an Alumni fairy-tale

On the web stories are usually introduced with a climax, to catch people’s attention. This is not one of these stories, because the story starts a cold September night around one o’clock.

The alarm goes off and I tiredly roll out of my bed, after only a few hours of sleep. My train leaves at 1:51 so I have to hurry up to get to the station in time. My luggage is packed and stands ready for my departure, and all I need is simply to brush my teeth’s before I get a lift to the station. It is completely dark outside and the incentive for getting up that early can seem quite close to zero, at the time, but I deeply inside myself know that all the trouble will be worth it. I have four hours in the train before I reach Copenhagen airport and I together with a limited number of other passengers, spend the time sleeping rather badly in seats definitely not designed for anything else but sitting.

Copenhagen airport is so nicely quite in the early morning hours, and security goes smoothly. It is finally time for me to get some breakfast with a nice view to the gate of my departure, and within an hour, I am on my way to Vilnius, Lithuania. The flight only last for two hours and I finally stand at my final destination. So far I had felt safe on the whole trip, but I still needed to take a taxi to the hotel, which should turn out to be the most insanely and life threatening part of the whole journey. I made it to the hotel and after enjoying lunch in the hotel’s restaurant, I had the chance for a few hours of sleep before meeting with the rest of the conference participants.

“A STRANGER STANDS IN MY BEDROOM” and I wake up very suddenly. I was a bit surprised in the moment. However I knew that I would have a roommate during the conference, so all I did was to give a bad first impression, which I then had to make up for during the conference.

At 19:00 in the hotel lobby the participants are gathered, and in the instant I entered the lobby I knew why I had travelled so long to get here. Why I had slept so badly and why I almost had got killed by a crazy taxi driver. The lobby was filled with inspirational minds that were here to be serious, to learn, and to have fun. As it was my third conference there were several familiar faces from previous conferences, and I had the feeling of reunion with lost relatives. It felt so great to meet these energized people again and it felt so good to see that a whole new bunch of people had joined the network for participation in the conference.

President of JA-YE Alumni Europe Brian Gjerstrup
President of JA-YE Alumni Europe Brian Gjerstrup

What characterizes the JA-YE European Alumni Conferences is a highly challenging schedule and we shortly after were driven by bus to the ISM University. ISM University is a highly respected university in Lithuania and the surroundings of the university was going to be the central base of the conference.

Arriving at the university we were directed to the top floor where our first lecture Darius Bagdziunas, founder of the Creative Digital Agency “Gaumina” already were waiting for us, ready to talk about releasing the inner Creativity. The lecture was very interesting and even though I was tired after a long trip, I became so energized in the environment. Some of the main points from the presentation were that: “Those who want it the most are those who end up getting it”. Simply because of the competitive environment we all are a part of.

After the presentation it was time to get to meet each other, and a great icebreaking game was introduced. The game deserves an explanation. Every person was equipped with a piece of paper taped to the back of the person and a pen in the hand. Now all participants were browsing around and said hallo to each other, where afterwards they were writing down the first impression of the person on the persons back. Why this game turned out to be so great I will come back to later.

It ended up being past midnight before I came to bed, and already at this moment I were wondering if I would stay awake for the whole week.

The next morning started out 7:30 where the annoying alarm went off and during the next hour I was getting ready for a long day full of new inputs. The first speaker started out at 9:00 and valuable information about the Junior Achievement – Young Enterprise Europe, which is the mother organization of the JA-YE Alumni network, were presented. It was the vice president Oldo Vanous speaking about the work and the structure of JA-YE and a lot of the participants including myself learned a lot about the European JA-YE organization that we didn’t knew already. The presentation was very typical for the Alumni conferences, as it is the fundamental part of the existence of the JA-YE Alumni network.

“ It is important, not to forget that the purpose of the yearly alumni conference is to create a stronger JA-YE alumni network across Europe. “

The presentation from the Vice President of JA-YE Europe was followed by an interesting presentation about employability among youngsters in Europe, held by Roxana Stefanescu. Roxana is representing the JA-YE office in Brussels and was going to attend the rest of the conference, to observe and experience the spirit of the Alumni organization.

‘’…The JA-YE Alumni Conference was a great opportunity to meet and get to know a group of very interesting young people, motivated and enthusiastic to be there. I could see how everybody tried to get involved in the activities and come up with fresh ideas. I think we all inspired each other and left Vilnius with new goals, new ideas and last, but not least with new friends. ,,

Roxana Stefanescu – JA-YE Brussels

JA-YE Alumni at Swedbank
JA-YE Alumni at Swedbank

It was a sunny day and after the two interesting presentations and a traditional Lithuanian lunch, the destination was the newly build head office of Swedbank. At Swedbank we were met by the managing director who gave us an exclusive speech about his criteria’s for hiring people in to the bank. The speech was truly exciting and Antanas Danys the Head of administration and chairman of the board was really sympathetic. He dared to quote the famous sentence from the speech of John F. Kennedy with smaller modifications.

“Ask not what your company can do for you. Ask what you can do for your company”

This sentence strongly represents the main lesson of his speech. Because it is so important that you love what you do and if you are not passionate about what you do, you are not valuable for the company. Antanas Danys said that you should act at work as you would act at home, if that would be impossible than the company and you would not be the right match.

Afterward we were all given an exclusive tour of the 43,100 m2 large head-quarter. Being a little architectural interested the building was a very impressive creation. The building is 59.5 m high, has steel surface of 4,951 m2 and a glass facade of 10,619 m2.

