Connect and Respect
Thanks to our sending organization Youthfully Yours, having given us this remarkable opportunity in the first place, we, a group of six, gathering from all across Slovakia, ventured out on this unforgettable journey to the quaint and disarming Vatra Dornei, Romania, anxious to garner new experience, get to know peers from other countries (Spain, Romania, Greece, UK, Belgium), face the challenges with a brisk determination and, most importantly, learn how to pass on what we learnt so that at the end of the day, our taking part would have paid off and made a substantial positive impact on our surroundings. And that being said, we were far from disappointed on the way back. The project was organized by a UK-based org. United Youth for Educational Development in partnership with the hosting Do Great Things Ass. with the wonderful Catalina and Dumitru, whom we owe a lot for putting up with all our antics.
Some of us were already veteran youth-exangers, while others were only experienceless greenhorns and could not wrap our heads around what to expect. We only got to meet each other for the first time in the arrival lounge at the Cluj airport, but we immediately hit it off and the connection persisted throughout. It was funny to realize that despite one of the objectives being learning about other cultures, there was plenty we learnt about our own one too, each of us bringing something unique to the table.
Among memories we will surely cherish forever is the 4-hour night bus drive to Vatra Dornei, playing table tennis in snow, binge-eating on the delicious Romanian meals, going through the logistics, falling down the ice-clad spa stairs, karaoke nights, skiing, cultural nights and many more.
The theme of the project was Connect and Respect, areas, in which there is still room for improvement, where inclusion and anti-discrimination efforts are concerned like multicultural environment, religion, disability, etc. The activities and workshops were aimed at our abilities to discern what the problems were, find solutions and consequently also act on them. The focus was on what discrimination- and exclusion-related issues each of the countries involved was grappling with and how the approaches could be improved upon, and also on direct dismantlement of the intercultural stereotypes by interacting between each other be it outside the offical programme or by means of discussions, games, role-plays, artistic performances and other creative manifestations that each helped to deepen mutual respect, understanding and connection. We consider some of the best and most beneficial activities to have been TED talks, cultural depiction using theater, video and brochure making, open discussions and debating contests. It is to be noted that not only did we strengthen our soft skills like opinion expression, listening, cooperation, assertiveness,.... but we also got a chance to try out things that might have been alien to us before coming to the project like editing videos, working in graphic programmes, etc. What we found immensely stimulating was that in spite of Catalina and Dumitru being in charge of the schedule, we were essentially given free rein and could take initiative when it came to the particulars, which motivated us to actively participate in the programme-making.
Aside from finding out what a beautiful, rich and interesting country Romania is, which, incidentally, convinced us to visit it again on the earliest possible occasion, we learnt to value the opportunities our European community endows us with and found the inner urge to give something back, whether it is through volunteering, sharing our experiences and knowledge, enlightening our peers back home or look for still new projects of similar nature. We grow and learn not for purely self-serving purposes and not only for the sake of knowledge itself, but to put that gained experience to good use so that our world becomes more tolerant, more understanding, more welcoming and open to those that often feel and truly are alienated and forsaken. Now, more than ever, we must look to seek unity and solidarity above anything else.