On the 25th of February 2020 participants from Spain, UK, Lithuania, Turkey, Greece and Italy arrived to the rainy (but still the sunniest in the whole United Kingdom) Isle of Wight for Erasmus+ youth exchange Empathic Step #1.
Day 0 First Steps Towards Empathy
First Steps Towards Empathy – what are they? What is empathy? Arrival of participants marked the beginning of the 9 days journey – to answer those and many more questions together. Participants created a video to inspire others to attend perhaps the Phase #2 in Northern Ireland or Phase #3 in Iceland.
After a welcoming night of greetings and a good night sleep the first day of the project started.
Day 1 Get to know each other!
During the 1st day we got to know each other through many activities such as speed dating, dancing and games. Straight from the start this enabled to build trust towards each other. It was nice to see how people adapt very fast to other people’s presence and how you can feel a strong connection at the end of the first day together. Is it the young age or the open mindedness?
Day 2 The brave ones swim in the Atlantic Ocean!
Day two began with a yoga session. After breakfast we found ourselves a buddy, who would be our partner throughout the full project. If our buddy wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be there, as a way to build and reinforce the trust between each other and getting to know each on another level. Later on the “circle of compliments” brought us even closer with the rest of the group.
We were filled with positive energy and emotions to start our day hike in the island. Throughout the day hike we faced many challenges which could be completed only through teamwork. The weather was perfect so enjoying nature was easy. We got to know each other even more through conversations, especially answering personal questions. While coming back, a unique challenge was to silently walk back by reflecting upon our individual thoughts about life. The hike ended with the bravest ones going for a swim in the Atlantic!
Day 3 Forum Theatre in action!
During day 3 we got more creative by experiencing how to think outside the box in our daily life through different kinds of art, like visual arts, music and poems.
In the afternoon we played forum theatre, which is a kind of theatre related to social themes like oppression and discrimination. The main goal is to try to solve a problem which is presented by the actors, but the interesting thing is that the spectators, called spect-actors, can stop the performance, change one of the actors and try to influence the outcome of the situation. We tried to offer different and personal solutions to important social issues presented through improvisations.
Day 4 Derdians and Engineers!
On the 4th day we played Derdians and Engineers, which is a simulation of the meeting two cultures. We had to learn how to communicate with one another, not knowing the cultural traits and traditions of the other culture.
In the afternoon we went for a City Quiz to ask the locals some questions about their lives in the island and their view on current issues, such as foreigners, refugees and coronavirus, exploring the island at the same time.
Day 5 Preparation for the night hike!
In day 5 we started with Abigail´s story and kept debating on personal values for hours. Abigail´s story is a fictional moral problem with apparently no solutions or right answers; everyone has their personal opinion on the problem and it’s very interesting to share different opinions and ideas.
A workshop on cognitive behavioural coaching followed, in order to understand ourselves and our thinking patterns better; our brain is full of thinking traps and applying self coaching is the best way to realize it and deal with it.
Participants were informed about the night hike that would follow, and started their preparation for the simulation. It was a refugees simulation, with the leaders acting as smugglers trying to bribe the refugees, and the corrupted border police finding reasons not to let some of the refugees pass the borders. The weather conditions contributed to the simulation, as it was raining and super windy, resulting in a more realistic outcome. In the end, when the simulation ended, we went back to the hostel, had some hot tea and went to bed with many thought in our heads, happy to have a roof above our heads.
Day 6 Open space session!
The next morning we gathered all together to reflect on what we experienced and how we felt during the night hike, also discussing on current refugee crisis. We were asked to present our ideas in many artistic ways by reflecting about our time during the previous day, the thoughts we had during the simulation and the feelings we perceived and experienced. The outcome was a very deep reflection about serious issues like refugees, situations at the country borders, and more.
In the afternoon we had the Open Space session, where workshops were led by participants. We had the chance to present and share what we know about first aid, writing, meditation, Mandala drawing, acting and sex education.
Day 7 Fair Play
On Day 7 we played what was presented as a simple game but was actually a reflection of how our society works. During the game, three jury members were corrupted and they already decided which team out of three would win the competition even before starting. The game was presented as a fun game about fair-play and competitiveness, but the participants started to realize something was wrong during the game. In the end, during the reflection, they realised and shared what they learnt during the game: some people may have more possibilities in life than others; in a real life situation things would be very complicated and it’s up to us to realise when it’s our turn to step in and change the situation.
After lunch, a participant presented a creative workshop, in which we had the chance to express ourselves through art and meditation. The day ended with a presentation of Youthpass and Erasmus+, learning all the possibilities the EU offers to the youth.
Day 8 Strong Bonds
Being a big and diverse group, living and experiencing everything together for 8 days, this Youth Exchange definitely taught us a lot about different cultures, traditions and aspects of a foreigner’s life. We created very strong bonds with others and really hope to stay in contact after the project. This project was created to make us think about empathy, ways of being empathetic with people that are in less fortunate situations than ourselves, but in the end it is about understanding everyone, irrespective of their status and culture.
We were youth from all over Europe and more, with different backgrounds and stories and though we are from the same part of the world, all more or less privileged, we all have our own stories and difficulties. Being empathetic with people, not judging, being openminded and kind to each other is a quality that we need in all aspects of life. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in other peoples shoes and feel their situation, actively listening and trying to feel what another person is feeling. But empathy like all human qualities has many aspects and can’t be explain with words.
What is next?
Do you want to improve your empathic skills? Would you like to experience what we experienced and loved? Why don’t you apply for the next phase of Empathic Step #2, in Ireland?
Soon there will be also a #3 in Iceland. Are you ready?