First of all, who are we…
We are a group of young people aged 18 to 27 from six countries; Italy, Spain, Turkey, Lithuania, Norway and the UK. We gathered in Totland, on the Isle of Wight, along with our project and team leaders, to create a special experience together.
This Youth Exchange ‘I am Responsible #2’ ran from the 10.03.2020 – 19.03.2020. It aimed to challenge and empower its participants to become more responsible in their everyday lives. There was a smaller group than planned due to the Corona Virus outbreak yet we were to create a unique bond as a group.
‘We had the opportunity to meet new ideas and cultures which opened up our perspectives.’ – Esther, Spain.
DAY 1 – TEAMBUILDING
This was the first day, some nerves and excitement! We took part in ice breaking and team building activities. We moved around the room first with no communication, then with eye contact, creating possibilities for connection. We moved faster and then we danced in couples using spaghetti! Changing couples 3 times to work with different people.
‘It was a delight to watch people relax into the movement and try to not break the spaghetti! Sometimes we failed but that was all part of the experience and what is failure? Among many things it is an encouragement to try again.’ – Katie, UK.
As a group we were shy at first, but we began engaging with activities that encouraged us to move more freely in the space. One person led the other using their hands, palms facing upwards to move to the music. First in couples, then in trios and then we performed to the group in a circle.
‘It was very funny and guiding people felt like energy was flowing between our bodies’ – Alba, Spain.
We also challenged ourselves with ‘Mission Impossible’ an activity that asked us to complete many different tasks including among others: taking pictures, making videos and learning the names of all participants and singing the European Union Anthem. This session pushed us out of our comfort zones. For some it was too much for the first day, but others enjoyed the opportunity to succeed and collaborate as a group.
We had fun and celebrated our failures and enjoyments! We were beginning to form connections.
Creating a portrait of Andres, our amazing chef!
We then had lunch, delicious vegetarian food! For some this was a new experience, to eat no meat for just over a week was a challenge.
The afternoon was spent creating and beginning to relate to the theme of responsibility.
First in pairs we made marks one by one and created a collaborative piece. Then we wrote down on a handprint, 5 ways in which we are responsible and coloured it in.
The group began a piece based on our identity as a group, we struggled initially to write on the blank pages but then we made our own marks and added life quotes. Some found this experience relaxing whilst others struggled to focus in a group setting, all natural beginnings as we got to know the informal educational process.
‘It was a lot of fun, two people created a common work, we saw different points of view, a nice work that reflected two people. We thought about our responsibilities in the drawing of hands. What are our important responsibilities?’ – Mümin, Turkey
Finally we rested and had supper, we talked and laughed before going to sleep and preparing for the next day.
DAY 2 – RESPONSIBILITY
First we participated in ‘World Cafe’, a discussion in small groups on these topics:
‘How are you responsible for yourself and for others?’
‘How do you deal with uncomfortable situations?’
‘When in your life were you irresponsible? And how could you do it differently?’
‘How do you respond to a challenge?’
The group felt it was interesting to see different points of view, yet it was sometimes difficult to answer the questions. To be in smaller groups helped the discussion continue, with a team leader asking questions when needed.
The group stated ‘it helped us figure out how other people deal with their problems’ – Media Team (Burcu, Stacey, Evie and Yaren).
Here is a photo below of some of the ideas we came up with.
We then did an activity called ‘Who am I’. We wrote down ‘How I see myself, how my family sees me, how my friends see me and how my colleagues see me at work or how my fellow Erasmus participants see me?’ We then wrote down 20 things we loved and the last time we did these things. It gave us time to reflect and imagine our realities, dreams and enjoyments.
We then chose our buddy, the person whom we would support and would support us throughout the duration of the exchange.
We did the circle of compliments; the inner circle was not allowed to respond verbally and the outer circle had to give compliments to each person for a certain amount of time. This was hard for some, who found it difficult to receive the compliments without responding, however overall the group felt the activity created a chance for being kind to each other.
‘I found it easier to give compliments rather than receive them. I wanted the compliments to be genuine and come from the heart but I felt not knowing people well made it harder to express’ – Evie, UK.
We then experienced an activity which made us open up about our failures and the wisdom we gained from these. Gill led this session with kindness and words of encouragement. We wrote down our failures and then what we learned from them. We chose to keep or burn our wisdom and failures, or to even keep both. Reflection after the session encouraged us to open up about our choices.
‘I like to be open and express our thoughts’ – Paula, Spain.
We went to the beach and burnt the papers the participants had chosen to set fire to.
We were asked to choose a rock from the beach for which to paint on later during the exchange using chalk, watercolors and coloured felt tip pens.
