Hi, I’m Sarah, 18 y/o from Münster, Germany and I’m currently living in London spending a gap year after I finished my A-levels in 2020. As I couldn’t imagine studying nonstop after 8 years of school – not to mention that I didn’t have and still don’t have a clue what to do after this year – I searched for over a year for environmental and social opportunities all over the world and long story short, ended up at the German YMCA in London thanks to some criss-cross relations and word-of-mouth recommendations. I was truly relieved and could hardly believe that I was offered a placement.
I arrived in lockdown London and went straight into isolation until I passed a Covid test. Due to the Covid restrictions, the sightseeing spots around London were empty of tourists, which made strolling and getting to know the city very much enjoyable. I even bought a bike on eBay buy and sell (well…I had to learn first hand that it’s not quite the same as the German eBay Kleinanzeigen when eBay told me that my account was suspended) and cycled to loads of parks from Richmond Park through to Greenwich Park and many more. For a long time, before I came here, I wanted to learn the piano and to continue playing handball. What I had in mind came true and made me feel more independent. Even though I’ve been doing handball training for only two weeks now, I noticed that it lightens my mood and strengthens my confidence as it is something I already know and is like a shelter from everything new by which I’m surrounded.
Especially related to work I’m confronted with a lot of new challenges. Our colleagues are working on furlough and partly from home, which is why we have the office for ourselves and are free but also responsible for how we spend the time. On one day, I would wish for continuous contact to receive more feedback and insights and on the next, I’m happy about managing my own workday. Oftentimes, I have to step out of my comfort zone which is both interesting and enriching on the one hand, but difficult, overwhelming, and not less strenuous on the other. As we’re able to look into various fields of work and take part in activities for people of all age groups from toddlers to retirees and are volunteering in different organisations and charities, we meet new people all the time. That means to concentrate on listening for hours and to overcome the hurdle of talking to other people in English and articulating oneself not to sound rude but polite. And that with the limited amount of vocabulary I’m based on. Thanks to loads of nice and polite people, I don’t have to worry about it too much because they make me feel included and welcome even when I’m making all kinds of mistakes. In general, I’d like to emphasize that I’m genuinely impressed by how many kind people I have already met.
This is why I’m glad that I’ve got the chance to participate in the ESC volunteering project:
You’re getting supported but still, a lot of things you will figure out for yourself as you’re diving into situations you’ve never been in before. And I know that I wouldn’t have taken these steps out of my comfort zone to expand my horizon if I wasn’t here or without the support of my volunteer mates.
I’m Johanna from Germany and currently I’m doing my ESC at the German YMCA in London. I’ve been here for five months and I’m very happy with the way things are. I’d like to tell you from my experience how an ESC does not turn everything into some kind of perfectly smooth holiday and how that is a good thing.
Almost exactly a year ago I sent out the application to my current ESC without expecting too much. It was the last day to apply and the location was London, which seemed surreal to me. Other projects I had contacted before didn’t even know whether they would take place due to Covid. I never imagined that things would turn out the way they did. Not only did I get accepted, but we also managed to avoid the new Brexit regulations and arrived in London on the 30th of December. I still feel so happy remembering this!
The first few weeks had been a lot of this kind of excitement and joy, even though I mostly spent them between quarantine and office work. Everything was new to me and positively overwhelming. Things worked out great, especially with my roommates. At my on-arrival training I learned that most of the volunteers feel that way. What I also learned was that it is very normal to feel a bit down after that first wave of excitement. It’s just what happens: You try to adjust to everyday life and then realize that surprisingly even the smallest cultural differences can have an impact on you. My biggest problem was reading between the lines and getting indirect messages. I’m glad that my perspective on communication got expanded because of this. A conflict I had which involved a similar problem cleared up again and I learned from the situation.
Another issue was Covid of course. We had to wait through a three months’ delay until the project even started, and nearly all of the planned volunteering activities were not taking place at first. But with a lot more freedom to choose my tasks came creativity and it made me become a lot more independent.
Besides, the pandemic at least had the benefit of us being able to slowly adjust to the more and more versatile work. We got the chance to volunteer at a hospital in an environment that probably no volunteer did before us. And with tourists missing, there were a lot more calm places in the city.
