Youth Exchange LevelUp! – More impressions

Youth Exchange LevelUp! – More impressions

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? 😀
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?…
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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!