Young voices: Why youth exchanges make a difference

For Kostas Sianopoulos its the fifth year of dealing with youth exchanges particularly with Greek-German ones. Why? It is his origin from Lechovo, Florina, a village known for its culture of remembrance. There he discovered that exchanges of youngsters can provide solutions for a lot of problems – if they are given the correct stimuli.

Implementing youth exchanges and consultations for me is a necessity. They have a positive effects on both, countries and societies in general in bilateral relations. The relations between Greece and Germany have changed in waves, including wars and a brutal time of occupation during World War II. In recent years Greece has been plagued by the economic crisis, which led to the manifestation of new stereotypes and tarnished the relations of the two countries.

Are exchanges a promising instrument to tackle these problems?
51419485_2234610186603334_8711570324975517696_nDuring the programs I participated, the youngsters learnt how to explore the history of their country properly and then within the project they discover unknown aspects of the history of their country of origin. Additionally they learn about the culture and everyday life of the host country. This is very important because through the exchange  prejudices and stereotypes that have been ingrained in both societies in recent decades begin to dissipate once they made personal experiences with the locals.

I have seen that the participants broaden their horizons and create new and more realistic goals for their future. Such programs are even more important since thriving economic crisis enables young people to travel freely to other European countries. I believe that the participation in such programs contribute to eliminating nationalist ideologies that in recent years have been on the rise across Europe.

Time for more collaboration
The last five years we realized youth exchanges with German organizations on the topics of history and memory. Seeing that the biggest thorn in Greek-German relations is the Third Reich and the time of occupation in which thousands of Greeks were executed by the occupying forces, it is time for both sides to collaborate more intense with sensitivity and responsibility instead of isolation and unilateral moves.

I want to end my first blog post with the words of the former President of the Greek Republic, Karolos Papoulias. In a meeting with his German counterpart in September 2014 he said: „Exchange programs allow new generations through personal contact to experience the diversity of lifestyles and attitudes of partners. The experiences gained from these exchanges will lead young people to the conclusion that the elements that unite us are so that our future can only be public.“



In summer 2014 I participated in the first youth exchange program organized by the Union Association „O Profitis Ilias“ and the Protestant association „Peace of Peace“ in the German capital Berlin. The program was funded by the Foundation „Memory, Responsibility and Future“. Before our participation there was a strange climate on both sides because of the 2nd World War, the crimes committed by the Nazis in Greece and in our community, the occupying forces and new superstitions born out of the economic crisis. Of course during the program we all became a family and we have gained many new experiences. Based on the past, we had built an image that was in no way close to reality.  

The 17-year-old Maria Tsoutsa at Deutsche Welle says that the trip to Germany as well as discussions with Germans is of particular importance to Lechovo’s children: „First of all I learned a lot about their culture, lifestyle, level, which, as we have seen, is very good. But also in the intellectual field we have received a lot that has changed not just my own thinking, but also the rest of the children. We started setting more goals, we pondered different things, and how we want to move in the future.” 

At the end of the program, I noticed around myself and the rest of the children an enthusiastic attitude, but also a wave of anxiety about the future. We gathered, and concluded that we should not stay idle and to invest our experiences in our futures. A few months later, we set up an informal youth council and did a lot of activities in Lechovo, such as: volunteering, festivals, amateur interviews with survivors and much more with the valuable help of the local club. We escaped from routine and impatience and in general changed the mood of young people.  

Unfortunately in the past few years there have been very few youth exchange programs between Greece and Germany. The main reasons are the lack of funding but also the inability to find an agency to cooperate with. An example to be remembered is, the exchanges between Germany, with France, and Germany, with Poland for many years; With the help of their respective youth institutions. Isn’t it time for the state to be more responsible towards the young?

Text and picture: Konstantinos Sianopoulos


This blog post is part of a small series, where young people share their perspectives on living together in Europe.

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