“It opened my eyes to see that there is more than just the little town where I live.” Read the story of Daniel, who participated in a Youth Exchange in Spain called “Building our European home.”
Daniel Williams was 19 when he first got in contact with UNA Exchange, through Cwmbran Centre for Young People (CCYP) in South Wales. At the time he was a trainee youth worker and took part in the first collaborative project between CCYP and UNA Exchange, a ten-day Youth Exchange in Spain involving 20 young people from Wales, Spain, Belgium and Montenegro.
“I think people who are afraid of travelling are sort of used to their comfort zone – I was as well, and was fed up. When I left my town and went to the Youth Exchange in Spain (July 2015) I just wanted to go somewhere new. Actually I thought it would be quite relaxing, somewhere on a Spanish beach, but the Youth Exchange took place in the mountains. I didn’t expect anything that happened, it was all a lot different: it was more about exchange and swapping cultures.
What the European home is
It was unbelievable in Spain. We had lot of activities and spent a lot of time speaking with each other, learning about each other’s countries. Our project was called “building our European home” and we all talked about what home means to us and what is the typical home. I remember that everybody from the other groups drew their houses and things they might see in them in Belgium, Spain or Montenegro.
The Welsh group decided to draw the things outside the house because Wales is so diverse and we thought it would be better to present it from the outside and just show a lot of the countryside that was around and we explained it as a national point of view; that anywhere in Wales is home.
From that we started building ideas about what the European home is. We talked about sense of community. Home means lots of different things, it can mean the house we live in, or it can mean a tent or eco-friendly pig farm! It is really what you make of it. We made two visits to alternative living places, which were real eye-openers. There were people who built houses by themselves and lived in the field, they renovated old pig farms and used natural materials. Just to see how people can live is magnificent, they manage with so little money and all seemed so happy.
There is so much life beyond where you are
I have never spent time around people from different countries. We quickly found out that although we are different in a few ways we all very much the same. Our cultures are different, our ideas are different, traditions are different (eg. where I live you don’t go out for coffee at 11pm!) but then as we carried on, we saw they were small differences but everybody was really the same.
I think you learn that there is so much life beyond where you are. I mean you may see someone from a different country on the street and you might say “hello”, you might see someone in a bar and you might speak to them for ten minutes about their country but to go there and learn and see how they live as well, it really gives you an idea of the world.
We were all really close friends by the end of it and everybody loved everybody else. Before we left we rang UNA Exchange and said, “Is there a way we can spend a few more weeks? We don’t want to come home!”. The Welsh group left first and then everybody came up to us, hugging us, saying goodbye and everyone started crying. I was like: “Why? Why are we all crying?” And then I started crying myself.
I never got along with people so quickly
It was bizarre that so many people from so many different places became so close over the space of ten days. When I came back, I felt a bit weird. I never got along with people so quickly and so well. I was glad to be home and it was nice to see my friends again but it wasn’t as much fun, there was nothing new pushing me forward like in Spain, it just really motivated me out there.
I know a lot of people who never left Wales, the furthest they have gone is Cardiff or Swansea. But then you meet and speak with somebody who travelled a lot and they’re telling you about something weird they did in Prague and a few years later they’ve been in Canada…it is just so much fun to listen and speak and learn about the massive world.
I am definitely more confident and I find it easier now to socialize with people especially if they struggle with English. I started to learn to speak more clearly and I am very patient. It opened my eyes to see that there is more than just the little town where I live. I try to travel a lot more so I continue to build and grow in this way.”
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