Three years ago, Theo Whitwill rather inadvertently joined the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Olten. In 2017, he was elected president of ESN Switzerland. In this interview, he shares his learnings and experiences.
“Enrichment of society through international students” is the vision statement of the Erasmus Student Network, the world’s second-largest student-run organization. For Theo Whitwill, internationalisation of students is more than mere words. In addition to his position at the International Office of the FHNW School of Business, July 2017 will see him become president of ESN Switzerland.
Theo, how did you get started at ESN?
I really jumped in at the deep end three years ago. I had some experience, since I spent a semester abroad in Hong Kong, but I was not familiar with ESN. When I was asked to join ESN Olten, I immediately said yes. But I had no idea what I was getting into.
Why did you nevertheless say yes right away?
From my time as an exchange student in Hong Kong, I knew how important a strong and welcoming international student organisation can be when you arrive in a foreign country and at a new school. And I knew that ESN offered a unique opportunity that I did not want to miss. When I got started and was involved in organising events, my interest grew. Then when I attended my first national event, the National Platform in Zurich, I was hooked.
Theo is looking forward to his presidency (photo: FHNW).
What drives your enthusiasm for ESN?
The people are simply phenomenal! When ESN people meet, you are sure to have a great time. Although our members come from different countries and cultures, there is a common spirit. Everyone is willing to commit and give that little bit extra, despite having more than enough to do already. It’s incomparable.
Naturally, the social aspect is very important. Aside from that, why would you recommend joining ESN?
At ESN, you will learn things that are not part of your study course, like people skills. You can become part of a great international community that will last a lifetime. Also, the kind of volunteer work we do builds character. For instance, I have learned how to say no when the circumstances demand it, even if it’s not always easy or pleasant.
What are your goals as president of ESN Switzerland?
Of course, the whole board has goals that we pursue together. We want to strengthen the interdisciplinary aspect of the network and our collaboration with the universities. My main job is to make sure my board members can achieve their goals by supporting and motivating them and solving problems along the way. My personal goal is for ESN Switzerland to finally have an own song. Whenever the national sections meet, every delegation has a song they will sing, except us. I hope this will change during my term as president!