In many cases it is outdoors, it can be small groups, held in museums or tourist centres, conferences can be held virtually, etc. It would always be a good thing, because since the groups cannot be very numerous, workers to help support this are needed. Tourism I see as a way through, which we all want to enjoy and distract ourselves with in these times.
MAD for Europe: What is Madrid’s commitment to European projects and how does the City Council invest in European funds? What is the relationship that Madrid City Council has with Erasmus +? Do you collaborate with many projects? What types?
L. Fernández: From Madrid City Council, we collaborate on numerous projects in the Centro Europa Joven Madrid (Madrid’s European Centre for Youth), with the European Solidarity Corps and we also have the XARXA network (XARXA is a European association that brings together 33 cities in 15 European countries with the aim of promoting and enhancing the internationalisation of students, teachers and vocational training graduates. The network was created in 1999 and Barcelona has run its Secretariat since its foundation.). We are absolutely involved especially with Erasmus + and with the volunteers they bring to the centre. Right now our biggest problem is the pandemic, as the volunteers that we have had in this period have not been able to enjoy the experience one hundred percent. They have participated in all the activities in a very active and positive way, but whilst being confined. We have met with them weekly but it has been difficult, although there has always been direct communication with them, as the City Council wants to have direct communication with Europe and the participants who come. Some years we receive up to 9 volunteers from different European countries, although five have come this year. It is very enriching for them and for Madrid. The experience is fantastic. It is wonderful to see how they arrive without knowing Spanish very well and leave speaking the language perfectly.
MAD for Europe: What obstacles do you see in achieving a greater “europeanization” of Madrid and Europe?
L. Fernández: I don’t see any. I have been working here for 10 year and each year many European volunteers come through and my experience has been very positive both on a personal and professional level. Meeting people from other countries is very enriching. Sharing what we know about our city is a very good thing, and you also learn a lot from them. We really enjoy this involvement in European projects, and thanks to all the team in Europa Joven, this is also possible thanks to the follow-up that is done in each project.
MAD for Europe: We have already collaborated on numerous occasions with this youth centre, how can we get the City Council to participate in this project?
L. Fernández: It would be more difficult because our department has an external contract that carries out all of that, so I don’t know to what extent we could collaborate by facilitating companies. If we hire participants, yes, but since we don’t, we can collaborate whenever you want with the assignment of spaces to carry out the activities you do, interviews, etc. As you know, we have always been willing to give you these spaces for any European project and we are happy to help in whatever way.
MAD for Europe: What do you think is the best method to convince Madrid companies that including participants from outside of Spain in their entities is a great opportunity?
L. Fernández: A good formula would be to prepare a cover letter, it always opens doors, or an introductory video of what is offered. I believe that companies are always open, but not calling them because it is a colder method. You have to prepare a good letter, bring it in person, and in some cases go with a contact as this will guarantee that you are trustworthy. If you call a company directly and tell them about the project, many times they will not understand it because it is something new, and they may not trust it and it becomes very difficult. It is much better through contacts and if you get a direct email address, send them the information with a cover letter. It can be a good method and once you have everything, you can send them a very short video explaining what can be done.
A positive way forward could be to get contacts from freelancers, since most of the time they need help, and cooperating on projects like this will be something very positive.
MAD for Europe: Within the City Council, are these types of opportunities offered to young Europeans?
L. Fernández: We do not receive interns because at the centre we do not have the infrastructure to give them work but interns will always be welcome. We cannot offer them the attention they need, since we have volunteers, groups, entities, etc. but we offer the opportunity to young people who do a European volunteer or activities related to Erasmus +, and we collaborate in any activity very happy and we always have.
MAD for Europe: Thank you very much for your time and we will keep you updated on the progress of the HOSTVET project.
L. Fernández: Thank you very much, it is always a pleasure.