From “impro” to “I’m pro” - that was the motto of the Erasmus plus Youth exchange project in Palmse, Estonia. From 1st till the 8th of December 30 young people from Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Spain and Turkey gathered to explore impro theatre, different cultures and more about themselves.

Throughout the week were challenged with different activities which helped us to expand our comfort zone and to think out the box. We started with team building activities in order to build trust and to improve our cooperation in the group. Every day we could prove ourselves in impro theatre activities which got more and more challenging. We spend the evenings discovering our cultural differences and similarities. We presented our countries in groups and we also organised the “Eurovision Night Palmse” in which we performed songs from each other's countries.

In our free time, we discovered beautiful Palmse and especially plenty of snow which covered the Lahemaa National Park. Moreover, we had the opportunity to enjoy the typical Estonian sauna.

 
Performing Estonia’s “Nukuke” at the Eurovision Songcontest 

The whole programme was preparing us for the “TEDx Palmse” which took place at the end of the week. Each of us could deliver a short speech about a topic of our choice in front of the whole group and could receive helpful feedback. Throughout the week, our learning process was supported by daily reflection groups. We also receive input about the key competencies and the Youthpass which we could complete at the end of this week. We also learned a lot about the Erasmus plus and opportunities in Europe and even proved our knowledge in a quiz.

All told, the time passed so quickly and it was time to go home again. We left with a lot of wonderful experiences, reflections, memories, new friends and even some presents from Santa.



Take a look at the experiences shared by our Austrian team: 

Roland

 
My expectations before the project:
Before I came to this project I had no idea what is improvisation about. We had some funny exercises, where we had to do spontaneous role plays with fictional speeches. I really enjoyed it, because I never had this kind of improvising in my life before. After the project I was more comfortable with things like improvising, getting out of my comfort zone and my public speaking skills increased!

Kathi S.

What I have learned:
Before we started with improvisation and the main part of this project, we first focused on getting to know each other and strengthening our group with different team building exercises and games. Because there were people of different ages from five different nations I learned more about them, their dreams and important things in life, which was really inspiring and could let me see life from other perspectives. During these days I also learned more about traditions and behaviour of people from other countries, to be more open for other peoples stories and their way of thinking. Another great experience was that this project showed me again, that culture and language are no barrier to making friends and how easy and beautiful it can be to connect with people who are from different countries. Therefore a big part for me was improving my cultural awareness. To be able to spend a week with many people together in harmony, I noticed how important it is to be respectful and selfless and to go through the day with a collective consciousness and its associated actions.

The improvisation exercises gave the opportunity to leave the personal comfort zone and to notice that there is nothing wrong with what a person can contribute. Improvisation lets you be creative in a wilder form where you have the chance to impress your thoughts and feelings. Although I didn’t feel as comfortable as I wished with these exercises, in the beginning, it became easier for me over time and I felt more self-confident as well. I learned the importance of being able to think and act spontaneous - no matter if it is during these exercises or in normal life. I experienced how great it can be to not overthink something and to just go with the flow.

Furthermore, I became more relaxed when I had to present myself in front of a group of other people in what way I could improve my presentation skills as well.

The most important thing is that during this whole week I have learned more about my strengths but also weaknesses and my dreams and goals I want to achieve in life - and not to forget, that you shouldn’t take life too seriously!

Michi

My magical moment:
There were so many special moments during the whole week that it is hard to decide on one. However, I think the final TEDx-speeches we did on a second-to-last evening were definitely a magic moment for everyone. The whole week led up to that moment: day by day and step by step we increased our self-confidence so that eventually speaking in front of the whole group was not as scary anymore as it seemed to us the moment we heard about the fact that we had to do such a speech at the beginning of the week. Of course, I was still nervous but the atmosphere in the group was very welcoming and encouraging and making mistakes was okay.

I was the first one to speak (it was decided by drawing a card who would have to speak when). At first, I didn’t like the idea but eventually, it was great because then I could listen to what all the others had to say with full attention and without worrying about my own speech. It was a great experience! Everyone did it differently: Some people told very personal stories, others were very creative or showed their knowledge in certain areas. After the speeches, I was so proud of myself and all the others. The reflection we did as a group afterwards was very moving: you could see that they felt the same way. Everyone grew not only as an individual but also as a member of the group.

Kathi B.

How I will apply the things I have learned:
As we learned a lot of things during this amazing week, I can apply various skills to my life. Because of all the activities and exercises we did, I am more comfortable with my public appearance. Now I know that I can handle unfamiliar and unplanned situations a lot better than before. I am more comfortable because of the feedback I received in Estonia. Not only this, but I am also more self-confident. I know that I can trust myself and my abilities, no matter what situation will come. I am a student at the University of Graz and I had to do a presentation the week after the Youth Exchange and I already could see that I developed new skills. I think that we cannot see the progress we made in Palmse to its full extent now, but I am pretty sure that with some time we will see that we learned even more than we had thought and that we can apply a lot of it or all of it in our daily and professional life.

I know for me personally that I can apply a lot to my life. I am going to be a teacher and I am sure that I need a lot of improvisation skills during my working life. The team who organised everything had some amazing activities I would like to implement in my teaching one day. Most of them are excellent for language teaching or team building, which is important for a classroom. But I can also apply these skills into my daily life. No matter what situation we get into, we always need improvisation. I cannot wait to see the full extent of what I learned during this week, but I already can see a lot of it.



Already excited to learn more about Erasmus+ and Improvisation?
Be prepared for our follow-up in Graz!

