As soon as we decided on the two pairs of people who will enter the ‘mystery room’ next, we were instructed to assemble in the boy-girl-boy-girl order and to wait in silence for the signal to enter. Prior to this, however, the girls were told to remove their shoes, while boys could remain with their shoes on. What a relief, I initially thought, as I was officially allowed to walk around barefoot on a traditionally hot Georgian day...
The no-shoes policy for girls, however, had a deeper meaning, as we all soon understood. The background music resembling a meditation seance and calm atmosphere of all the people involved made us observe in high expectations what is going to come next. The couples who entered the room were immediately seated by the host - boys comfortably on the pre-arranged chairs, while girls kneeling on the ground. Next, the feeding ritual has started - without a single word spoken, we had to figure out the rules how to grab a piece of fruit offered by the host. Boys must have briefly rinsed their hand which touched the fruit, and ate first, while ladies followed them without any handwashing necessary and ate straight from the plate. After this, a polite bow has followed, accompanied by a gentle gesture of the guys pressing our heads towards the ground, perhaps as a sign of dominance. Sounds strange? Well, so it seemed to us…
The point of this ‘cultural simulation’ session was, however, to make us explore the habits and rituals of different cultures and to bring about the topic of discussion about cultural differences, commonalities, routes of communication, traditions, languages as well as built-in stereotypes which accompany our cultures. The discussions and argumentations after each of such sessions were truly vivid, owing to the fact of the cultural diversity among the participants - the insights of the participants from the UK, Slovakia, Estonia, Italy, Tunisia and hosting country of Georgia have indeed stemmed in different perceptions of their cultural heritage and the influence of each participants’ personal values and beliefs.
During these ten days, we truly had a chance to explore the local culture as well as to better understand the cultures of our fellow participating countries on multiple levels. Having started with the brainstorming about what the word ‘culture’ mean to us as individuals, we then proceeded to comparing the traditions & rituals of our own cultures, where we pointed out various habits and holidays which we celebrate in a very particular way - the Bonfire night in Great Britain, the Battle of the Oranges in Italy, the Easter watering and whipping of girls in Slovakia or the traditional weddings in Tunisia. Many of these rituals were, unsurprisingly, followed by multiple friendly, relevant but often also unexpected questions and concerns which outreached the session and often continued during the well-deserved coffee breaks. And, of course, the traditional food and drink tasting during the intercultural nights, where participants had a chance to introduce their cultures, countries and traditions, only added up to the great spirit of the exchange - the ice was definitely broken on the dance floor!
However, the privilege of getting to know each other’s cultures were not only bound within the area of the International Scout Centre in Rustavi, where we resided during the time of the exchange. Our commitment to spread the ideas of multiculturality and to acquaint the locals with the foreigners was translated during the major event of this exchange - the so-called ‘Cultural Cocktail’, where we had a chance to interact with the locals and involve in a meaningful conversation of what culture means to them and what perceptions, knowledge and stereotypes do they follow of our own countries. The open-minded attitudes, great level of English and friendliness of the locals were indeed a surprise to many of us, including myself. All of this, together with the wonderful atmosphere of the capital, the astonishing beauty of Georgian highlands and well as the welcoming nature of the Georgian people make the majority of us - if not all - wishing to come back to Georgia, and perhaps to other projects and youth exchanges as professionally organised as this one indeed was.
Kristína Uličná (participant)
(Youth exchange "Who am I and Why?" was organized by volunteer Daša Gardošíková during the period of her European Voluntary Service in International Scout Center Rustavi.)