Attempting to organise the largest event in EESTEC LC Zurich’s history in the middle of a pandemic sounds like an undertaking bound to fail. Nevertheless, at the beginning of November 50 EESTECers from all over Europe managed to take part in the Sixth Autumn Congress 2K21.
It all began on a foggy November in 2020, when we were lying on a couch, being forced to participate in the 5th Autumn Congress of EESTEC, which took place exclusively via Zoom. Seeing our friends projected onto the living room wall we began dreaming of how nice it would be if the people were physically in Zurich. We ran some numbers and came to the conclusion that an Autumn Congress in Zurich is potentially feasible.
With a vaccination around the corner, we presented our plans to AMIV, the student association for electrical and mechanical engineers at ETH, of which LC Zurich is a committee. While initially hesitant, in the end, the AMIV general assembly expressed their trust and supported us financially. The conditions were mutual and clear: the Congress shall be an event for internationals from EESTEC as well as for locals from AMIV alike.
Hold on – what is a “Congress”? It is the EESTEC event during which the general assembly gathers. There is a Congress during Spring and one during Autumn, the latter being smaller as only one representative per EESTEC city joins. For one week these representatives from all over Europe travel to one city and shape the future of the Association. Next to the legally required general meetings, there are working sessions to find solutions to pending issues and exchange knowledge. Socializing and discovering the culture of the hosting city takes place in the evenings. For these official participants, the event is free to ensure that there is no financial segregation.
Fast forward, an organising committee (OC) of 11 EESTECers from LC Zurich ranging from first-year bachelor students over graduate students to Alumni was formed. The collaboration process was inspired by SCRUM with a product head organiser and a cooperation head organiser (analogous to a SCRUM Master). Many ideas from SCRUM were adapted to part-time work and included in our processes – including sprints, sprint events and a scrum board.
The OC’s hard work started paying off on the 3rd of November when the first internationals in the form of the international Board arrived. They held one of their few live Board meetings and socialized with LC Zurich members during the evening.
The following Sunday, the majority of the participants set foot in Zurich. They were welcomed by the LC and got a chance to explore the city through city tours kindly sponsored by Zurich Tourism. In the evening they enjoyed a welcome BBQ followed by an alumni panel featuring EESTEC LC Zurich members who were active at a time when most Congress participants could not read or write.
Monday, 8th of November, started with Sessions in the morning as well as the last internationals arriving. After lunch, the Congress was officially opened through opening speeches featuring Prof. Sarah Springman, Rector of ETH, and Anders Hagström, Head of International Affairs in the Office of the President at ETH Zurich. After these inspiring speeches, the General Assemblies were opened.
Noteworthy is that during the break, our participants did not receive any old boring coffee, but premium coffee brewed by IrrationalCoffee, the coffee committee of AMIV. While the participants were enjoying their beverage, LC Zurich was busy setting up the accommodation for the week, where after dinner the now tired participants returned to. In the evening there were social activities to break the formality that tends to come with a Congress.
Tuesday featured sessions in the morning and further General Meetings in the afternoon. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the international night in the evening: everyone brought specialties from their home country which everyone could try.
Wednesday was a General Meeting day. In the afternoon, however, there was an event regarding SoftAware, a project supported by the European Union with the aim to foster the development of software talents across Europe. In the past semesters EESTEC has contributed to the project, the results were shared this afternoon.
To round the day off and show Swiss culture we served Fondue to everyone attending the event, which was open not only to the internationals but also to all local students. In the end, nearly 100 students enjoyed molten cheese together, connecting the different parties, then as any Swiss knows “Chääs bindet”.
Thursday morning featured sessions again. This time however the second time slot was open for members of AMIV as well and was organised by LIMES, the female committee of AMIV. The content was about incentives, resistances and possible solutions in the STEM field for females, presented in a podium discussion, discussed in working groups, and digested during a common lunch after.
In the afternoon the second chance of exploring Zurich was given: this time in the form of a city rally, meaning participants could collect points by completing various challenges. Again, this event was open to all members of AMIV.
In the evening we hosted a theme party in the accommodation with the topic “horoscope”. Sadly, due to the pandemic, we could not invite a large number of locals, however, the AMIV board was invited. Further noteworthy that Bastli, the DIY committee of AMIV, helped us by installing their custom party lights as well as deploying their SWARM.
Friday already marked the last day of the event. It ended with the last General Meetings and a closing ceremony, next to lots of hugs afterward.
To celebrate the first live Congress since the beginning of the pandemic and to offer a chance to recuperate after this intense week, we organised a weekend in the mountains. Together with even more international participants as well as AMIV & VIS members. It however is a different event.
So far we successfully ignored that during all of this Corona was still raging around the world. While we could fill pages with the additional struggles this implied, here’s one interesting bit: Since an EESTEC Congress is a general assembly we needed to have it open for all members – even for some (e.g. LC St. Petersburg) that simply could not travel to Zurich. To ensure that everyone can join, we opted for a hybrid Congress: legally it was online, however, most people were physically in the same room. Technically this posed a challenge, as we did not want to simply have all people in a Zoom call. The final solution was a Zoom call for people at home and a live feed of all audio as well as one video feed into the call from the general meeting room at ETH. For electronic voting, VSETH supported us in using their tool. Further, a live stream was set up that interested EESTECers that were not official representatives could follow.
Looking back as the product head organiser I am proud of what we, LC Zurich, in cooperation with local associations as well as EESTEC managed to organise. It was a demanding week, not only for the OC and participants but also for the countless helpers – without them, an event on this scale would not have been possible.
Taking a step back and looking at it as a former chairperson of the LC: It is great to see what LC Zurich managed to pull together. The last Congress in Zurich was in 1995. It took us more than 25 years to reach this point again – and we did it in the middle of a pandemic, right after Zurich was selected as the new seat of EESTEC.
Last but not least from the position of an ETH student and EESTECer: The Sixth Autumn Congress 2K21 was an example of how as a group we can take opportunities and overcome challenges, even in uncertain times. It is inspiring to see students working together, creating events that were thought to be impossible, and it will continue to serve as inspiration.