Yours,
Elisa
Paola, (Italy): LevelUp was my very first Erasmus+ Youth Exchange and for sure, one I will remember forever. Together with other 25 people from Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Austria and Italy we spent eight days in Trofaiach, Austria, to reflect about inclusion and learning in a playfull way. This is so important to me because in today’s world I find very difficult to keep in real touch with our playfull and free nature and to remember that the best way to learn is cooperating together with people who have different stories and backgrounds from what we are used to! After arriving in the beautifull location (I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy staying in a castle) which would have been our home for the following week, we started getting to know each others and understand who we were going to experience this youth exchange with! As my first time, I have to say, it was not always easy to challange myself to sit with people from a different country (also because my fellow italians were amazing) or to remember how to pronounce all the names (and you don’t want to say another person name wrong, I mean…awkward!). But as the days went by, the groups began to mix, the ideas began to flow and the games to be played with more and more enthusiasm, I had the feeling to be in the right place at the right time! The free time, the game nights, the workshops all became moments to keep learning something new about others people ideas and prospectives in life. Everyone was welcomed and felt welcomed and at the end of the week, I could not have laughed more, play more, challanged myself more but expecially, learnt more from the beautifull people I met. I am so gratefull for this experience and, as someone said, once you start going on Youth Exchanges, you will never stop! I quite feel it’s going to be this way also for me, and I am completely ok with it!
Kristiana (Poland): When I got accepted to be a participant for the project ''Level Up'' - I didn't know what to expect. The arrival day was pretty full of anxiety. So many different personalities in front of me, so many names to remember. The first thought that came to me was to survive without panicking. I didn't manage to do that for a while, but then a small group of us decided to explore a little bit of Trofaiach. From that moment everything went very well. I got the courage to get to know these lovely people. Then followed the check-in, introduction and some free time to talk to more people. A week full of experiences could finally start!
If I have to put in summary my feelings towards the project - I have to say that I truly loved every single bit of it. Day by day we became closer and friendlier by doing group activities indoors and outdoors. Each day we got to know more and more about each other, we learned to trust each other and work together as a group. We started to become one. From complete strangers at day 1 to close friends at the end of this journey. And I loved to observe how each person got more confident as days went by.
I think my favorite thing was our first calling song. Some got tired of it, because it was repetitive, but at the end we were even learning the dance together. Looked like everyone enjoyed it in the end. That, in my point of view, seemed very cool to me. I also liked learning traditional dances of two countries. Not to mention that we put all that together in a flash mob. I also liked learning a thing or two about each country, and also learning a few phrases in each language. But the best memory will probably be the free morning we were given. Waking up at 5 just to go to the mountains - at least that was the plan. But in reality we just wandered around the city with no real destination. Ended up even going out of Trofaiach. But it was a good experience - we saw beautiful places, had wise and mind opening conversations, and at the end we still got back to our beautiful castle. Plus I found out that people keep swans as their pets... What's up with that? :D
I really cannot recall anything that I didn't like from this project. Each activity was enjoyable, food was good, Trofaiach was and still is breathtakingly beautiful and people were super nice.
It is still taking me some time to get back to reality. It is weird to wake up but not being able to see everyone each morning. I'm super glad I had the chance to participate in this project.


Kairi (Estonia): When i heard about the project and about the topic i was already interested..."Level up"that has to do with GAMES!! what a dream for me. And i don´t regret leaving my normal life for a week! I met new people and we played a lot. Sounds silly? well its not, thro games its so easy to learn, about the other cultures and people and also about yourself. We started as strangers but the week in Austria conected us somehow and we ended up trusting each other. Like a little big family. Thank you for this opurtunity!!!!
Priit (Estonia):
Austria, October '18
The news about yet another youth exchange came to me via friend, who for some reason couldn't attend to the project she actually had helped to prepare. Without any further ado I managed to arrange myself to take part in the project called “Level Up!” that started in fortnight. To be quite honest I didn't have any doubts about this project, as I tend to not get my expectations too high before – I mean what's the point, in it? What ever happens, happens & whatever comes, will come. So instead I've replaced 'em “non-existing doubts” & expectations with an idea, a belief if you may, that every challenge is an opportunity to improve yourself... Come to think of it, isn't that why we organize & take part in 'em projects?...
* * *
Putting aside me personal adventures & discoveries in Vienna the previous night, it now was time to meet up with me group from Estonia. Obviously in those kinda situations where you've spoken with some people via social media chats before actually meeting with 'em in person you already have some sort of prejudice about what they'd be like – inevitable... Luckily I already knew Kairi from another youth exchange some 3 years ago and to tell you the truth the other 3 musketeers a.k.a. Jelena, Kaido & Julius turned out to be a fabulous pick for my dream team as well. Some formalities & courtesies shared, it was time to find the place for the bus and meet others. We won, as we were by far the first ones there in the meeting point! Actually our lead was so huge that we started to question if it really was the right place... It was, as soon others started to gather around as well. There was the Polish delegation – somehow in charge of everything, weird I know...; soon followed by the Italians & at last Lithuanian representatives, which was odd, cause my money was definitely on Italians arriving last... After a quick name-check, which was not helpful for me personally at all, other than I managed to recognize me own name – whatta win!!! - it was time for 2 hour bus ride to... well that's the thing, I still can't remember the name of that lovely little town, surrounded by mountains, that became a home for us during the upcoming week. But truly speakin' I'm on an opinion, that not all things in life need names, innit lovely to have some mystery in life driven by a sweet memory?... I remember sitting in the bus, thinking:”That's a small group...” Eventually we made it to that nice place everybody had been bangin' on about and as soon as we got off the bus we saw people waiting for us – “possibly organizer material,” I thought when seeing Marion & Giedrius the first time. Turned out I was right... But 'em people looked way too happy, considering the task ahead of 'em. I later found out that's their normal state – driven by enthusiasm, I guess...
So we were given a castle to live in, I mean a castle!!! With 2 rooms – one for boys & one for gals. Apparently we have very different idea about castles in Estonia, probably to do with the fact that we've next to none of 'em... Nevertheless we found some new participants between the walls of that “castle” - there were Salaad & Ilyas welcoming us, cool guys originally from Somalia, but held high the Austrian flag this time. Our 1st task of many ahead – check in and other necessary bureaucratic procedures that they apparently do not lack in Austria...
The next day s*** got real! We started to break the ice and little by little learned each other names, some better, some... well, lets just go with their own pace... Obviously during any kind of group activities it is vitally important to begin with some ice-breaking & name games or actions in case you happen to find the word game to sound a bit too childish... That's just to do with simple logic & human behavior, as these actions(from now on to make things serious) help people to open up and share their opinions more easily, thus making the actions more productive and help to implement on building the group dynamics. So as most of you already might have expected, we drew a river next to represent our individual journeys from our birth till the very moment we were now. The artistic level of 'em rivers differed a lot, but in the end it was the stories behind the art for some & behind “art” for most, that were the highlight of that gathering, through which we all learned a little something about each other more. After which it was time for setting goals for the project. I gotta say, that most goals were realistically set, some though maybe too optimistic, like I remember one saying “starting a family...” Then again gotta dream big, I guess & as Leo Messi says - “Impossible is nothing!” I guess the outcome of that action was to give us all an idea of what others are looking to gain from the project and thus maybe help 'em to get there.