Then again, through being able to explore so many new opportunities you can start to feel as if you aren’t doing enough whenever you relax. The ESC is a great time to step out of your comfort zone and train yourself in new abilities, but it doesn’t have to work right away. I think it’s important to keep in mind that in order to have fun with something new, you shouldn’t force yourself. Everyone needs to go at their own pace and if I remind myself of that, I’m able to make new friends, let myself get inspired, go visit nice places and try out what I usually wouldn’t.
As you can see an ESC has, just like normal life, lots of small ups and downs. The huge difference though is that this year is made for you to collect a treasure of experiences, thoughts, opinions and skills that you wouldn’t get at home. It’s the new social surroundings, the new possibilities but also the new difficulties that give you the opportunity to grow. And in my opinion that’s better than any holiday!
Ever since my teenage years, I have had a particular interest in the UK and its affairs. It might have, I have to truthfully admit, started with a seemingly unhealthy but actually average One Direction obsession, leading to a more passionate attitude towards learning the language, but hey, everyone makes their own way to new horizons.
I soon began to dive deeper into British culture and started appreciating it for its history, humour and all the amazing stories I grew up with that so very often were set in British lands. Those stories told in books, movies and plays, were my window to the British culture and I developed an amour and fascination for the sound and meaning of British accents. Going abroad to the UK after finishing school soon became a dream of mine, a logical step to take according to my interests. I was hoping to find a way that would enable me to tie my future career together with the British nation after getting to know them from a closer perspective.
When it became clear that many British people were not as eager to work closer together with me as I was to do with them (though I am aware that this is a very subjective and one-sided point of view…it is, however, how I felt) I started reconsidering my unswerving worship of the UK. When the actual day came around where they officially decided to leave the EU behind, my beliefs and future plans got shattered. I was surprised, to say the least. “Shocked´´ might be the more appropriate term. It was beyond me how I could have missed the underlying aversion of so many British people while feeling such a strong bond to that foreign nation.
Now, of course, after getting more into foreign politics and carrying out some research on ressentiments, the British Empire and the financial crisis of 2008, instead of Shakespeare, the Beatles and Harry Potter, I am starting to see things a little more clearly. While watching documentaries or listening to news reports it struck me that the British talked about Europe as if it was a foreign country, one you´d like to visit and with whom you wished to establish trade relations for sure, but nothing that you felt in fact to be a part of. In many cases it seemed as if they had left Europe in their minds a long time before they actively decided to leave the EU.
For a time I felt so opposed, I lost all my interest in British matters. Well, if you want nothing to do with us, I thought, fine by me, I want nothing to do with you anymore.
But after living through my anger and disappointment, I reconsidered this conclusive and fruitless approach to things. After all, it appeared to me that turning my back on the UK would primarily punish those who already suffered the greatest deal from the decision their people and government had taken – the youth, the open-minded, the forward-looking – while actual ‘leave’ voters probably wouldn’t care a fat lot whether I did or did not show any interest in their country.
Moreover, the UK now held a new appeal to me as a prime example of a nation who turns their back on supranational cooperation to return to a national approach to problem-solving instead. They are not the only European nation to consider that step by far.
By getting to the bottom of what led the British people into believing that they would be better off alone, I hoped and am still hoping to figure out what creates these feelings of distance, mistrust and exploitation towards the EU and many European countries while the idea of working together in order to being able to tackle international problems adequately strikes me as being such an obvious and indisputably good one.
When I came across the offer on the European Youth Portal while browsing the site for volunteering opportunities in the EU to spend one whole year in central London, starting in September 2020, I was sure that someone must have made a mistake. I had already given up on the opportunity to make my dream to volunteer in the UK after school become reality. The outcome of the referendum and the following years of endless unsympathetic debates in Brussels had washed away all my hopes for past plans for a UK-based start of career.
But I got disabused. Many projects had already been granted for the coming years and were allowed to take place before finally ebbing away. Without any hesitation, I sat down and began writing my application.
Arriving here in London in December 2020 against all odds after facing more obstacles than I or anyone could have ever possibly imagined, even after considering Brexit and all the difficulties coming with it did feel brilliant and most importantly it felt like the right thing to do after feeling so very aimless for a long time during lockdown.
