When they asked me to write about my experience in a youth exchange so that other people could get information and know what the is it about, I didn’t think it twice. I had (and I have) so many things to say that I was thrilled to be able to explain to someone who is hesitating about participating or not. I would love to create that text that makes you think “come on, I’m in”. Because if I could, I would recommend everyone to do a youth exchange at least once in their lives. Why? Because it gives you really a lot.
For me, making a youth exchange is like temporarily leaving from my bubble. You join other 30 strangers and live together in some picturesque place in Europe where you learn to learn. Do not get me wrong, you will learn about the topic of exchange, but mainly you will learn many other things. You will learn that speaking the language of the other person is not the most important thing in order to communicate. Three people in my group did not even know 4 words in English, and somehow this did not matter, just the opposite. Where the mimicry does not arrive, online translations do (from Arab / Amazigh to Spanish and from there to English…). Everything is possible if there is will. If there is a desire to communicate, one communicates. If you want to listen, you listen.
You will also learn what “reflections” are, because after each activity you have to sit down and talk about it. That means, what we have learnt from the activity, how we have felt doing it, what has frustrated us, etc. And you will be surprised when you realize that it is equal or more important than the activity itself. Because you are the one living the activity, but the reflection is the experiences of everyone else.
You will also learn what a “safe space” is. Because these exchanges, based on non-formal education (that is, fewer books and talks and more hands on the dough) are good because of the concept itself. What does it mean to create a “safe space”? It means, in a few words, that living together is better than coexisting. It does not matter if you are more akin to that of the Romanian group, or if that girl of the Spanish group is not your style. The concept starts from the fact that we have to take each other into account and that we all learn from each other. And it works. People help you to finish your activity even though they haven’t finished yet; they keep you a plate of food because you have gone to take a shower 10 minutes before the dinner, they organize a dance class so you can cheer up if you have saturated yourself with so many activities, and simply listen to you when you have something to say. The emotions are one of the pillars of learning in a youth exchange; yours and everyone’s, that’s what makes them so cool.
In addition, you will learn a thousand other things: words in other languages (and insults, why denying it), cultural histories (for example, did you know that Lithuanian is considered one of the oldest living languages in the world?) Yes, as you hear it). But above all things, you will learn from yourselves. So many things in just 7 days? Yes! Moreover, I will tell you that it will seem as if you have been there for weeks and even then, it will end very fast. Of course, not all exchanges are the same and, as everything in life, it will always depend on your mood and your will.
I also have to say that I am not an expert: I have only been in two exchanges – in an interval of less than 6 months (¿addicted, me? No way!). But I can say that although both were different, the dynamics were the same and that I am already eager to do a third one!
Alex – Participant in the Race Privilege youth exchange, which is part of the Privilege Program cycle, and which the FCV has organized together with The Youth Company.