Alexandra (Alex) is from Germany. Over the past five years she was based in the UK – first volunteering in England, and then studying in Scotland. She also joined the network of EuroPeers to spread the word about European mobility opportunities for youth and took part in various international projects and training courses. Alex is now in Germany, spending time with her family until the lockdown is over. Here she reflects on how staying connected is now more important than ever.
“It is the time to look beyond the local and to foster our international connections. In a time when the borders of our countries are closed, we need to dismantle the borders in our minds.
The Covid-19 crisis reminds us that we are all simply human, regardless of nationality, class or gender. It is up to us to look at what really unites us. And luckily, we have the internet to stay in touch with friends in other countries. I hope that once the crisis is over, people won’t feel discouraged from exploring other cultures and taking part in international projects. Our main priority should be the health and safety of ourselves, our loved ones and our communities, but even if we cannot travel this year, it should not keep us from thinking about the future.
One of my passions is learning about different cultures.
There is nothing quite as enriching as learning about different customs, languages, mentalities. It makes you question your own habits and behaviour, even banal things like how you wash your dishes.
In the unprecedented times we are facing, I sincerely hope that we will learn to grow closer with people who live in different countries rather than just focusing on ourselves. I hope we will look beyond our national limitations to co-operate on an international level.
In the last few years, I have met amazing people from all over the world. Some I only met once; others were flatmates; and some became close friends. And yet, I can say that all these connections have in one way or another influenced the person I am today. I grew up in quite a multicultural environment and it was something I took for granted for a long time. Many of our neighbours were migrant families just like my own. As children, we would all play together outside and it was always a peaceful environment. In hindsight, it was a good example for successful integration of an international community.
Gap year abroad
I can’t recall when my desire to spend some time abroad emerged, as I had barely travelled to any other countries and as a teenager, I wasn’t even very keen on travelling. Probably it was when someone at work told me that going abroad for a few months had been the best thing they had ever done.
When I finished high school, I desperately wanted to spend some time abroad before committing to university. Taking a gap year after high school is quite common in Germany and no one seems to question it. However, I was not sure how I would be able to finance living abroad on my own. One day, I found a leaflet about the European Voluntary Service, now called the European Solidarity Corps .
One of Alex's projects, a youth exchange in Ukraine. Photos by Andriy Volgin.
Having sent countless applications, I finally found the perfect project for myself, just two months before departure. I would spend half a year working at a youth and community centre in Dudley, a town in the West Midlands, England.
This experience changed my whole outlook on life. Suddenly, I understood that I really have my life in my own hands, and nothing should limit me from pursuing what makes me happy. The happiness and sense of belonging I felt in these six months were something I had never experienced before. Living abroad for the first time, everything seemed new and exciting, even things that the locals would find boring.
It made me understand that everything is about perspective. Sharing a house with people from four other countries made me learn a lot about life. I realised, yet again, how enriching it was to have friends from other cultures.
Travelling and learning
After my volunteering, I travelled to Dublin, Edinburgh and London. The three days I spent in Edinburgh would turn out to change my life even further – I fell in love with this beautiful old city and I found out that studying in Scotland was free for students from EU countries. I decided to apply for university, and moved to the city of my dreams where I got to spend four amazing years. Now it makes me think of a picture that was hanging in our house in Dudley with the following quote: ‘Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.’
This also applies to the many Erasmus+ trainings and youth exchanges in different countries that I have taken part in since. I couldn’t be more grateful for how much I have experienced and learned on these projects.
Looking to the future
Reflecting on these amazing past five years fuelled by the beautiful world of Erasmus+, I can only hope that in a while, we will be able to continue with these inspiring projects in the same way.
For me, it has been absolutely life-changing and I would encourage any young person to take part in these opportunities once it is possible again.
Until then, we should remember to stay in touch with our friends in different countries and we should continue to support each other. As we are realising now, travelling abroad and having the right to freedom of movement is a massive privilege. Let’s learn from this to create a better future together for everyone.”
Youth story by Alex submitted via Eurodesk Partner, Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC)
Check out the resources on the Plan and prepare to go abroad page to help you get ready for your future trips!