Youth exchange: what is it and why is it useful?
I have organized and facilitated three international youth exchanges during 11 months of my volunteering in Germany. It gave me not only vast professional and life experience, but also awareness of how useful such projects are to participants. Youth exchanges can be on various topics, but they have one important thing in common: all of them allow participants to develop skills that young people need to have in the 21st Century.
What is international youth exchange and how to qualify?
Have you ever lived with foreigners in one place, worked on a specific topic, discussed, played and spent time together, shared information about cultures of your countries with each other? That’s how international youth exchanges within the frame of the Erasmus+ Programme usually take place.
Organizers of youth exchanges often distribute open calls for participants on social media and on websites, which inform young people about different learning opportunities.
In order to select participants, organizers create special form with which they ask potential candidates about their motivation to participate in their project. It is important to show that you are interested in topic of youth exchange and that you are ready to share your experience and knowledge with other young Europeans.
Organizers usually reimburse travel costs, provide participants with accommodation and food.
You can read about conditions of participation and other details here:
Skills, which you can develop during any youth exchange
How often do you reflect on your experience? How often do you summarize your learning outcomes? At the end of each youth exchange all participants usually receive Youthpass – it is a certificate that not only confirms their participation in the project, but also allows them to reflect on skills and knowledge they gained . Organizers or facilitators don’t fill this part of the certificate in. Participants determine by themselves the result they received thanks to the project and write it into their own Youthpasses.
No matter whether you came to a project on climate change, stereotypes or media literacy, you can potentially develop all the categories of skills listed in Youthpass: communication in mother tongue, communication in foreign languages, mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology, digital competence, learning to learn, social and civic competences, sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, cultural awareness and expression, other specific skills.
What does each of these categories mean?
You will definitely not be sent out to the project alone, but you will probably be a part of a national team. Most likely, you will have preparation session before the exchange, during which you will speak your native language with your national team members. You will also help each other with translation into/from your native language during the exchange. This is an example of how and under what circumstances you can develop “communication in mother tongue” skill during international youth exchange.
Probably, you will use foreign language to communicate with foreigners (English is most often used during international projects). You can also learn several phrases in other languages. This is an example of how and under what circumstances you can develop “communication in foreign languages” skill during international youth exchange.
You can use mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology by calculating your own travel budget, by choosing the most convenient and cost-effective route to the venue.
You can develop your digital competence by taking photos and videos during the event and by uploading them to social media.
You will most likely be introduced to different practices of reflection, and it falls under the category of “learning to learn”.
You will definitely show your social and civic competences during group work and discussions, and also when you will meet new people and try to make friends.
Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship means that during international exchange you will not only be able to put forward your ideas, but also bring them to life. Organizers of such projects are usually opened to initiatives of participants. So if you want to conduct energizer or organize farewell party, don't hesitate to tell about it.
You can develop skill "cultural awareness and expression", when you stay in international environment and communicate with foreigners. You and other participants can talk about cultures of your countries at intercultural evenings organized by your national teams. Organizers of all youth exchanges usually devote time and resources to such events.
You can include in category "other specific skills" everything that could not be classified in one of the categories specified in Youthpass. For example, during different youth exchanges I learned how to play cricket, how to ride a bike, how to produce handmade soap.
There are just a few examples of situations in which you can develop your skills, but different people after different projects will have different lists of these situations and gained skills. In fact, there is no end to this list: it all depends on your ability and desire to notice qualitative changes that are happening inside of you.
What you can find on youth exchanges besides skills
You can not only learn useful things and develop your skills on youth exchanges, but also you can find there new friends, hosts in other countries and even love.
If you work in the youth field, on youth exchanges you can have a look at work of other organizers and facilitators, adopt new pedagogical techniques, find partners for future projects.
Some people take youth exchanges as a great travel opportunity. Indeed, youth project can be found in any European country. Nevertheless, I recommend you to choose a project rather than a country, because in that case you will be interested in participation and chosen project will be useful for you.
Also you can use experience gained during youth exchange to find employment, because all the skills listed in your Youthpass are valued in the job market. Be sure to add your youth exchange project to your CV!
Participation in youth exchanges during ESC
I hoped to participate in international youth exchanges during my volunteering. But from my sending organization and representatives of the German National Agency during On-arrival-seminar and Midterm-seminar for ESC volunteers I learned that ESC volunteers are not allowed to participate in such projects. Organizers usually want to give this opportunity to people who have not participated in Erasmus+ projects before. Also ESC is also a European Union initiative and participation of ESC volunteers in Erasmus+ projects will be considered as double funding, and national agencies try to avoid this. As a volunteer, you can participate in projects which are not funded by Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union in your free time.
But no one forbids volunteers to organize their own youth exchanges, especially if their topics correlate with interests of organizations in which they work. How to get a grant and what you need to do in order to organize youth exchange, you can read in Erasmus+ Programme Guide .
Moreover, you can freely participate in youth exchanges after your ESC (participant can be between 13 and 30 years of age; there are no age limits for team leaders, they just should be over 18 years old).