Swedbank Office Building
Swedbank Office Building

The afternoon was scheduled with two lectures and the ending lecture was indeed very motivational. Mindaugas Vidugiris was very much focused on how people would remember you. He was himself wearing different socks and was radiating creativity and innovation. Mindaugas wanted to give people the ability to think abstract and came with many funny stories from his own life, which were unbelievable motivational.  He told about how he through google had read about what were commonly asked at job interviews and he decided to find out if it was actually true. He prepared the right answers for the questions that the employer wanted to hear and ended up getting 80% of the jobs he applied to. However he denied taking any of them. Someday he of cause had to accept one of the jobs, but in the process he had discovered that you can teach yourself to be great at doing job interviews.

Mindaugas wanted people to remember that, if someone is mean to you, that person is good to someone else. You can think about that!

The evening ended with a tour around Vilnius and an exciting day was accomplished.

‘’…European Alumni Conference 2010 in Vilnius was an amazing event. Usually a conference has the image of people sitting in a room listening to other people but that was not the case in Lithuania. During the Alumni Conference I was inspired, energized, I gained knowledge and experience but above all I found new friends. ,, – Preslav Mitranov – JA-YE Alumni Bulgaria

Yoga Session

Next morning started with Yoga sessions and after trying it, I will never ever consider it ridiculous and as sport for grannies. It was really challenging but a good way to start the day.

When the session ended and my body was totally destroyed, a man of name Uldis Pāvuls entered the room. Uldis Pāvuls is partner in the competence development company “Ergise, Ltd” and was to speak about Internal Communication.  Uldis took us all on ride in the organizational structure of communication and without no doubt greater entrepreneurs was created during that lecture. During the lecture we were challenged with different test and tasks to measure and understand the importance of internal organizational communication. Not saying that I am right, but I got the feeling that this lecture was among the favorites of my fellow alumni members, and I totally agree. It was an inspiring lecture.

Uldis Pāvuls
Uldis Pāvuls

When the batteries had been recharged over a good lunch, it was time for another session of Yoga, but this time a way more relaxing kind. It was good with a nap to make up for my lack of sleep, to great amusement for the others.

The time had come to identify personal competences and we were presented with a really interesting as well as challenging task. Teams were formed and half of the team were chosen to observe the rest of the team doing a case. The whole idea was to discover for the individual persons which position they took when doing group work. It was a tough test and the chance for failure was quite high, because of the risk for offending or hurting one another. However I believe that because of the strong personalities represented at this particular conference the task ended up being good for the most of the participants.

The day was not up yet, but gladly the schedule said social time and not lectures. So far it had been a challenging conference, but it felt really good to be in the center of this creation of friendships across cultural differences. The destination was Trakai, which is a beautiful castle located on the countryside outside of Vilnius. We were having dinner and in general just enjoying each other’s company. There were live concert at the castle and a very good night, with a clear sky and a direct view of the stars were upon us. Nothing could ruin this amazing night, and joyfully nothing did.

JA-YE Alumni Conference Trakai
JA-YE Alumni Conference Trakai

The alarm went off 7:30 and I could feel my body being very exhausted. However my mind was clear and all the thought from the previous days dragged my body out of the bed. Today was the last day of the conference and the program said mind maps. After trying doing mind maps before, I was rather skeptical. However my skepticism should soon be exterminated.

A lady of name Justina Vasileviciute representing the coaching and consulting firm “Triple A Baltics” was teaching us about the use of mind maps and was opening her lecture with a little competition. Everyone was handed a paper where they had to find number “3” situated to the right of a dot and above a star and below a “5” and to the left of an R. I like to win but as I turned the paper the first ones were already standing, as signal of that they had completed the task. It later turned out that we were presented with different task descriptions and the whole purpose was to proof how the mind process visual images much faster that written words.

“A picture explains more than a 1000 words!”

My skepticism toward mind maps was completely wiped out after a whole day of drawing, cutting and sticking. I had been presented with a new tool that I definitely on future basis would use in creative situation and idea development processes.

The last mind challenging item of the agenda for the last day of the conference was team work. We were all asked to make a presentation about different speakers from the past few days. The different presentations from the different teams were so amazing and only from the people form JA-YE Alumni Europe would you witness such creativity.  Regular presentations were turned into small plays and humoristic performance that makes you remember what you actually saw. To observe and be a part of this extraordinary ability to combine all the tools that we had been educated during the conference was just unbelievable.

‘’…Seeing all these creative people creating creative solutions was amazing! The drive in the participants was unique! ,, – Petter Ravn Doessland – JA-YE Alumni Norway

We had almost reached the end, but we were still one task left from completing the journey. We had been around and had experienced impressively much in a very few days. We had been challenged with abstract thoughts, differences, cultures, teamwork, and so many other things. But there was one thing we had left.

Inspiration, Experience and Action
Inspiration, Experience and Action

Remember the icebreaking?

The entire journey ended exactly where it began. The only difference was now that we knew these people very well, and someone even commented: “It feels like I have known these people my whole life.” It was the perfect way to end this experience, and get the opportunity to give these fantastic people a personal truly honest message that they could bring home with them, and look at every day they need some inspiration and motivation.

I was asked to make a statement for JA-YE Europe about my experience at the JA-YE Alumni Conference in Vilnius, and all I could say was: “There is a reason why I keep coming back!”

Because the experiences at these conferences are not just to learn new tool, develop your personal skills, make new friends, and extent your network across cultural differences. It is about so much more. It is about developing yourself as a human being, which you simply cannot do by yourself.

“There is a reason why I keep coming back” – Alexander Hold