During my work in Italian schools, I always tried to promote the Erasmus plus program among my students and tell them about all of the great opportunities it provides to young people from all over the world. In addition to study programs, volunteering or internships abroad there is one more great opportunity that only EU citizens can use - the project of the European Commission DiscoverEU.
DiscoverEU is an initiative of the European Union giving European youth the opportunity to travel around Europe. By traveling mainly by rail, participants can discover Europe’s stunning landscapes and its endless variety of cities and towns.
“There is more to our proposal than free train tickets. We see this as an investment in young people and in Europe's future. It reinforces the main aim of the European Union: to bring people together. We want young Europeans to discover the EU is also about emotions, not just politics. We want to give them a taste of what it feels like, not only to be Slovak, German or Greek, but also European. And what better way than by taking the train?”
In 2018, the European Parliament called for a specific budget to cover the free ticket programme and the European Commission responded with €12m for more 12,000 DiscoverEU Passes. After the massive success of the first round, the Commission secured another 12,000 tickets for the spring of this year.
A free Interrail ticket helps hundreds of thousands of young Europeans fulfil aspirations that are beyond their means. And funding travel costs is just the start. Regions and cities can follow up by welcoming young Europeans with language-learning, cultural and social activities, or even targeted assistance for accommodation.
And what is Interrail?
Interrail is synonymous with borderless rail travel throughout Europe, providing multi-destination train travel across the continent. With just one single rail ticket, European residents have the ability to travel through up to 30 different European countries. Created in 1972 as a unique train travel pass designed specifically for youth, the Interrail Pass is now used by more than 250,000 European travellers of all ages each year to explore the geographical, cultural, and historical distinctiveness of Europe. The Interrail programme is made possible through the close collaboration of more than 35 European railway and ferry companies.
Why is Interrail unique in Europe?
Together with the railway and ferry companies involved, Interrail prides itself on being a symbol of European harmonisation. Interrail aims to provide all travellers with a life changing experience that authentically reflects an interconnected, united Europe. By providing a borderless travel experience in as many as 30 European countries, Interrail enables travellers to meet and connect with people from different backgrounds, new cultures, and uncover more about the abundant history, diversity and shared values of Europe.
This initiative (DiscoverEU) should give all young people, regardless of their social or educational background, the opportunity to discover Europe's diversity. To be eligible, applicants need to be born between 2 July 2000 (included) and 1 July 2001 (included), have the nationality of one of the Member States of the European Union at the time of the award decision, and fill in the correct ID or passport number on the online application form. All they have to do is to participate in a quiz and answer a subsidiary question.
Nearly 275,000 young people applied for the almost 50,000 travel passes available over three application rounds in 2018-2019. The 20,000 young people selected under the May 2019 application round will travel between 1 August 2019 and 31 January 2020. Trips can take up to 30 days and must include at least one Member State other than the one they live in.
This is a great opportunity for all the youngsters to discover new beautiful countries without paying one single euro but also, more importantly, an occasion to better connect young Europeans and raise the awareness of the European identity and its core values.
Next year, some of my students who will turn 18 are going to apply for this program. They learnt about this program after my workshops, and I hope they will take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity, because it will mean that my lessons were not only interesting, but also useful for the future of my students. And I also hope that other countries will take an example from the EU and provide such an opportunity to their citizens!