Youth exchanges in times of Covid-19 are something totally new. In the end of August, a group of youngsters from Greece went to Vlotho in Germany to attend the second part of the project „Unlocking memories – Remembering the past, Shaping the futurethat started 2019 in Greece. Valerios Tsournos, one of the participants lets us know more about his impressions.

Summer was almost finished but little did we know, our adventure started at the 27th of August. Arriving at the airport in Athens we met with one another and we instantly had a connection. Everyone was from different parts of Greece so we were strangers among us at first. By the time we arrived in Vlotho we knew each other’s names.

The youth exchange’s topic was: World War II, Remembering the Past, shaping the Future. The aim of the project was to acquire knowledge around WWII, to examine for example the Germans view of their history, to talk about details that for many of us were unknown till then. It’s a project of Gesamteuropäisches Studienwerk (GESW), EUphoria Youth Lab and Esplora from Greece, Germany and Italy. We were approximately 16 young people – half Greeks and half Germans. Unfortunately, the Italians had to cancel their journey to Germany at the last moment due to Covid-19. Through personal responsibility, social distancing, and thank to the organization that had everything prepared for us within the fancy accommodation including the health regulations, there were no health issues.

Ice breakers for a sense of unity
We were given the chance to cultivate our communicational skills, to refresh our English and German vocabulary and most importantly, we could express ourselves, speak and reflect about a variety of topics.

Every day started with a tasty breakfast and shortly afterwards, we met for the workshops. In order to feel more comfortable with each other we participated in ice breaking activities where we learnt everyone’s names, maybe some clues about them along with a small glance of their character. It’s very important to mention that throughout the program, nobody was ever excluded from an activity nor was anyone ever put aside for any reason. As a team I would say that we were quickly attached and bonded. There was a very strong sense of unity and cooperation.

One of our first workshops was the DNA journey: There, basically, everyone presented where their roots come from. You had to find your family tree’s roots as deep as you could so you and everyone else would have a better understanding about yourself where you come from. That task was amazing – we heard all sorts of stories!

We learned a lot about ideologies such as Nationalism, Fascism and Social Capitalism. We saw some films aged back to WWII era, we also analyzed them in a reflection rounds and talk about our thoughts and what feelings they transmitted us.

Insights in local history
Vlotho is a small city that had a lot to offer. We learned a lot about the background of the city, how they dealt with minorities such as Jews. We also visited a local Jewish cemetery and obtained some information about that. We visited a former Hitlers’ youth educational center that after the WW2 hosted and hosts until today seminars about democratic education . 

We also visited places and monuments in neighboring cities connected with the topics of our exchange such as Detmold and Paderborn.  Our last stop was in Wewelsburg where we visited the exhibition “Ideology and Terror of the SS”. An exhibition about the perpetrators, victims and bystanders in the memorial museum of Wewelsburg.

In addition, we had some experts that visited us and explained to us about far right/left wing extremism. In a presentation we learnt how political parties work, what kind of pursuits they have depending on what country they operate. I found that extremely informative and it gave me a perspective that I didn’t search in such depth about political parties. 

Expressing thoughts and deep talks
The project was an amazing experience: We travelled, we met new people, we obtained many useful new skills and we interacted with a different culture from our own. Personally speaking, I had amazing vibes throughout the program, I felt so pretty that I would express myself freely and there was such fertile soil for conversations and opinion exchanges.

I got attached with many participants – with some on a very deep level. The only thing that mattered for me was to get the most out of this experience as possible. This project opened my eyes, it really made me do some thinking when I returned to my routine. I was feeling so sad to leave these amazing young people I met. And as well that became my motive to be more active this semester and chase more experiences and generally live more!

The best thing about the project is that I know that all the feelings everyone had were genuine. They were genuine because one could see that everyone had the time of their life, you could sense that everyone was very sad when the departure date inevitably came. Lastly, I’m going to quote what a beloved person wrote to her diary during our stay in Vlotho: “Our (German-Greek) past made me cry about three times even if nobody noticed it. I hardly tried to discuss over it. But now all I have in my heart is love about it. About what they are and what we can do together. All I could do is love the way life led me here. I am in Vlotho and every day I love the world a little bit more. Thank you!”

text: Valerios Tsournos
pictures: EUphoria youth lab

For more information about „Unlocking memories“ on agorayouth.com click here.

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