Before the dinner there was still time for some sort of yoga related thing carried out by Giedrius, mainly focusing on breathing. Now that was carried out while laying on the floor & eyes closed, which was a formula that made some of us fall to sleep, including me. That whole thing wouldn't be half as remarkable, hadn't Julius introduced me with a quote by a fictional character called Ron Swanson, who after being asked by a medical worker, “Do you have any history of mental illness in your family?” he replayed with: “I have an uncle who does yoga...”

The night ended with a story telling performance that was kinda our homework. Although none of the groups seemed to have done their homework, the results were surprisingly good, specially the one performed by Miro, where they closed the lights and aimed a torch of some sort on him as he carried on with his story which was like a roller coaster ride with elements of tragic horrific events tied into elements of “joy” per se...

Day 3 started with a horrible surprise that came in a form of physical deformation of an eye of “the one who's name shall not be said...” This truly effected all of us in a way, that is simply indescribable, but also raised an important question – is it infectious? Well, obviously it was too early to tell... Luckily we started with our program outside by various kinda activities involving ropes and blindfolds that really eased to deal with the previous shock... About the ropes though – as you can imagine, some enjoyed messing with 'em materials more, some less – part of human nature, I guess... In the end though we managed to create a relatively artistic looking square as a team effort. The judges were no happy, we on the other hand couldn't care less, as we were well happy & very much seemed to enjoy the whole process of lack of communication... Also what made matters easier to bear was that we could all blame Jahor, as he was standing in the middle guiding us. The blaming part over we all climbed, one-by-one, on the rocky thingy and free falled ourselves down from it, hoping that others would catch us. To my great surprise, they did... From that point on it was all rock 'n' roll, as we felt invincible – we'd gain trust within the group and for one another!
As for the afternoon activities we had scheduled something called “inclusion & exclusion” and I'm quite sure that we included and excluded ourselves a lot, as it seemed to be the whole point of that, but I on the other hand can't seem to remember a single thing about that action... Which is odd, cause I sure was present there. Or just maybe me mind happened to be somewhere else, much like the effect Julius was having a lot during that week... After which we started to brainstorm about our projects and Erasmus+'s visibility in that place we were at. Looking back to that process – we were so lost & the ones who weren't had either hard time explaining their ideas or didn't share 'em at all. But that's what happens when you give a group a task that can be pretty much everything, but at the same time is structured in a way as well. Then again these sortta situations are some of the best life lessons there are, cause it not only implements on people creativity, but also communication skills, by explaining others your ideas and that's truly a hard competence to master... In the end we managed to come up with a flashmob idea to be carried out in the main “platz” of that place and it obviously went marvelously, if you don't mind me getting ahead to the upcoming events. The night was all about games of different types. For most of us it was all fun-fun-fun, but for some unknown reason till this day, Andrea & Emilia managed to create a sort of competition outta it of “Who da Best?” not that it mattered...

Day 4 started with much needed and waited free time. Although the weather had turned to worse, as if it tried to say to us:”Keep dreaming about climbing to 'em mountains...” Apparently some of us didn't listen and still had a go. Turned out that although 'em mountains were pretty much everywhere, they weren't as easy to reach as thought previously – whatta bomber!... Still I managed to see at least the local crave yard architecture and everything – amazing that was... After the lunch break we started with the “must have!” session of introducing Erasmus+ & Youthpass. So what did we learned from that you might ask? Well, about the 3 key actions obviously, about 8 key competences and about key... actually that's where the keys stopped... But an important question sure was raised during that session - “Youthpass, good or bad? We no know!...” Lucky for us there was a surprise ahead of us after the dinner, as we had a quiz night.  judges, as Marion & “The one who's name shall not be said” sat behind a table with many questions prepared and gals behind one long table, boys behind another one – a bit sexist if you'd ask me, but I didn't make 'em rules... In the end that turned out to be an awesome test of knowledge about the Erasmus+ in general and just a joy to be apart.

