Meet Alice, Jacob, and Mystery, three young people from the UK who shared an amazing experience. Bill Page from the MY Trust interviews them about their youth exchange in Denmark.
Funded through Erasmus+ Key Action 1, youth exchanges allow groups of young people (aged 13 to 30) from different countries to meet and live together for up to 21 days. During a youth exchange, participants work together on a chosen topic through a mix of workshops, exercises, debates, role-plays, simulations, outdoor activities etc. designed and prepared by them before the exchange.
Bill asked the trio not only what they did on their youth exchange but also what the exchange did for them. Each came up with personal stories and benefits of the experiences and shared many memories which they delighted in reminiscing.
Mystery: “I was offered a trip to Denmark for 10 days, with 11 people I would only meet a couple times before going and would meet around 70 people there from different countries.”
Alice adds: “When we arrived at the campsite there were four other countries, Italy, France, Romania and of course Denmark. With much larger groups than ours we were very intimidated and spent the first evening’s free time divided into countries, where we claimed the bouncy trampoline in the park as our territory.”
They engaged in activities including art, sports, poetry, drama and dance with the main events being laughter therapy, a day out to a medieval town known for its jousting tournaments, and a fashion show where everyone designed their own t-shirt to represent their country and culture at a multicultural evening which allowed each group to present food, music, and their culture. In this sense, while miles away from home, the trio were able to experience and learn about several cultures all in one place and develop international kinship - while presenting what they believe represents their culture.
But each recalled how daunting the idea was, of leaving everything they know behind, and spending time with people they had never me. Alice said:
“I was nervous and terrified about the prospect of a week away with complete strangers, but then one of them spilt their coffee all over Heathrow airport’s floor, and that broke the ice for everybody. Once our group of nine had bonded, there were still barriers to overcome, in fact that was the entire point of this project: to overcome the barriers of language and form connections.”
This was also true for Mystery who said:
“I had never been abroad before… I was anxious about what people would think of me, (and) I was so nervous I was debating dropping out of the trip.” But the day before the trip she decided to pack, and not allow herself to miss out.
“That decision changed my life (as dramatic as that sounds). I met amazing people, who over a year and a half later I am still best of friends with, I learned to be comfortable in myself and how to let go of my insecurities. For the first time in years people saw me without makeup and I did not care, my confidence grew so much, and I laughed to the point my cheeks hurt.”
All three delved into themes of friendship, belonging, and confidence. Volunteering and exchanges give young people a change to meet a range of different people and allow them to gain independent experiences. And this is what drew Jacob to the experience:
“I was drawn to the opportunity as I’ve always had a passion for travel and experiencing different cultures and customs and the chance to go was too good to let pass. I made a lot of friends from many different countries, some of whom I have met again when travelling in their home country. It was a fantastic experience and has helped build my communication skills and my confidence.”
Youth exchanges are available to all young people, and can really pave the way for future mobility opportunities. Alice, Mystery and Jacob went for the chance to travel. Despite some of them being nervous about meeting strangers, they enjoyed their time because of the bonds that they made, and the new outlook they developed which will help them navigate the world, and give them the confidence to take future opportunities. These are the personal benefits of volunteering, and they have plenty of stories to share too, as Alice said:
“Our table on the first night was just us; the last night had us scattered amongst friends from all over the world. Our little group were still as close, but we had formed new friendships that were unimaginable to us before we arrived, and that many of us will never forget.”
And Mystery agreed adding:
“I learnt every opportunity should be taken, because if I had not gone, I would still be the shy, anxious and awkward person I felt like I was. I would recommend anyone who gets the chance, to go on trips such as this, because the positive impact it had on my life has been amazing, and I now couldn't imagine my life without the people I shared such a happy time with.”
Youth story, with Alice Finnegan, Mystery Page, and Jacob Clear, by Bill Page from the MY Trust, Eurodesk UK Partner.
If the idea of a youth exchange appeals to you, think about applying for funding. Find out more on the Erasmus+ page.