During my year of volunteering in Dresden I had the opportunity to organize a youth exchange. It was not my first Erasmus+ project, as I had already taken part in several exchanges and trainings. I had experience as a youth leader, I had organized workshops about enriching topics like trans rights and diversity, I had been an active coordinator in a project about civil participation. However, I had never organized a project from the very beginning to the very last step. Getting to participate in the conceptualization of the exchange, contacting partners, writing application(s), organizing an advanced planning visit, sharing ideas and foreseeing learning outcomes, feeling the rush and the excitment of meeting the participants you had communicated with for some time... These were all new experiences that have provided me with new insights and knowledge that I hope to keep implementing in my work and personal life.
The international exchange Where do I belong. Identities in today´s world is first and foremost a project about identity. But what is identity anyway? The definitions that we find in the research and Academia do not necesarily resemble those we use in our everday life and that definetely fulfill a purpose in helping us relate to ourselves and to others. The aim of the project revolved around looking at the concept of identity from different perspectives. Individual and collective identity. Political, historical, social identity. Which role does the sense of belonging and the idea of group play in political conflict? How do we relate to our past? Are there similarities to be found between the way different European countries and nationalities and ethnical minorities deal with these ideas? What does it mean to be a minority? What is the link between identity, discrimination and the creation of the other? What does all of this mean for Europe? Is there an European identity? Or identities? These questions, although a bit complicated, found their answers during the exchange through different non-formal education methods and learning opportunities.
Three organizations with different backgrounds and scope from Germany, Ukraine and Spain/Catalonia were involved in the project. Diversity as a value and a way of seeing the world was there from the very first moment, as we all had different perspectives and the exchange was to deal with interesting, although sometimes quite sensitive, topics: collective and historical memory, extremism prevention and intercultural dialogue. Through a first meeting in Dresden it was possible for the project coordinators and youth leaders to meet and finish shaping the exchange together. This experience was particulary valuable for me. I have always enjoyed working in team and sharing knowledge and skills with others.
The international exchange took place in Dresden (Germany) and Terrassa (Catalonia/Spain). That meant two opportunities for the participants to discover a new country, learn about the local history a participate in intercultural workshops. The idea behind this structure in two parts was to serve a clear purpose: during the first part in Dresden the participants had their first impressions of the main topic and had the opportunity to discuss different situations related to political extremism, discriminations and interculturality. We had an Ukrainian political and cultural workshop, a bilingual city tour organized by refugees, a visit to a LGBTI* NGO, a workshop about historical memory facilitated by a local historian with a guided visit to a local memorial, etc. During the week the participants also had time to reflect on their learning experience and create something themselves.
Although stressful, the week was the definition of a learning opportunity for me. I felt supported by my organization and together with the other organizator and youth leader, I facilitated workshops, run from an event location to another, managed the food and the logistics and learnt a lot during the whole process. It was a very good mix of autonomy, challenge and support. I had the feeling I could test the limits of my abilities and try new things that were new to me as a project coordinator, like having a very active role in the logistics of the project or planning complicated events. I also had the very real feeling I could make mistakes and making mistakes is such an important part of the learning process!
The second week took place in Terrassa during the month of June. The topic shifted from the central role of identity to identity and historical memory, to collective identity and remembering, to the impact that the past has in the present and the future. The programm, mainly crafted by the Catalonian organization, was full with visits and workshops. We crossed the border to France to visit the memorial of the camps where refugees from the Spanish Civil War ended during their escape, we had a workshops with a sociologist who coordinates a project on collecting the memorie(s) of people who experienced the War, we had a talk with a documentary film maker... We also had the opportunity to actively test these new skills: how to interview historical witness, how to start a project in our local context...
There are a lot of reasons to get involved in such an exchange, to volunteer for a year, to join intercultural projects. Some of them are more personal, some of them have to do with being part of a community, some of the are more difficult to summarize with words. But as this is a reportage with a personal insight and as I love sharing my perspective, I would say I am really invested in social change and I believe in the power of creating safe(r) spaces where it is possible to share our way of seeing things and getting contaminated by others´ ideas. In a time of strong political polarization and increasing radicalization of certain narratives, I strongly believe in finding common grounds and listening to each other.
If you want to read more about my experience, you can check these articles I wrote in German!
Where do I belong. Internationale Begegnung in Dresden. Teil 1
Where do I belong. Auf den Spuren des Spanischen Bürgerkriegs. Teil 2