Finally we returned to the hostel and our reflective groups were first formed. During these we shared and used tools of self-reflection to look back at the day’s events, creating an open, safe and confidential space in groups of 6 or 7 people.
‘It was a cosy place that we can express our feelings with no worries’ said one participant.
We then had supper, then got ready for our first Intercultural Night. Spain, the UK and Lithuania presented!
DAY 3 – CHALLENGE
This day began with a session introducing us to Erasmus + and all its varied and exciting opportunities.
Today was also the day we took up the challenge of hiking 14 kilometres along the coast, the route started through the town then up to the heathland. We did the imaginary gate activity to see how we responded as a group, we failed at the listening part but managed in record time!
We then walked down and around to the needles and continued onwards towards FreshWater Bay.
‘For me the hike was beautiful, I enjoyed it’ – Paula, Spain.
‘It was challenging to be in the Safety Team, because we had to check on people and be aware of the group at all times, but I enjoyed it’ – Alba, Spain,
On the beach at Freshwater we took pictures, then came together blindfolded as a group to attempt to create a perfect circle with string.
Our first attempt was not perfect but we tried, we then were asked to make a square, all blindfolded and only using the communication we could come up with at the time.
‘To see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to taste… when we do not use one of the senses, the others become stronger.
To do the blind activity was a real dare. Just to walk around a place you have never been before, blindfolded, was a real exercise of trust. While we were led by a stranger, people that at the end became our friends, we had to trust in them.
While we were close to the beach trying to do a square, blind, we discovered that to work in a team to listen to the others is a cornerstone.
Blind…. I was nervous. It is difficult for me to not have control of the things around me, but the end of the activity taught me to trust the others and, why not? To be here and now.’ – Blanca, Spain.
We did this twice and then agreed to hike back to the hostel in silence.
Some chose an extra challenge to become blindfolded and be guided back to the hostel by a fellow team member. For some it was a time to enjoy the natural environment around us. For those blindfolded it was an interesting experience.
‘I enjoyed being blindfolded, but it was hard at times and a car passed by me. I thought I heard horses! You also get to know the person you are walking with, build trust and take responsibility for each other’- Jokubas, Lithuania.
The horses were perhaps horses or the team leaders skipping back hand in hand into the hostel, embracing a freedom of movement and air when possible!
We walked back to the hostel in silence, we got warm and then waited for hot delicious minestrone soup. Then we went and discussed with our reflective groups, how we felt and how the day went for us.
‘We did not know the target, the end of the hike, so it was surprising and a little tiring. However it was good that we did a full circle, it would have been boring to take the same path back to the hostel’ -Jahan, Norway/Pakistan.
Pakistan and Norway presented their Intercultural night. Delicious food!
DAY 4 – THEATRE
Today was all about being creative through Improvisation, our amazing project leader Raminta led us through activities which woke us up.
First we were put in pairs and had to respond to questions with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and then we gave an explanation of why we were answering so. We improvised situations in small groups on the stage, the audience gave us the setting and theme. We enjoyed this activity.
To be amongst others and through improvising, our focus on our thoughts was unconsciously a step to momentarily break away from our issues and worries. We laughed so much!
Forum theatre activities continued and we were asked as a group to create scenes based on the theme of discrimination/bullying. We were split up into groups and were prompted by a team leader to create situations that were varied and based on some personal experience or witnessing. Participants chose whether or not to fully engage:
‘I liked to improvise, it was fun, but I didn’t like the second part when we had to plan the action, but I also did not participate fully in the planning part of the session.’ – Martynas, Lithuania.
As a group we experienced many flights being cancelled, there were worries surrounding getting home because the Corona Virus outbreak was becoming more serious each day.
So we did not have reflection groups, instead we held a group conference about the situation and flights. We had hot tea, sang songs and talked between ourselves. Then we shared supper before relaxing in the evening.
DAY 5 – TAKE ACTION
This day began with a check in led by Ove, we expressed how we felt using our thumbs and attempted to be present in the room.
Open Space commenced, an opportunity to share skills, enjoyments and take the challenge to lead a group session.
Breathing exercises with Ove
‘All three of the breathing techniques you were introduced to, the Wim Hof method, the Bhastrika (Bellows breath) and the three stage Pranayama support our body and mind in multiple ways: We strengthen our immune system and body metabolism, relaxes and release/lower stress, sleep better, increase our breathing quality and lung capacity. Spending 20 minutes per day doing breathing exercises is the best self love we can give ourselves.’ – Ove, Norway.
