Five Youth Exchanges: The Experience

Searching and attempting, being rejected and successful, to finally join five incredible Erasmus+ Youth projects that were not only inspiring but life-changing!

Iryna comes from Ternopil, but lives in Kyiv and studies at the Taras Shevchenko National University. She is completing her fourth year in English Philology, and additionally studies French and Spanish. The full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine affected her morale, and in the spring of 2022, she was looking for a chance to reset and gain additional learning. There she saw Erasmus+ opportunities for international youth exchanges.

My first project was in Portugal. I remember my emotions when I received the letter that I had been selected. It was incredible! After the project, I thought, ‘So, life can be like this? To receive such emotions, such knowledge?! – says Iryna.

By 2022, Iryna was unaware of the existence of the Erasmus+ Youth programme. In the spring of that year, she found her first project and began to learn about the specifics and conditions of participation.

At first, the theme of a youth exchange wasn’t too much important for me, but it turned out that the projects I eventually participated in were very diverse. And each one was extremely useful. I realized that all the topics, in one way or another, were related to my life, and this knowledge would never be superfluous. – shares Iryna.

How to join a youth exchange

Iryna recalls that to participate in an international youth exchange, one need to be convincing. At first, she didn’t know what to say and write to her local organisation to join a youth group going for the project. So she listened to her feelings.

I advise always to explain with specific examples how you are connected to the theme of the project. Also, it’s worth mentioning how you will apply the knowledge gained after the exchange, and how it will be useful to you. In general, it’s important to be memorable to the organizers, somehow special. – says Iryna.

Preparations

Now, Iryna has experience in international youth projects both as a participant and as a team leader. In the latter case, she says, there are more responsibilities: you are responsible not only for yourself but also for your team, arriving at the project, organizing workshops, etc.

Being a participant is easier, but you still need to prepare: learn about the country you’re going to, about the participating countries, and also think about the workshops you will do with all your team. In general, both roles are very important experiences. – she says.

Sometimes, people don’t know how to talk about Russia’s war against Ukraine. So we, Ukrainians, need to be ready, to tell about the full-scale invasion, to be based on facts, to show photos, or videos. – adds Iryna.
a group of youth outside in summer, in some old town, by the river, old stone bridge in the back

How about the projects

In January 2023, Iryna participated in a youth exchange in Vilnius. The theme was ethnosport – sports related to the cultures of countries and their ethnic peculiarities. It’s a very unusual and interesting topic. We presented ethno-sports and ethno-games of Ukraine, says Iryna.

She also recalls a project in Portugal on gender equality. There they created a social video and presented it in a local school. During another youth exchange in Spain, they performed in the city center: they did a dance performance with flags of the participating countries.

It was unforgettable! We danced Ukrainian folk dances in front of the locals, everyone was delighted,. – says Iryna.

There was also a project in Malta on sexual education. According to Iryna, this topic was one of her favourites in the projects.

The topic is very relevant for Ukraine, a post-Soviet country, where sexual education is often silenced. Despite everything, we are moving towards this, and it was useful to brainstorm how the knowledge gained could be transferred to Ukraine, how to introduce subjects on sexual education in schools, etc. – shares Iryna.
a bigger group of young people with their countries flags on a street late evening in summer

Impact of Erasmus+ Youth on life

Iryna says that the Erasmus+ Youth projects have influenced her life and future plans. She highlights three most important aspects of youth exchanges:

First of all, it’s about the friends you make on the projects, intercultural communication that helps you learn about other countries and their inhabitants. From each project, I still have people with whom I communicate and befriend. Second, it’s the competencies we gain, and the topics we explore in the projects. We can use this knowledge in our life: to support conversations, to be informed, and have personal experience. The third thing that had an impact on me and was important is the factor of travelling, visiting a new country. Erasmus+ is a great way to see Europe, feel its vibes and colours. – says Iryna.

Finally, Iryna shared advice for future participants of Erasmus+ Youth projects. She emphasizes that every participant must understand that they represent their country. How you behave, what you talk about – all this will be remembered by others. This responsibility must be understood.

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