Slowly but surely, my voluntary service gave me a schedule, an aim and a purpose again. Next to the relief of regaining some sort of structure, I remembered my primary intention to try to develop an understanding for the country’s culture and depths to the best of my ability.
I started indoors, watching the news, eating custard and reading Jane Eyre. Contrary to the worries that many of my friends and family members had expressed when I announced that I was going to leave for London in the middle of the corona pandemic, the UK introduced their reopening plans rather soon which their early investment in vaccines enabled them to do.
This eventually allowed me to get myself the latest version of the Evening Standard while strolling through Westminster and enjoying a soft serve.
My tasks and leisure activities now keep emerging. From helping elderly British people who all encountered Germany throughout their lives in one way or another to improve or simply keep alive their German language skills, to volunteering for the NHS and getting an insight into the British health care system and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, or simply watching `This Country´ while treating myself with an unhealthy amount of Ginger Nuts, everything presents different advantages. I soon noticed that if you open your eyes, you can find a country’s culture, politics and emotion in pretty much everything around you.
I found it in my local food bank fellow volunteer´s confession that she never brings up Brexit when with her brother because she cannot do so without starting a fight. I found it in the passing remark of a work mate wondering how refugees would be able to end up in such fine houses. I found it in the understanding laugh sent my way by a construction worker after buying a Colin the Caterpillar cake with some au pairs, because we understood that it was a very British thing to do. I found it in me when I began starting conversations commenting on the weather forecast and saying cheers pretty much all the time and I keep finding it literally every day in the smallest, most insignificant appearing things and situations. The more I learn, the more I understand my lack of knowledge when it comes to the depths of this nation, but maybe understanding this is the most important lesson of all.
My ESC is giving me a chance to reconcile with the British, to see behind the curtains and judge their politics as a whole instead of being limited to the observation of their foreign affairs. This seems ironic in many ways, because I only get the chance to grow a deeper understanding of the British people and to rediscover them in many ways, exploring their reasons and learning the great variety of opinions, because of a programme that they are going to no longer be a part of in a very short time of their own free will.
For this reason, I was as thrilled as I was surprised to find out that there were in fact many young people in the UK who found this paradox just as saddening as I did.
Realising that organisations like Europeers and the Young European Movement were far from giving up on European youth exchange in the UK resettled my perspective and allowed me to draw new hope.
A certain number of people have brought about a decision for numerous reasons causing numerous consequences. How many of these will prove to actually be corresponding remains to be seen. This does, however, not mean that good ideas have to be wiped out, despite there often being a huge lack of information when it comes to the EU and the opportunities it offers.
This surely is a two-ways street: You can not educate people who have made a decision deep within themselves to remain oblivious to certain facts. However, this does not give you any excuse not to do everything in your power until you reach that point. The way I see it, the EU failed to do so, not only in the UK but in various if not to say the majority of member countries. The importance of the EU is not self-explanatory. It does not have to be. There are enough valid arguments in favour of it if only you make the effort to bring them home to us.
Considering my experiences in the UK so far with all the different people I encountered, this is what I am now planning to do. It is all the more fun with inspirational people in a city as colourful and vibrant as London.
My ESC is teaching me to rediscover my love for the British after getting to know them a little better while helping me to get an understanding for the power of felt neglect and missed opportunities.
What does it mean to feel European? What does it mean to you? For me, it means endless opportunities and the ability to connect to likeminded people. For others, it could be the culture, the food (OH, the food!), and the similar mindsets that countries who vary greatly can share. And then, for some, it could mean nothing more than simply belonging to a geographical continent.
All these reasons are of course completely valid.
The first time I personally felt properly ‘European’ was when I was 14 and I was on a school trip to Germany, trying my hardest(ish) to speak German and grow my confidence in speaking with native speakers. I had gone on a few holidays before but that was the time that my consciousness of engaging in an international sphere really took hold. I suddenly realised what an opportunity this was, getting to experience a different culture, different food, meeting new people and learning an entirely different language. I discovered shared values, mindsets, ideas, and dreams. I found connectivity where I didn’t think there would be. There were shared European things that I loved, and some that I did think were a bit strange. But, it was exciting.
