It was a great honour to be invited to this year’s European Students for Liberty Top 100 in Gummersbach.

The  annual retreat rewards leaders who have made the greatest contributions or shown the most promise throughout the year.  After attending LibertyCon in Belgrade three months prior (one of my greatest experiences ever), I went to the Top 100 with very high expectations. It certainly did not disappoint.

As everyone settled in at the Theodor-Heuss-Akademie, the atmosphere was one of a long-awaited family reunion. Many of us had met each other at previous ESFL gatherings; others had only been acquainted on online forums or conference calls. All greeted each other as friends.

Gummersbach is not only a welcome opportunity to reconnect with firm old friends, but also to meet new faces who would soon join their ranks. Although we may live in different countries, study different subjects, and disagree on our exact philosophies, ESFL leaders share a common passion for advancing the cause of liberty and individualism, and are committed to constructive dialogues. In a world which can often seem hostile to our values, these conversations with new-found friends can be reinvigorating.

At the beginning of the retreat, a challenge was set that we must speak with each and every attendee. While there might be some friends I have yet to meet, I would like to think that I engaged with most attendees over the week. I am pleased to have met so many approachable and friendly people who shared with me some fascinating conversations on a wide range of topics. Yes, many of these would be related to the theme of liberty, but others were casual conversations about travel, music, sports, food or anything we liked.

Within ESFL, I feel that there is an openness and friendliness which contributes to a very positive culture, where our colleagues are our good friends.

The social side to the Top 100 is only one part of it, as it is also a great opportunity to expand our understanding of the principles of liberty and learn about what more we could be doing to promote these ideas. By taking part in a wide range of talks, presentations, and workshops we develop new skills, which are invaluable in our roles within ESFL and also in our professional development.

In fact, the retreat allowed me the opportunity to speak for a few minutes in front of 100 people; not something I had ever experienced before. It was daunting, but not unpleasant and is certainly something I want to do more often going forward.

In the weeks following the retreat, I have drawn on ideas discussed at the Top 100 several times during conversations with friends, attempting to convince them of the merits of liberal philosophy.

In terms of what a regional team can gain, it is invaluable to listen to the successes of ESFL leaders from other regions. We can take inspiration from what has worked elsewhere, so we can replicate similar successes in our own regions. Most importantly, the Top 100 demonstrates that leaders are part of an international team with a shared objective of spreading liberty and making a real impact through Europe and beyond.

The Top 100 is an experience through which any ESFL leader can gain so much in both personal development and their role within the organisation.

It is impossible to return from the Top 100 without feeling more enthusiastic than ever about advancing towards a free world. It provides an opportunity to meet other liberal minded people from across the world and encourage each other to work together to achieve our goals.

Everyone in ESFL should do everything they can to ensure they are involved in the next Top 100 — at the next family reunion.


This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organisation as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, click here to submit a guest post!

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About the Author

Russell Coates

Russell is the National Coordinator for ESFL in Northern Ireland. He is a postgraduate student at Ulster University.

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