Earlier this June, I stumbled upon a last call to attend a project called ‘Acting for Inclusion’ whilst scrolling through an Erasmus+ Facebook page. Within two weeks I found myself in Luton airport, anxiously awaiting a flight to Greece with 3 strangers.

What I was unable to apprehend was that this would be, or would feel like, one of the longest journeys I’ve taken to date. After a 3 hour delayed flight, we landed in Thessaloniki airport. Two buses, two night trains, and more than 7 hours later we finally reached our accommodation in Trikala. On the bright side, such a journey was certainly enough to get to know my fellow British teammates – quite the bonding experience! Despite it being later than 4am upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by our project facilitators and fed some home cooked food.

Then, the next morning our activities began, firstly through introductions to the group via team building activities. Together we were a mixture of Brits, Portuguese, Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards. I was interested to see how this dynamic would unfold; in particular, I noticed our similarities.

As millennials, we have grown up with access to social media. I guess it has helped us to think or view the world with more similar mindsets than our older generations. This reflected in the way we connected with each other, for example through recommending the latest Netflix shows or sharing Instagram posts. I’m not sure what it was like years ago, but I feel like things have progressed. Our ability to connect is something distinctive to our generation.

And partly, this is the purpose of such Erasmus + projects: connecting young people to facilitate their engagement in wider social issues. Therefore, our project ‘Acting for Inclusion’, provided an opportunity for participants to engage in open dialogue, regarding topics such as multi-ethnic coexistence, xenophobia, structural racism, and the ongoing refugee crisis. The latter was a poignant topic for us, particularly as we were in Greece, a country subject to vast influxes of refugees in recent years.

The first day was dedicated towards setting up the project; we were asked about any apprehensions or expectations we had, and were given a breakdown of what was to come. In the evening, each country team was tasked with presenting a case study concerning their home country and the situation of migrants, refugees and unemployment. Britain’s situation was unique. Not only did we discuss recent phenomena such as Brexit or the Accession 8, but also we touched upon the Windrush generation and our colonial history. I would have to say that our team was the most multicultural out of the countries – a fellow participant was a descendent of a Windrush migrant amongst a mix of other ethnicities, and I myself have been born into an ex-colony (Bangladesh). Thus, we felt it was important to also emphasise the multicultural nature of today’s British society.

As the week led on, the facilitators held many activities for us to reflect on. Simulation debates on issues such as the refugee crisis, marginalised communities (for example the LGBTQ+ or the disabled), led us to embody different mindsets. Acknowledging opposing views, even if their ideals seemed nonsensical, was useful when coming up with solutions on how we could de-marginalise such groups, or navigate the divide between certain communities. We were also asked to present what we thought to be the most societally excluded group within our home countries. This question led to many in-depth discussions of deep-rooted and complex issues. Pinpointing a problem, how it is being perpetuated, and by whom was not easy. We found there to be accountability on different ends.

Meanwhile, we were given many opportunities to explore Trikala. As a Geography student, I was especially excited to be invited to meet the mayor at his downtown office and learn about Smart Trikala (https://trikalacity.gr/en/smart-trikala/).

The mayor discussed his administration and allowed us to ask him any questions. I was curious to know about the measures he was taking to provide a greener environment for his citizens, and I enquired more about his smart city initiatives. It turns out, implementing smart city technologies and programs are a challenging and slow process. The mayor faced many difficulties when persuading local and regional councils to invest.

Our facilitators also took us to local charities supported by the EU, such as a day centre for the elderly and a donation point. In the blazing heat, it was inspiring to watch the volunteers work through such difficult conditions. We were told about the struggles they faced in order to sort the goods, such as clothes and non-perishable items. When it came to collection times, the goods would be trashed around as people fought to take as much as they could. This was a pressing dilemma, and difficult to solve within funding’s limits.

Lastly, we took a trip to Meteora. This UNESCO world heritage site consisted of rock formations hosting Eastern Orthodox monasteries on its peaks. It was breathtaking to see, and we also were able to explore some culture, religion and history.

All-in-all, the project was rewarding – I left feeling more aware about issues regarding the fight for inclusion not just in my home country, but other European states. Moving forward, I hope to utilise this awareness when communicating with others, making political decisions, or perhaps develop it within the more sociological units of my degree. 

By Shovi