At home, my mum taught me what it meant to be and feel European early on, and just how lucky we were to be able to freely travel and work wherever we liked. Engaging internationally, she told me, was an exciting opportunity and privilege that not everyone got to have—I’ve taken this mindset with me throughout my teenage years and young adult life. Of course, sometimes I’ve taken it for granted—being European was just ‘how it was’, and I never really realised the implications of leaving the EU, and thus the debate around what it meant to be European, until it actually happened. That’s why I need to remind myself of why I love being and feeling European, and how unique an experience it is.
This mindset of European-ness—of mutual understanding, cooperation and experience—is, in my opinion, an incredibly important one to have. As we all know, the willingness to engage with people outside of your own country opens a whole different viewpoint. It is a gift and a privilege that we all have, and it’s vital that we don’t feel discouraged from feeling a part of the continent, of something big.
Due to the seemingly constant frustration that we all most likely feel surrounding politics and Brexit-based news, I often must remind myself that that it’s not all politics—the community aspect, the shared cultures, the human connections you make are all too important. Naturally, it’s rather discouraging and incredibly disappointing that the UK government seems to want to cut off its nose to spite its face. However, let’s remember the other side of politics: the human side. Unity is incredibly precious and staying linked and united today has never been more important.
One Time In… A EuroPeers UK Podcast, episode 1 has now been released. You will get to enjoy hearing new stories, hosted by two EuroPeers; Joseph and Nathan, once a fortnight. Episode 2 is out on 23 April.
We’re starting off strong with a heart-warming tale from our good friend Federico.
What happens when you send a young Spanish man with a mohawk into the Slovakian countryside? We are going to find out! Join us as we hear a humbling story of unexpected friendship despite language, culture, and generational barriers. It’s a great story with its fair share of laughs; It’s One Time In Slovakia with Federico.
We are looking for 1-2 experienced EuroPeers who would like to join us for a session at the international online training course to share their experiences from their previous activities as a EuroPeer. The meet & greet with the new EuroPeers will take place on Friday, 26th March from 10am – 12pm CET in breakout sessions. Optionally you can also join the action planning on 28th March from 10am – 12pm CET. Our digital follow-up event will take place all day on 17th April where you are invited to join in as well.
Beforehand, we will send you a link to a Padlet where you can fill in your short profile in advance. Please have a think about what activities you can recommend to the new EuroPeers and what advice you would like to share. Other than that, you don’t have to prepare anything. We are looking forward to meeting you at the training course!
If you would like to join in, please let us know by 12th March.
I’m lucky that I haven’t had to be glued to my laptop screen as others have during the last few months, but still I can’t help noticing the way that everyday communication is changing. Without the ability to meet in person, technology is bridging the gap between old and new normal. Whereas a video chat used to be a monthly check-in to appease the parents, or a 6-monthly event with an old friend perhaps, now if a day goes by without using my smartphone’s video chat feature, it’s a strange one. And that’s changing things.
A group chat with old university friends that used to require a few week’s coordination, now happens overnight. Colleague living in a different time-zone? No worries! I find myself receiving more calendar notifications than old school text messages these days, and that’s changing things. It’s profound for me because I spent a lot of years building short term connections with people, and having them fall away. I travelled a lot and crossed paths with many wonderful and interesting characters, but never for very long. And that was fine, but now that I’m more stationary than ever, I find myself investing time in keeping old connections alive; keeping that pulse going. It’s a small thing to dedicate oneself to, really, but I realised only once my ability to create new social connections was curtailed did I start to appreciate the ones I already had.
The value of these living networks is impossible to estimate. I always found it so liberating for each connection I made to be fresh and new, ripe with possibility and free of any baggage whatsoever. But now I see their limitations, and that the true infinite possibility lies in the cradle of long term connections, nurtured and developed over time, with foundations of support, understanding, and perhaps even a little shared endeavour.
But that’s just community, isn’t it. In these times where physical interaction is so heavily policed, there has been such danger of losing community, but it hasn’t happened. We’ve found new ways to support each other, from the most vulnerable, so a simple video chat with your Gran at the weekend. For sure I’m concerned that it’s desensitising; certainly, it’s disturbing to me, watching old TV shows and instinctively thinking “Oh God! They’re not social distancing!”. The world’s changing, but if there’s one thing we humans are good at, it’s adapting to change. And the human spirit won’t be suppressed.
In fact, I think more than “bridging the gap,” technology is busily sketching the blueprint for how the future will look. For now, that means keeping connections alive, keeping communities supportive and vibrant, and maybe even breathing life into a few relationships that have been all but forgotten.