Day 5 started with something, I'm sure, but not sure what that was... Most probably we still worked on that awesomely carried out flashmob of ours' or was that the day we got “screwed” by going to the “mountains” that actually just happened to be some chairs tied up with one another... I gotta admit – that was a terrible “surprise” as we were banging on about going for a hick to the mountains from the minute we got there, and that's how our trust was betrayed... But at least it gave an opportunity for most of us to get really creative, as there was 20+ of us and thus we needed to have 20+ different methods to get around of that “mountain” - managed we did! I suppose that's a clear example how “life's a box of chocolate – you never know what you gonna get outta it...” sure thing, just happens that sometimes you get shit, excuse me French...

Till that point the group dynamic worked superbly already, there seemed to be no barriers between us anymore. I could go up to Deividas for a share of some Latvian jokes, talk with Elisa about Italian music, cause I’m a shy guy for asking ‘bout Caribbean dance instructions... hear about the difference between a feminist & a spear from Giedrius and ask Kristiana to check her 6th toe & join her with Gedrius for a quick tutorial of High School Musical dance – not that I ever did that, but I could've... share with Andrea yet another one of our amazingly motivational bathroom talks, pose with Jelena while trying to master the slavic squat to Miro while he was documenting the whole situation, try to nutmeg Salaad & Ilyas during a session of passing a ball – where as in reality the situation was quite the opposite and thus I’m using the wort “try...” be under a constant threat from Gerarda of being physically tortured – although I gotta admit, that somehow I started it all… have a random weird, but suspiciously normal for Estonians, eye contact “competitions” with Kairi & Kaido #EstoniansWeird… To hear some unspeakable jokes from Patricija, make Paula feel super uncomfortable without me saying a word in her presence, grow a nice respectful friendship with Emilia outta a weird one… trust Jahor in guiding us to right directions & photobomb while he was quit possibly shooting his new tinder profile picture, sing me song of the project “Why so serious” with Aiste in front of everyone & most importantly in our hearts, argue with Agnese about what is & what’s not art – arguably she knows better… hear out Julius first and then express his ideas in front of an audience to create a lot of laughs, boycott the better half of an activity with Nina and the rest of our group, as we found the critiques to be unfair and not fitting for us, hear Marion to tell me “Please Priit, we are starting, so please come to the room,” and me answering due to the High School Musical song - “I do not work with horrible music...” Addressing quite numerous times the elephant in the room for “The one who’s name shall not be said” & obviously sharing some quality talks, while taking a zip or two of Austrian national drink (read: Not Red Bull, which comes from Thailand by the way!!!) with me main man and our designated photographer Miro. And finally I managed to make Paola fall hopelessly in love with me – I’m sorry love, but it just weren’t meant to be... At least we could enjoy that one last night of fictive marriage the right way – only joy instead of tears…
The last day was pretty much the highlight of our journey. I think we all could see where this was heading, kinda like spending quality time with your best friend who now just happens to live on the other side oh the country and who you don’t see that often any more, so you know that the spectacular time you’ve spent soon has to come to an end. Ours’ was no exception, but there was still time for “Looking into each other soul” thing, that for most turned out to be quite emotional. I guess it simply showed just how much we had influenced one another during a time of just one week, and frankly speakin’ that’s what Erasmus+ means to me. It wasn’t always quite clear why or even what we were doing, but everything we’d done has made a difference. According to Freddie Mercury’s lyrics, that in fact in the song go into completely different direction, but nevertheless please hear me out… “I’m just the pieces of the man I used to be...” That wasn’t me first project, but after every one of ‘em I’ve felt changed a bit, as if all of ‘em projects have formed a piece of me life and thus they improve me, make me a better person. So to say I’m just the pieces of the man I used to be, I’d say thank you Erasmus+ for making me the man I am now.
And then came ze schnitzels and farewell party...
I’d like to finish me humble and modest summary of the project we share with a recommendation to all of You to cherish the time we spent together and to really take advantage of the opportunities we have thanks to that amazing program called Erasmus+. Lifelong learning is something we don’t necessarily have to consider, but my god does it make life enjoyable and fun!
...and finally by quoting Green Day “I hope You had the time of Your Life!...”
It was a pleasure to get to know You all and I do wish You the very Best in Life!
Take care!
Dr. Priit out!
From the 21st till the 28th of October, wEUnite organised a YouthExchange with partners from Estonia, Lithuania, Italy and Poland. The topic of the week was learning by playing - and that’s exactly what we did! 25 young people from these five countries, and actually many more, explored themselves and non-formal, playful education in a castle in Trofaiach, Austria.
The days were filled with different approaches and games about personal development, inclusion, and learning. First it was all about getting to know each other and building trust in order to work together as a group. This was achieved through games and playful activities outside, because we were very lucky with the weather in the beginning.
But also inside there was a lot of fun and learning through playing, for example with quizzes and roleplays. Throughout the rest of the week, we worked together in smaller and bigger
groups and created many beautiful things: games of our own, our own workshop session, a flashmob to promote Erasmus+.
Also in the evenings we spent our time together playing and inventing games. It seemed like we enjoyed being like children again, and at the same time learning from each other.
And because personal impressions tell more than anything else, here some testimonies by participants:
Maryia (Poland):Usually It takes me around two days to come out of the project I’ve been to and come back to the reality. I don’t know whether this week will that easy get out of my head with all the smiles, laughs, quotes, games and especially people. No matter the eyes, troubles or whatever. We worked, we laughed, we communicated we cooperated. That project was useful for me as it proved one more time that there are people who create the projects not the programs!
Andrea (Italy): “LevelUp” was my fifteenth project. I have started almost ten years ago and travel along Europe with many different associations. Before starting the project I was thinking, I am old, I already know almost everything about YE and related activities. Moreover, last projects were not the best, I was not feeling the enthusiasm of the organizer, and I felt as not having an important role. But, but, luckily I have taken part of this project before starting my PhD.
I had the opportunity to organize my trip, having suggestions from them and feedback on any itinerary. I have obtained all the information needed much before the departure, except for the timetable, that was greatly custom made according to our need and “evolution”. I felt by my own but accompanied by them. in addition, they push us to know each other before the start: I mean, we have a Facebook group as in many other projects, but they ask us to present ourself. I was asked to do as one of the first, and I felt annoyed by that at the begin, who was going to do that? Nevertheless, Nina started, I followed, and in short time, I had a face and a description of many members, I get to know them before the actual meeting, amazing idea. I should be short, I cannot say every single thing that I appreciate, but I will focus on the most important. I was the Italian group leader, and for the first time, I was considered for making activities, reflection group etc, I had a responsibility more than collect the ticket. I had to give feedback every time that we had a meeting, it would be listened and they would have tried to fix it. I was finally, again, part of a big family. The organizer was between us for the bigger part of the project, without let us feel the distance, and, talking like a “facilitator”, I felt important but at the same level. Nobody had fear to tell what he had thought, that was great! I wanted to focus on that because it may be the best way to explain integration and respect in EU project: it “easy” to talk and play about that, but difficult to apply them for real and for the entire project! Thank you for giving me back the enthusiasm, I hope to participate again, maybe with you.Best from a Italy!
Emilia (Poland): My experience at LevelUp Erasmus+ Project: There is not a single bad word I can say about this projects, everything went beyond all expectations. The organizers were extremely friendly and approachable and made sure we were happy at all times: always listened to us and responded to our needs. They managed to put an amazing group of people together and gave us room to have fun and learn a great deal of new things for six days straight! Definitely a memorable experience that showed me how Erasmus should be done!
Patricjia (Lithuania): ERASMUS+ programs, which I experienced 3 times, is something magical. The beginnings of each exchange are knocking louder and louder as the day of going to the project place comes. In front of you you see people of another nation, all with different destinies, left the routine in their native country, gathered for weekly adventures: some are more active, others need time to discover their courage, but at this junction they are the same newcomers as You! In the Youth Exchanges project, everyone will find a way to develop, to know others and to discover themselves through them. During teamwork, working skills are developed in every step that allows you to grow the desire to communicate, negotiate, lead, feel part of a group, something big and alive. Here, the organizers are also interested in you as an individual, what allows you to look at the project from the other way and lets you to understand yourself in it. After a long day of various activities, open, smiling and welcoming people are waiting to get to know you, and those with who you communicated during the day can show up as an unexpected companion in the evening. If I would brag about my experience - the youth exchange never leaves without increasing the number of friends. I am always looking forward to the trip days that sometimes are going hiking in the mountains, going to the sea or in the great cities of the country - it just shows the great Erasmus + desire to provide participants with the knowledge, social skills and expand their horizons and world outlook. Finally, ALL is funded by the European Union in the interest of education and the education of young people, which means that traveling, developing, learning and finding friends is completely free! It is important to keep in mind that the stones of your path depend on the way and how you put them. While raising your head, try to find yourself in the world and never forget that there are a lot of people around who are willing and able to help or encourage finding an association with themselves and the public, which is openly offered by all the ERASMUS + programs.
A big thank you to everyone who was part of LevelUp!
Yours, Marion



