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Europe – what is it and how many are there?

Europe is more than a continent – it is a collection of experiences, expectations, disappointments, fulfilment and hope. Europe is not one story, it is many stories.

In recent times, there has been much talk of a problematic Europe, as Europe is facing a series of challenges that threaten to jeopardise the achievements of the past 50 years.

When it comes to Europe, we too often focus on the crises, challenges and necessary reforms, rather than celebrating its great successes. There are many wonderful examples of how Europe really has changed our lives for the better in a spectacular way. One example is international academic exchange between pupils, students, trainees, lecturers and researchers.

In the European Erasmus programme alone, more than 500,000 people have spent part of their academic life abroad in another European country. And there are many more who have done so with other funding or on their own initiative.

Europe’s Witnesses

The project “Testigos de Europa – Zeugen Europas” (Europe’s Witnesses) illustrates how this exchange has had an impact on the lives of six border crossers from Spain and Germany. Six people who have embarked on careers in very different professional fields within our society: art, teaching, legal consultation, science, politics and business.

They describe their experiences and share with us the opportunities that a vibrant, open Europe offered them and how it has enriched their lives. But Europe has at least as many witnesses as it has inhabitants. What does your Europe look like?

Ana María Valderrama

Profession: Violinist
Exchange to: Berlin, Germany
Madrid, Spain

„I loved living in Berlin.“

Ana María Valderrama won the 11th Pablo Sarasate International Violin Competition in
2011 and also received the special audience prize. She was the first Spanish violinist in
history to have won this prestigious award.

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Gregor Erlebach

Profession: Lawyer at Cuatrecasas law firm
Exchange to:
Valencia, Spain
Mainz, Germany

„Europe changed my life.“

Gregor Erlebach studied law in Valencia as part of the Erasmus programme. But most of all he learnt about Spanish culture, which he found to be open, very straightforward and warm.

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Leonhard Simon

Profession: Student at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals: International Relations and Security Politics
Exchange to: Barcelona, Spain
From: Munich, Germany

„Meddling is the only way to stay relevant. (Heinrich Böll)“

He first went to Ireland with funding from an Erasmus scholarship and then to Spain to study for a master`s degree. It was his host institution’s good reputation and promise of an international environment that brought Leonhard Simon to Barcelona to study International Relations and Security Politics.

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Patricia Suárez

Profession: President of ASUFIN (financial consumer protection)
Exchange to: Rhede, Magdeburg, Bochum, Germany
From: Madrid, Spain

„For me, Europe means freedom, equality, solidarity and security.“

Raised in Spain and Mexico, she now feels more European than anything else. She learnt a lot about religion, language, politics and history when visiting London and Germany.

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Felix Scheffler

Profession: Teacher and art historian
Exchange to:
Madrid, Spain
Dortmund, Germany

„Studying as a spiritual adventure.“

Art historian Felix Scheffler went to Madrid to visit the most important institution of art history research. A DAAD scholarship enabled him to write his doctoral thesis on still life paintings in 17th century Spain in the “Diego Velázquez” department and the Prado Museum.

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Sergio Pérez Acebrón

Profession: Scientist and group leader at the German Cancer Research Centre
Exchange to: Heidelberg, Germany
From: Bilbao, Spain

„I feel like I belong here.“

Despite being promised an extensive scholarship in the UK to coordinate a group at UCL
in London, Sergio decided – due to Brexit – to stay at the University of Heidelberg as a
lecturer and group leader, and thus remain in Europe.

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What does your Europe look like?

Join the discussion and tell us what does Europe mean to you.


9 February 2020

For me, Europe means my ancestors and the ancestors of the majority of my friends. When I got a scholarship from DAAD in 1962, I knew that was a very important moment in my career and even I can say in my life.
We were 11 students and 2 professors of the Cordoba University, Vermessung Engineering
For all of us, it was a key moment that forged our professional life. Today, more that half a century after that first travel to Europe, I still have contact with our leading professor, Ing. Severiano Bartaburu, 94 years old, living in Cordoba, Argentina, and among others, with my partner in the trip and good friend, Ing. Walter Sanz, living in Valencia, Spain.
After that outstanding stay in Germany (January to March 1962), I’ve been in Europe several times, often with new scholarships and professional work, but all these new experiences can not compare with the first and unique 1962 DAAD sponsored travel.
We, the group, did not have the opportunity as such of recognizing all the benefits we got from this trip thank to the support of DAAD.
Yes, Europe means my ancestors, but more than that, means advanced technology, hard work and traditions that still today we keep in our families.
My professional career took me to other fields and other lands, now I live in Texas, USA, close to my children and grandchildren, but I still keep a fresh memory of the 1962 visit to Germany.

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