Soon after my first ERASMUS+ in Turkey, I took part in another one, this time in Poland. I had already fallen in love with Youth Exchanges and I was really looking forward for a new multicultural experience.
And it was a fantastic December!
The first surprise was to meet Doctor Greg again, a Polish friend I previously met in Turkey. I had never imagined, only a few weeks before, that the Polish culture talks will turn out to be real, meeting his friends and hometown. It just made me realize how small the world is and what a great network of young European citizens this program is forming!
There were participants from Latvia, Greece, Finland, Romania, Poland and the friendship we formed in this group was incredible! We had such a nice vibe working together, understanding the concept of global citizenship and the European values, in the middle of the refugee crisis. We explored Białystok, our home for the next week, through city games and Patriks’ coordinating skills saved the day. We had intercultural nights, ate a lot of Pierogi- Polish dumplings and also tasted food brought from our homes, accompanied by traditional songs, Stefanos played his flute and showed amazing dancing skills! Also, my friend, Giwrgos, who taught me a little bit of hip hop and basic words in Greek! Many nights were about sharing our passions, life ideas and the different ways of living we all had.
It was so cold and foggy, but our Latvian friend, Karlis, was always going out with his unbuttoned jacket, enjoying the weather. This made me afraid of going to Latvia in the winter… :)) There were awesome people, starting with Paula, our leader, who was always everywhere, like a little bee taking care of us, and Aleksandra, our trainer who created an amazing learning experience. All of them were special and kind, there was a beautiful smart lawyer, a very strong and disciplined sportsman, a girl who’s laugh could lighten up even the winters in Finland and many others. Mentioning her, I’m laughing because I remembered the hard times Finnish people had when we squeezed everybody in one bus! We were so happy, moving from the first hostel to a great place with a sport facility.
The owners had a cute 6 years old girl named Ada. We draw together her favorite Disney princess and she invited me to play Badminton with her. Hmm… at first I thought she was joking when she took me on the field, because we had a real net between us, a big one she could barely touch with her racket. Despite this… she could really beat me at Badminton! And she did! Well.. you see… it’s their national sport…
Yes, we had a lot of fun in Poland, like it always happens in these projects with young people gathered in the same place! We exchanged letters, made a secret Santa moment and we barely slept the last night just to talk a little bit more together! We went home knowing that we’ll meet again and reunite the fuzzy ducks!
But you know, we also learned a lot. So let’s go back to the topic of our training: refugee myths breakdown.
With the help of our Polish friends, we walked on the streets and interviewed people about their position on receiving refugees, their fears and ideas. Everybody was open to us and they had the main fear as a refugee has- the fear of not being safe or being able to protect their family. The survey showed that 50% didn’t know which would be the best way to manage this crisis, remained impartial, and only 23% were against receiving refugees. We understood the local situation in Białystok and integrated it in the worldwide scenario, learning about the national situation each of us had back home. I found out there are almost no homeless people in Finland and why there could be difficult to offer financial aid to a big number of refugees while maintaining the same life standard, also about the economic situation in Greece and about the small area of Latvia.
We had a guest from Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights who shared her job experience and helped us realize the fears, the myths and the prejudices that are connected with Muslims and refugees. The purpose was to launch an online campaign, try to break the myths down and inform the population. I was in the team that covered the economic impact of the refugee crisis and here is a short video with our research on the subject.
Refugees are people running away from terrorism. Many have witnessed loved ones being killed or dying in their arms, or maybe they have a sister or a brother who got out of there, too. Anyway, it’s a maybe. A fearful hope that, even if they will never meet again, at least they are safe. So many have lost their identity, all their goods, their education and status, all the little things we may take for granted: like being a bridesmaid at our childhood friend’s wedding or going at grandma’s for our favorite food. Their world has been swept away in front of their eyes, with no power to protest or to protect anything or anyone. A lot of them -the lucky ones- come to a foreign country where they don’t understand the language and the culture, only with the clothes they are wearing.
Imagine being a pregnant woman on a boat with 30 people on, barely floating, because it was made just for 15. And all you see around is water, hoping that the boat will reach the shore before giving birth.
Put yourself in the shoes of a father with a child who needs treatment for autism, stuck in an asylum for months, not being able to offer him medication. Understand the story of an architect who finally, after months, gain the papers to officially have an identity and support himself with a job as a cleaning man. Because something touched the reset button and the work of his lifetime has been forgotten. But he never forgets it, especially during the nights when he wakes up sweaty, shaking, by memories he can’t speak about.
Imagine refugees walking on one side of the street and on the other one, the locals, crossing each other’s eyes. It’s the same expression of fear, but they just don’t know it: the fear of the unknown.
This project also had a sad incident which included few of the participants and the owner of “Rokoko” club. It was bitter because it basically showed that the hatred towards people from different backgrounds and countries is really strong in a lot of societies in European Union.
In the end, this ERASMUS+ Youth Exchange in Poland was an amazing experience, we made friends from other countries and because of it, we are more conscious about our European identity, privileges and responsibilities.
Dziękuję to the people and organizations that made this experience possible:
…..the kind and honest Tabe, beautiful warm hearted Anna, Bianca- my lovely secret friend, Κατερίνα- the caring one, Eleanna- the baby soul, Paula and Aleksandra- the magic ones, funny Greg, Giwrgos- the dancer, Karina- the one with beautiful emotions, Karlis- the Spartan, strong Juris, Kasia- the shy one, smiley Aivars, nice Baiba, really smart Emma, talented Stefanos, organized Patriks, powerful Kωνσταντίνα, the informed and cool Olia, laughing Pinja, colorful Jemina, elegant Jan and Max, the Max.