Youth Exchange "Empowered Citizenship" lasted only for over a week but gave me more than I could imagine. New friendships, new knowledge, new experience, and so much more. The adventure began at the airport in Larnaca, one of the biggest cities in Cyprus. While waiting for a pick-up bus for several hours, I met two other participants from Greece. Within a few moments, we realized we came here with the same amount of excitement and expectations. This pattern kept showing up throughout the project.
Although from different countries with various backgrounds, we connected through open-mindedness and views about the future. Using English as a universal language, it seemed more like we came from one big country rather than various states. The cohesion of us as individuals transformed into the cohesion of the European Union as a whole was the crucial piece of knowledge I took from this Youth Exchange.
The main focus of our Youth Exchange was active citizenship. Every day we attended several workshops focused on democracy within the EU, the right to vote, the shared values, and the choices of a young generation of European citizens. We looked back at history, discussed how our personal beliefs affect our life choices and how they differ from the reality of the labor market. One of my favorite activities of the project was to create a political party representing the fundamental values of both the European Union and us as individuals. Our group came up with a different yet brilliant idea. We set up an ultra-conservative neo-nazi party to show the absurdity of their propositions, from women's rights to immigration politics. There is no need to say our party was the most successful.
Before the end of the project, we created a video with the title "Message to policymakers from the youth." In this video, we formulated three different issues we found relevant for young people and their future. These include the importance of critical and independent thinking taught in schools, accessible information about the possibilities for the youth after graduation and the most needed professions in each country, and the opportunity to have a voice and an impact through the youth organizations for political parties.
Besides our Slovak team, we met young adults from Bulgaria, Lithuania, Greece, Poland, and Italy. The mix of diverse cultures and traditions was most evident during our last night in Cyprus- the cultural night. Sharing food, drinks, and the weirdest habits from our homes was an eye-opening experience. We discovered much more similarities than we thought. Polish national dish is almost the same as Slovak one? Why not! I learned a lot from this Youth Exchange, both during activities and our free time. I realized my generation, the generation of young people within the EU, share many of the core values and visions.
We may speak a different language, grow up in various places, and dream about many things. However, we are not strangers. We have the same drive, the same passion, and will to make our countries a better place. I had a chance to meet some amazing and intriguing people, to travel, to discover a new culture, and to get to know myself a bit more. Because of this project, I have a much better understanding of the motto of the European Union: United in diversity. We truly are.