Wider Horizons brought together 39 young people from Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Italy, Greece and Poland for the period of 10 days for the First Basic Synergy Training in Austria.


The first stage of the project took place in Villach Landskron, where the participants were familiarized with methods and techniques that lead to self-improvement and self-development. Each day was held under a different topic, which were “judgement”, “patterns”, “self-loyalty”, “spontaneity” and “opportunities”.


With this a deeper understanding of oneself as well as on the world around us, was created. While working on judgement, the participants learned that each person choses to perceive or ignore the things that happen around them. Perception is a strong and individual process that is influenced by the patterns a person follows. Following patterns is something that happens unconsciously, and to break them can have a more than positive result. For this, it is important to understand where the followed patterns come from. Through experiential learning and self-reflection the participants were able to learn to enjoy every process. By changing or controlling the focus, language and physiology, one can influence the state of oneself. The understanding that nobody makes us do things, but that only oneself is responsible for the actions taken, created many AHA-moments. 


The participants were familiarized with techniques and methods that can be of use in everyday life
situations. The purpose of Wider Horizons was “to create more successes in life while enjoying”. The second stage of Wider Horizons focused on applying the learned theory in real life. The participants got the chance to actively use the learned methods while experiencing Austrian culture. In this process, we experienced that in life, one should not ask “what are my limits” but rather “what can I create”! By taking actions and responsibility, every process can be enjoyable if you make it so.


Some testimonies of the participants that describe how they widened their horizons: 

"Not only, did i find out who I am and who I want to be, but further got a deeper understanding of the
patterns I follow in my everyday life.  I got in touch with my emotions and feelings and found new ways to deal with situations that put me out of my comfort zone. Leaving my “safe” environment and having to cope with scenarios that are particular and unknown to me, taught me that spontaneity can create an incredibly positive outcome, if I am committed. I realized that with a positive attitude and creativity I can achieve everything that I set my mind on and nothing can stop me to reach my goals.

"The aspects of self-reflection helped me to understand why I am who I am and what I need to do to live a happier and healthier life. By additionally interacting with other participants, I learned to change my point of view to widen my horizon. Through switching my perspective, I was able to work on issues that held me back, and take steps towards the right direction. I have become more active and got the new understanding, that I am responsible and capable of being the change I want to see in the world."