See links to videos below:
Bodybuilding with Carlos and Art Meditation Mandalas sessions with Alba
Analysing energy with Paula and Bullying session with Zach
These sessions relaxed us, focused our attention on our bodies and away from our thoughts, sometimes hard to achieve for the group members at times, we danced and moved to gain strength and drew pictures from our imagination or mandalas whilst listening to calming music. Participants who wanted to, spoke to Paula and received an aura reading about their lives and characteristics. Some participants chose to join a discussion and video session on bullying, which was painful but enlightening. To immerse oneself in a personal perspective from others can aid us to take steps towards helping stop these issues.
Singing – Dona Nobis Pacem (Give us Peace) with Katie and Painting with Pencil with Burcu
These activities encouraged us to relax and meditate through an artistic form, be it painting or singing, we created something special and released our imaginations and voices. Coming together just as we could.
Finally we had a Heartshower session led by Mr. Heartshower! We stood as a group around one person or a group of people, who were sitting in the centre of the circle, the members receiving the heartshower were encouraged to shut their eyes and the standing members began to sing and placed their hands gently onto the people, sending out love, open connection and reassurance.
‘I am the creator of the Heartshower concept, using this song to spread love, empathy, create heart-to-heart, eye-to-eye and physical contact. The little dancing man with a sunny head, big ears and a big heart is my logo. Mr. Heartshower is my artist name. In order to give love, there must be someone who can receive and vice versa, in order to receive it, there must be someone who can give. Win-win for everyone and love and empathy flourish in the world. The nice thing is that we can give from ourselves to our best friend, ourselves, too. It’s called self-love. The lyrics and melody have been created by others. Heartshowers = give & receive love/empathy from person to person with eye/heart to heart/physical contact while singing the song “How could anyone ever tell you”. Hug from mr. Heartshower 🙂 ❤’ – Ove, Noway.
The lyrics to the heartshower have been written down by Ove, to be experienced and sung.
We then had a break and next came the Fashion Show! The themes were Nature, Love and Sexy! Head Designer Zach had the casting vote on who came where on the podiums, but special prizes were given for incredible efforts and acting skills!
‘The fashion show for me was amazing, the fact was that I could share my thoughts and opinions on what a fashion show should be like. Also it gave me a sense of enjoyment to know that I can organise something and hard work pays off in a sense, also that when we all work together we can create something magical, something inspirational. It gave me a sense of pride to know I did something great, it was good. I enjoyed it; connecting, sharing different views and opinions within my group, for different people which was amazing…
I really enjoyed getting to work with Raminta and Katie and everyone else, it is something amazing, I would like to do this in another project, I have the experience of it and can always carry that with me to different projects that I do, which is really fun, so yeah for me it was great!’ – Zach, UK.
Here is the fashion team and audience together! The overall winner was Tarzan Mümin, seen in the centre of the picture.
Reflection groups rounded up the day, people were relaxed, open to discussions, some were energised and others tired, most were hungry for supper!
‘We found a change of our feeling that we lived during the day, it makes us feel very special’ wrote the participants together when gathering ideas about reflection sessions.
DAY 6 – DAY AROUND THE ISLE
Today we began with an energiser – a circle movement activity with the lyrics ‘Where did you go my big fat pony?’ One person started off the movement, then danced front, side and back to someone in the circle who then joined the moving circle and stepped around the room.
We then cleaned the hostel, bringing in air and fresh feelings!
This afternoon we had initially planned to meet and greet locals as an activity to spread the message of Erasmus, but due to the current Covid-19 risks, instead we had a free day in the sunshine! We spent time in nature, keeping away from the town which sadly meant no coffee shops! But we had to do this to keep safe.
It gave us time to enjoy the stunning natural environment on the Isle of Wight.
The participants and leaders had a chance to relax and walk up to the view of the needles. Then sunbathed on the heathland before heading down to the pebble beach, we listened to the waves, cracked stones open and created balanced rock ‘cairns’.
We returned to the hostel for 5pm to have our reflection groups. Whilst some enjoyed the time off, others were concerned about flight cancellations and maintaining contact with family and loved ones back home. We encouraged people to communicate and attempted to find solutions as a group.
DAY 7- IMPLEMENTING IN PRACTICE
Today we focused on our ideas about creativity! We started with a check-in which included meditation and the breathing techniques we did on day five brought a sense of relaxation in the beginning of the morning. Paula led an exercise that encouraged the use of language and sounds. As a group we really enjoyed this!
Then we practised improvisation.
We paired up and spoke about a topic in gibberish together, then one person had to translate the others expression of gibberish to the group who asked questions.
We played a mirror game with body movements, this encouraged individuals to see and respond to the other person in front of them. It created a chance for furthering our interconnections between buddies.