A while ago we have asked for your thoughts on the prospect of developing our very own online virtual space.
Over the last few months, the EuroPeers UK team has been working on a new level of innovation that aims to generate a different kind of online presence for young people. In partnership with Momentum World and Chesterfield College, a new 360 virtual space is being developed.
The virtual space will be accessed via a web browser meaning no special equipment is needed. Using a mouse and keyboard you will be able to navigate through various rooms exploring different aspects of EuroPeers UK.
The different rooms we hope to include are: The main foyer The International room The EuroPeers cinema space The EuroPeers library The Communication room The Newsroom Then there will be a portal to the ‘contact us’ and the ‘get involved’ room.
Project Manager Paul Oxborough shared:
“We are trying to redefine how young people access information online – most people have been ‘zoomed’ to death throughout 2020 so we have to look at new creative ways to re-engage them. By working with Chesterfield College it means the students can take on meaningful work experience with us as a client and develop a product they can add to their portfolios. This will help when they go for future jobs”.
Watch this space, we will do another feature in the next newsletter.
This new Eurodesk UK publication showcases 30 original stories covering young people’s experiences and the work of the youth sector.
Eurodesk’s mission is to help young people experience the world. Engaging and inspiring young people – and those who work with them in the youth sector – is key to this. At Eurodesk UK we love sharing their travels, projects, thoughts, and views on our website and social media, and now in our new publication ‘Eurodesk: a snapshot in 30 stories’.
The range of experiences covers six topic areas: Have Your Say, Study, Travel, Volunteer, Work, and Youth Work. From volunteering placements to studying for a semester abroad, everyone has a unique experience and a story to tell, not only on what they did but how it affected them personally.
The publication is interactive so you can navigate between different stories and explore them at your own pace, selecting preferred topics and/or specific stories. It is also accessible for text readers.
Hands down, I’ve been feeling all radical and awkward in my bones, but only for the last 25 years. So that’s quite alright. This virus has affected me in ways that have not been too bad. I’m in my homeland as a foreign participant. That’s oxymorous and thrilling. I’m surrounded by graduates of mental health degrees; that’s handy.
And I am way calm. I feel way British. I’m yawning a whole lot. Almost as much as I’m working; I’m working as much as one would be when premiering a community-building program in autumn 2020. Are you seeing me yet? And writing this is as hard as catching someone up in the middle of the show. And I guess as constructive. Settling in took about a week. At the end of this everyone knows each other by name, starting to suss out personalities. Forming alliances. Choosing docks and quarters. ‘Fitting in’
A general confusion, some vague answers, a definite direction, loose responsibilities. Work with the community was possible for the next week. We designed outdoor informal learning activities for groups of adults with mental health challenges. We did this for four full working days with an elevating sense of success before the Greek lockdown changed our plans for us.
Enter mild chaos. Our mentors from ROES Cooperativa took us off to Argolida for five days of intensive training, aiming at amplifying our community spirit. Good work there, the focus shift got there just in time; you know, ‘don’t fret dear. Just do things for yourself.’ Yourselves. Week four: So How Do You Feel About That Dynamic? I feel like watching good movies, counting my blessings, writing up my projects, and checking my influences.
Like allowing foreign influences, casually studying languages, and humming songs under my breath. Like appreciating people’s efforts, no matter how small and like celebrating small victories in a fitting manner. Does it sound boring? Man, you should see my dreams.
My name is Nell and I’m an 18-year-old dabbling creative from rural Norfolk. Currently, I’m on a gap year before I accept my deferred place at Sussex University to study Theatre and Performance in September 2021. Like many young people who chose to have a gap year right now, it’s not exactly turned out how I expected. I could dwell on the negatives of this situation but instead I’m going to discuss my digital internship with Momentum World.
As I mentioned before at my core, I’m a creative, which has always been the main focus of my time and energy. As I’ve grown my responsibility and independence within organisations has obviously increased, until this year I was still always a participant, not an administrator.
But now, along with other more demanding roles, I’m the Social Media and Web Intern for Momentum World! This includes managing their online presence and attracting new recognition.