"I feel like this project gave me a big opportunity to learn about myself. It was hard for me at
first but at one point I understood that it does not matter what our trainers were talking about,
it only matters what I want to get and take from it and this was a great feeling. We can learn
in every single situation no matter the surroundings."

"All in all I really loved the experience,
I loved the people there, I loved the 
save, distanced
environment, is was an really awesome experience, that I would recommend to everyone."

"This project made me to confront myself – my beliefs about myself and the others, my insecurities,
self-image, relationships with others. It made me get out of my comfort zone most of the times and
meet myself better. I became aware about parts of me I didn't even know were there. For the first time I think, I really had a courage to step out of my comfort zone, to take that next step I was often too afraid to take."

"This program was exactly what I needed. I wanted to try something close to my interests and “Personal Development” was the best for the beginning in this kind of programs. I feel absolutely satisfied with my choice of participating in this project. I met some nice people from other cultures. I have improved my communication skills in an international level. I realized how important is to be fluent in English. I learned to share my thoughts and problems with people that I didn't know before. Now, I can say that I know more about myself and my way of thinking and acting."

"Did it affect me a lot? In a certain way. The outdoor part was definitely the most impressive one it
helped me to stand out of my comfort zone and learn how strong I am. I guess that was the point.
I also enjoyed the time we could spend during our body practical trainings. It made me feel that I
can stand alone having a lot of people beside me and enjoy the nature, myself, my thoughts and
be concentrated on my feelings at the very moment."

"During both parts of Wider Horizons I felt a lot of mixed emotions and sensations and I’ve lived them fully even thanks to the people who were with me and shared their own feelings. I found myself questioning things or processes that usually are automatic in my routine and I understood where I feel more unsatisfied about my life and how I can change this if I really want to. The natural spots around the accomodations also gave me the chance to have few peaceful moments by myself during which I was able to have a “zoom out” and focus better on the whole process that sometime really overwhelmed me in terms of thoughts. I’m still convinced that I have to improve the way I react to situations and face problems but now I know I have more tools that I can use in order to achieve more
successes."

"Although I had been skeptical and I kept questioning the methods used throughout this
project,now I keep saying that I would do it again for sure and also propose to others to go there.
So, I guess this is the most important thing for me."

"I'm glad I was thrown into a strange place and I enjoyed everything very much. I know how
important it is to be sure, believe in myself and be strong, but it is even more important to give others the chance to surprise me and prove themselves. I realized this in so many moments during the whole project, but, in particular, my teammates on the outdoor part opened my eyes in so many ways. I abandoned my worried mother-role.. I was trying to be chill and think and worry less. I trusted my team mates and, thanks to this, my outdoor experience was wonderful!"

"In 10 days I met a lot of great people, both trainers and participants, and I had loads of conversations that opened my mind on a variety of topics. Thanks to this experience I learned to trust others, to believe in myself and to be more aware of my decision-making abilities. Furthermore, I learned to handle in a better way difficult and stressful situation. I highly recommend this project to all the people that are looking for a way to create a positive change in their life."

"There were parts in the project, which was highly emotional, with a load of ups and downs, where I was not so sure what I was doing here, but having completed the project I can see that some of the things that irked me, had a reason for being that way and I was able to learn a lot and grow as a person and in my identity and in the way I interact with other people and the way I perceive new things and barriers. I have become more self-confident, able to stand up even more for my believes and interact with unknown people, which always was difficult for me."

"For sure it was outside of my zone of comfort but it was not uncomfortable as there was always
something new to learn or do what I wouldn't expect from myself. I feel that after the training
I can handle unpredictable, unpleasant or just unexpected events much easier and that gives
me a lot of self confidence. This was all happening in very stimulating group of young people
who shared similar goal of learning, exploring which made it possible to connect and create
friendships and to support and learn from each other. "

"Self development attracted me because I wanted to sort out my life. I had very mixed
feelings during the exchange, but that was mainly because it was so intensive, every moment of the
exchange being with your thoughts, I was not used to that in my regular surrounding. The project
gave me some insights in how I can change my life, how I can try to be a better human being. I
improved my teamwork, I realized I can do a lot more than I was thinking until that moment. I also
realized that I must be persistent in solving my problems, the theoretical part of the project really
helped me with that. I learned a lot of useful and practical stuff, like coming up with plans for future,
taking the matter in my own hands. And now I am putting all that into practice. I can’t really say that
after the project my life is now 100% in order but I am definitely trying to achieve more, working
hard, and trying to be inspired every day."

"At the end of my basic I believe I was more self- confident, determined to reach my personal goals and more comfortable in many situations I have to face in my life. I lived strong emotions attending this project but I received also useful inputs to reflect about my actions and my attitude."

"I learned that there are a lot of nice people out there and that all one needs to do is ask. There were parts in the project where I was emotionally overwhelmed, because I was in touch with parts of me that I had forgotten about. I had great moments with my friends that brought us really close to each other. I loved the comradery between the participants, I loved the laughs, the cries and all the hugs. My attitude towards the world in general is broadened, especially after the outdoor experience. The
world does not seem so big anymore."



Two months after the amazing, technology free project Di5connected in Cortemilia, Italy, the Austrian girls organise da follow-up event in Graz. Samire came to visit Antonia, Elisa and Marion in Graz in order to prepare the event and of course to check up on how we’re doing with our contracts! We decided to invite people to an Erasmus+ game afternoon where we told them something about Erasmus+, the project we recently went to as well as the board game we created ourselves.They were intrigued, and it was fun to play the game again.