Also, we improvised using the two roles of ‘the mind’ and ‘the actor’; you listen to your mind but can speak out against it, ignore it or follow it! The choice is yours.
Blind dating came next, a person asked three participants questions, but they had no idea that one person was a celebrity, one was an animal and the last one a household item. Predetermined roles in life lead to hilarious and also serious situations!
‘It was incredibly fun to watch people use their imaginations and sense of humour to create responses to questions! Predetermined roles can be both hilarious and difficult to interpret, it all depends on how you engage! The hoover, oh wow I laughed so much! – Katie, UK.
We then had lunch, rested then came back for the afternoon activities.
First, the Ghost energiser game prompted us to be present in the room, react to others and enjoy running about the room. The aim was to stop a ghost from taking one of our ‘Houses’. As a team we had to work together, sometimes cheating but then learning to move as a whole to protect the empty seat from the invading ghost.
‘I enjoyed the game because it seemed so easy, yet so complex. Not only was it a physical game, you had to focus mentally on making sure that the empty chair was occupied.’- Stacey, UK.
Next was Speed dating. We were asked to draw clocks and fill each 12 hour space with 12 people. Each question was about our life experience. As a group we responded to this task and hearing people talking and engaging was empowering. Some participants felt the time for each question was too short, others felt it was easier to speak in pairs or groups of up to 4 people. The aim was to further the development of bonds between people.
‘I’ve done the clock activity many times before and every time the questions are different which I like. Some were superficial and some you really had to think about, whilst your partner had to answer the same question. I enjoyed hearing so many varied, different and similar answers.’ – Stacey, UK.
Creativity continued and we chose our favourite article and in our groups we made up a story using the pictures. And then we experimented with the newspapers: how many sounds can you make with a newspaper? Many!
We created a story based on the theme of descrimination and we were encouraged to use only the sound of the paper. We performed it in groups in front of an audience who had their eyes closed. To hear the interpretations was incredible; everyone had different ideas of what each story was. Participants were even able to create high pitched noises by blowing on the paper which was folded in a unique way.
‘To play with the papers was so fun and helped us to find new creative ways. Making the story was the hardest part for me, I can do origami or something else with the newspaper but the voice was unexpected, thinking about others, what they wanted us to imagine was really difficult.’ – Burcu, Turkey.
‘Creativity is a phenomenon when something valuable is formed. Experiencing the creation of a story using images and sounds from a newspaper, by working in small groups and brainstorming small ideas together until the final idea is reached, is a very common process in daily life for everyone.’ – Marco, Italy.
‘Overall today was incredibly fun!’ – The media team: Burcu, Evie, Stacey and Yaren, on behalf of all the participants.
We had supper, rested then got ready for 9pm, when the Gossip box commenced and Heartshowers were given, singing to each other, with one person or more receiving the warmth and open hearted expression of connection and love between us.
DAY 8 – ALL IN ALL
Our final day arrived quicker than expected.
First we started with the ‘Go Viral’ session, we were asked to produce different ways ro capture our time together; videos, photos of each participant and posts on social media about our experiences during this Youth Exchange. A team of five or six people took the challenge for a few hours to begin writing this main article.
Then final evaluation happened, we sat in the circle, listening to music as our Project Leader Raminta guided us through the days and activities we lived as a group. There was peaceful music, then silence, birds singing and the sounds that arise when tears fall.
Following this we had our final group reflection session. People shared their feelings, said thank you and the outpouring of love we felt for each other was akin to a newly formed family. Many times the session was almost closed, but people chose to speak up and share, taking their last chance to communicate.
After the session we all hugged each other and Heartshowers were given to those who we felt at the time needed the love for all their life experiences and dedication.
We then had our last meal, before we banded together to clean the hostel one final time before people began to leave. The goodbyes were tearful and sad, but hopeful as a ‘See You Soon!’ was felt, perhaps sometime in the future, who knows what could happen? What we now know is we definitely created something special here on the Isle. And no one could stop us!
Grateful thanks to the main photographers Blanca and Marco.
A few photos also taken by Alba, Burcu, Raminta and Katie.
When asked if they would like to repeat this experience participants replied:
‘Yes, great experience for me, first time Erasmus, I want to repeat it!’
‘Yes because I know their point of view, young people from other countries.’
‘Yeah, it feels like it makes me a better person!’
Many thanks to the organisations behind the planning and gathering of us all:
Abroadship.org Associazione Ottovolante Inovatyvi Karta/ Innovation Generation Amics.eu
And especially thank you to Raminta, who shone in her abilities to hold us together and upwards during these challenging but heartfelt times.