Growing up with a diverse cultural background can be a challenge, but also a gift. These four people have made diversity their ally

If we want things like the EU to work on a political and economic level, we really have to start on an emotional level.

It was like a scene out of L’Auberge Espagnole: At 18, Katharina Moser was sharing an apartment in Madrid with eight roommates from seven different European countries, exchanging languages, recipes, and cultures, and sealing lifelong friendships.

The magic of that experience left a strong impression on the Salzburg native, now 34, and it has remained a common thread throughout her life.

“I learned that being European was something enriching and positive,” she recalled, “not only being aware of and connected to my fellow Europeans, but also understanding our differences.”

Fast forward to the present: As a way of continuing this vision of Europe, Moser has brought the party home, through her project, Route 28, an annual event in which Vienna locals can choose and assemble their own European “journeys” without ever having to leave the city. Participants can take part in activities as diverse as making Polish pierogi or learning Bulgarian folk dancing.

“I realized that a lot of people don’t have these experiences because they don’t necessarily get the chance to travel or go abroad as I did,” she explained.

In light of recent events – the refugee crisis, Brexit, and the Catalonian independence movement – Moser’s mission seems more relevant than ever. She remembered European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reflecting that the problem in Europe was that “we don’t know enough about each other.”

Although it was difficult at first to get potential partners to appreciate what might have seemed like a “soft” approach, for Moser, it’s about instilling “a kind of openness to ‘different-ness’, which in the end is what ‘European-ness’ is all about.”

“It doesn’t mean that we all have to be the same and all wave blue flags with yellow stars. It’s more about dealing with all these differences and seeing them as an opportunity rather than a threat.”