I’m so grateful to be able to represent something with a message that I’m proud of, which encourages international opportunities for young people. Also, since studying immigrant experience literature I’ve wanted to widen my perspective and explore the intercultural concepts that Momentum World promotes. I’m looking forward to having an experience to learn, grow as an individual, and help a worthwhile non-profit organisation. Over the next few months, I intend to establish new connections for the organisation, attract new participants for the future, and develop my professionalism alongside experts.
I won’t lie despite my enthusiasm I do lack confidence more than ever before. Although as a creative in this day and age I’m well versed in the art of self-promotion, I worry that I’m not supposed to be doing this. However, instead of reciting my insecurities of imposter syndrome, I’m going to leave you with some advice that helped me with this concern.
Recently a friend’s parent said to me: ‘No one knows what they’re doing, even if they don’t admit it. Everyone is just as insecure and worried as us. All you have to do is remember to keep going, ask those ‘silly’ questions, smile, and be honest. Then you’ll realise you deserve to be where you are.’
2020 has been a challenging time for all of us. Looking back at the past months we can say, with confidence that we have adapted well to this new reality of delivering activities online, and reaching out to other young people using various digital tools.
Ana and Nathan, two EuroPeers UK had an idea to run an online event that would feature EuroPeers from all across the international network, and this plan was realised last week at our inaugural EuroPeerathon.
With the help of our digital team, we managed to keep the three days flowing seamlessly, and shared sessions presented by EuroPeers. EuroPeerathon acted as a good promotion for the individual accomplishments of young people whose lives have been changed forever by the Erasmus Plus programme.
We got to hear from NA representatives, working to engage more young people in international programmes, we heard from representatives of not for profits, trainers, and EuroPeers themselves. We hope to bring similar events to our audiences in near future.
This has been a momentous year in so many ways, of uncertainty, restrictions, and self-isolation. However as once said, in chaos there are opportunities and I have constantly conditioned myself to see opportunities and positivity in the midst of uncertainty. Moreover, I think young people at this time have considered ‘what is next’, employment, education, and how to cope within the new normal. This has certainly been my year’s story of working from home, university turning into virtual education, and how to develop myself within this new normal.
My experience has been immersing in online courses, projects that I kept pushing back, and more travelling! Though people may say is it safe, as for me I’ve thoroughly enjoyed travelling and meeting like-minded people that are even more positive in the midst of the new normal. This continues to motivate me to push boundaries and exchange ideas, experiences from all over. My theme is always “travel, explore and grasp all the opportunities” – and be part of the generation that reacted with solutions.
I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the last of the summer after probably the weirdest, not so wonderful summer of our lives! I have been in Tallinn for three weeks now and the transition from the UK to here has felt like a big step away from Coronavirus (fingers crossed) whilst taking a giant step towards readjustment to a new culture! The initial shock of no longer wearing masks, limited socialising and virtually no social distancing has taken a while to sink in. Sauna-ing with work colleagues, navigating different social cues, and getting lost in supermarket aisles are all part and parcel of settling in, a familiar feeling that I am sure many EuroPeers can share from when they began their European Solidarity Corps or Erasmus+ projects.
But in the EuroPeers international world, digital activities and developments soldier on. Here are just a few…the EuroPeers Steering Group has been selected! We had such a high quality of applications from extremely dedicated and passionate young people around Europe. There was even interest from Serbia and Albania which demonstrated the vast interest in the Network and space for growth. There will be EuroPeers Youth representatives from the UK, Finland, Italy, Austria, and Serbia! We’re sending out the message “participation before borders” and motivation really matters. Keep your eyes peeled for an introduction to this team on the EuroPeers International Facebook Page and Instagram!
We’re also looking for EuroPeers with a passion for photography who would want to help with our Instagram launch! It is an opportunity to have a one-to-one workshop and photoshoot with Facetime extraordinaire Tim Dunk. Check out his work here. The project will promote the strong unity and togetherness of EuroPeers in the face of Covid-19 and serve to engage newcomers to our community who might never have even heard of EU Youth projects! You’ll learn some great new photography skills that you can harness for future projects, especially in the Corona digital era. The only requirement (unfortunately) is that you have an iPhone or can borrow one from a family member/close friend for the shoots you will learn to do!
Please email the European Network Coordinator ASAP at Emily.Keal@archimedes.ee if you would like to be involved!