We took some pictures of our preparatory meeting and with the people, but while playing, there were of course no phones allowed! We also took a video explaining the basic rules. At the end of this blogpost you’ll find a more detailed description and instructions for our board game.






Instructions

GAME OF PHONES

Number of players

More than 6 (depends on how many characters you have), it has to be an even number

Purpose of the game:
Two teams play against each other: the connected (with a phone) against the disconnected. The goal is to “turn” all the players of the opposing team. When all players are either connected or disconnected that team wins. But: there is no limit how often players can be turned, turned back and then turned again.

How to play step by step:


1. At first draw a character card. On the card you can see the name of your character, the team (WiFi= team connected) and your special power. Find also the same playing piece. If you are in team connected you get a smartphone that you have to in the playing piece. You also get your special power card in the beginning.

2. Prepare separate decks of “!” and “?” cards.

3. Choose a starting point from which to enter the game. Make sure that players of the same team don't sit next to each other, they can’t enter through the same door.

4. You move by rolling the dice, you can move the number of fields and the direction you want.

5. Meeting people: Players are turned during fights. Those can happen anywhere two or more players from opposing teams (means: a player with a smartphone and a player without a smartphone) meet: in the corridors, in rooms and in Cortemilia. If you meet a person from your team you don’t fight.

6. How to enter a room:
reach the door with the exact number. If you reach the door by accident, you have to enter.

7. How to go to Cortemilia: reach the field marked “?” and complete the task. You don’t have to enter Cortemilia if you accidentally reach the “?”

8. Fights: all involved players roll the dice, the higher number wins. The player with the lower number has to change the team (to take or to give away the smartphone). If there are multiple players from the same team involved, the results are added up.
When fights happen in the room, the players draw a “!” card first. If a player draws their own special power, they can use it immediately to win the fight or choose to keep it for later in order to use the special power as it is described on the character card. Special powers can only be used in Cortemilia, and a player can only carry one special power at a time. If a player has been turned and draws their special power card during a fight, they re-enter their original team.

9. Important: Even if you change you team a couple of times during the game you still aim to belong to the team from the beginning (given on your card). eg: you are the grandma from team disconnected (without smartphone). You meet a person with a smartphone lose a fight. So you get a smartphone. Next time you meet a person without a smartphone, so you have to fight again. You should lose in order to get rid of your smartphone and be disconnected again.


“?”: draw a card and complete the task. If you don’t want to do it, you have to skip one round.

-open sharing: roll the dice and see which number is which task

-reflection group: roll the dice and see which number is which task

-challenge: roll the dice and see which number is which task

-meditation: skip one round

-coffee break: the whole team skips one round



ENJOY PLAYING AND STAY DISCONNECTED!
YOUR AUSTRIAN TEAM
From 18th until 25th of May we had the opportunity, thanks to our friends from the BetterMaking organization, to take part in the youth exchange entitled "If not you, then who?" in Lithuania. Together with youngsters from Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary we worked on solidarity within Europe and how we can strengthen it.

Arriving at the venue we were warmly welcomed by the organizers, who immediately introduced us to Lithuania's national sport (some even say it is their religion) Basketball. In a cozy atmosphere we gathered in the conference room for the first time to watch the game together and started to get to know each other a bit. After long journeys we got time to rest or have a walk in the area before the real start in the next morning.


The youth exchange took place in Riterio Krantas, there is no better way to describe this magic venue, organizers, programme and people than with the song from one of our first teambuilding activities, which says 
"Somewhere between the Europe, (the Europe) 
and the the Baltic Sea (the Baltic Sea)
There is a land of very (very, very, very)
Very beautiful beauty." 

In the first days we got to know each other, learnt to work together, trust each other and began to create friendships. From building spaghetti bridges, to pulling out the beetroot to being blind-folded and creating a perfect square we bonded and became a real team.
Another key element of the first day was the youthpass and Erasmus+. In groups of 'oldies' and 'newbies' we explored why we are actually here and how we can proof what we have been doing once we come back home.


Throughout the week we worked on European solidarity and how we can become active ourselves to create a sense of community. Discussing relevant issues in national and international teams opened our eyes and increased intercultural knowledge and understanding. Already on the first day we knew that our big aim of the week will be to implement activities in a local highschool and to inform the students about Erasmus+, which is why we worked a lot on our speaking skills.


In the next days we gave speeches in different ways on European topics, discussed education in Oxford debates and created our own countries for a simulation game. In all those sessions we were supposed to work in small groups, but overall we had one big goal in common that we had to keep in mind. The simulation game clearly showed how Europe functions and how easy it is to drift off and forget about a common agreement and goal. Thanks to the game and the discussion afterwards we realized how relevant solidarity amongst our countries is and that we should always keep the bigger picture in mind. 


And because personal experience says more than any blogpost, there are also impressions of participants:
The project in Riterio Krantas was unbelievable. I think the most fascinating thing for me was the people that I have met and connected with there and who I can call friends now. Also the place was amazing the view and the nature you have there was incredible. (Ahmed)

This youth exchange was by far one of my best Erasmus+ project. Once again I learnt why I am staying in this Erasmus+ world. It was amazing to see all the effort, preparation and happiness from everyone throughout the week. There was a lot to learn from each session and I am more than grateful that I was part of this experience! (Nina) 

After many working days and party nights it was time for feedback, last letters and evaluation before we had to say good-bye again - or rather see you soon :) 

The project was intense, fun and created beautiful memories, learnings and future project-partnerships! Thank you Innoved Lietuva for organizing this amazing youth exchange!
Yours,
Nina


disconnection from technologies - reconnection with our 5 senses 

9 days without an internet connection.

9 days without smartphones.

9 days without the laptop.

9 days without a watch.

9 days without social media.

Are you ready?


The description of the project doesn’t sound like an experience we are living everyday. Exciting and a bit worrying at the same time.



Like a blind dance: What will expect us in Cortemilia

Nevertheless or just because of that 25 young people from Croatia, Italy, Romania and Austria gathered in beautiful Cortemilia (Italy) and took part in this Erasmus+ project. The Youth Exchange took place from 18th to 26th of April and was organized by Associazone Vagamondo and their partner organisations.




Ready to be disconnected? Locking up our technical devices

The week turned out to be full of learning, low moments, reflection, sharings, challenges, singing, dancing, conversations, creativity, enjoying the beautiful venue, tasty food, the smell of biscotti di nocciola (hazelnut cookies), massages, laughing and reactivating our 5 senses. But most of all it was full of magical moments.



The “real” social network

During this project we created a “real” social network and enjoyed the positive impact it had on our wellbeing. Despite of the fact that in the beginning a lot of us were struggling with locking up their technical devices, most of us were almost sad when we got the technologies back at the end of the week. Luckily, we created a great a support system in order to stick to our goals and to implement what we have learned in our daily lives.


Di5connected contract - support system for achieving our goal back at home
Get an impression what the Austrian team experienced there:
#my expectations before the project

As I signed up for the project, excited and curious as to how it will be and what kind of people will the students be I generally had the feeling that it’ll be somewhat energy draining, peaceful because of the absence of technology, refreshing and highly enjoyable.

Reading through the posts on Facebook before the beginning of the project I can safely say that I had a glimpse of what it’ll be like with the others in this project and so my expectations were reshaped due to that.

Mohammed




#what it feels like being disconnected

Being disconnected felt strange for me at first. It didn’t really realize that I had given my phone away until the next morning when I automatically reached for it to turn off the alarm. Only that it wasn’t there. Throughout the first day I had these urges to check my phone regularly, but from the second day on I started to enjoy this freedom from technologies, and maybe also responsibilities.

Without technologies, I was much more aware of my surroundings. I started paying attention to small details, such as the flowers in the grass or this particular texture of wood. It also allowed me to be more attentive when it came to getting to know other people, because there was no distraction for both parties. Not having a phone allowed me to give the people I was talking to (and also the sessions that we had) my full attention, I listened more carefully and paid more attention to what people said and how they behaved. But what impressed me the most was how creative we got, both when it came to completing tasks (e.g. preparing the national evening, creating a board game, …), but also when it came to free time entertainment. We couldn’t just google things and have it the easy way when we wanted to know certain things, we had to use our brains, imagination and memory in order to remember the lyrics of a song or what the beard of DJ Ötzi looks like. It is impressive how much you actually remember when there is no small machine that gives you all the answers you want (but not necessarily need) instantly.
Marion




Cultural evening: The Austrian showed the best aspects about their culture by presenting the “Musikantenstadl”


#what I’ve learned during the YE

Being one week without ‘technologies’ thought me a lot more things than I had expected. It was a very intense time because as I was open for the different quality of living. I realised how much I was missing because of the frequent distraction of my phone. I learned that waking up and starting the day with a calm moment in the nature instead of checking WhatsApp and YouTube lifted my day to a completely different level. In general, I relearned how much confidence and strength the nature is giving to me! Furthermore, I realised what a huge negative influence technologies have on my social relationships between me and the people around me. In this week I got to know 25 people on such a deep level, I would need at least 2 month for that if I’d have my phone with me all the time. It was really great to have such a close community where people speak and laugh instead of watching their phones. Except that I learned how I lack concentration if I have a ‘normal’ day with technology. It was really nice to see again how fast I can learn if I really concentrate on something and how creative I can be if I give 100% of me. In general I can say that I learned how the technology sometimes keeps me from having the best time possible because it disconnects me from my surroundings and that creates a bad feeling over a long period. I didn’t know that a certain unhappiness comes from my ‘daily abuse’ of technology but know I’m a aware of that and I will feel it directly if it comes back!

Gregor



#my magical moment

My magical moment? Well, that was a question I had to answer myself almost everyday. A moment, that is still in my mind, was the moment we created our own board game “Game of phones”. Thinking about it, I still get excited.

Antonia






Disconnection woke up our creativity: Presentation of “Game of phones” - our fantastic board game



#how I will apply what I have learned

The experience and the knowledge that I gained during this youth exchange is life changing for me in the matter of how i see the connection between me and technology in my daily life.
I have set some goals for myself that I am going to achieve on a certain date. Hopefully, these will become part of my lifestyle. I will be creative without using technology and will be doing things that I never thought I could do (like when we invented a sound and the board game during the YE) It was mind blowing after I realised what I am capable of so much more than I thought and I am certain that I would have never believed that i have such skills if I hadn’t participated in this YE.

By avoiding technology in my daily life:
I have a greater level of presence
Deeper and more meaningful conversations
Increased productivity
I started doing outdoor sports and
I am getting to know myself better
Probably at some point I am going to forget what we did during this YE but I will never forget how it made me feel and the impact that it had on me.

Samire




Together we mastered all the challenges



A big thank you to everyone who made this experience possible - especially to the project team with Fabiano, Fabrizio and Merche!


Here you can find out more about the project and the participants:

http://di5connected.simplesite.com/


That post caught your attention and you can’t wait to learn more?

Keep informed - we are looking forward to meet you on our follow-up event :)




All the best,

your Austrian team



Antonia, Marion, Gregor, Mohammed, Samire and Elisa