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"Our mission is to assist in the reformation of Ukraine consistent with European standards, as well as to introduce democratic values and develop civil society in Ukraine."

From the Statute of
the Center for European Initiatives

Youth Exchange “East-West: From Conflict to Appreciating Diversity,” Germany, February 2009

Partners:

  • Center for European Initiatives, Sumy, Ukraine;
  • Association of Youth Welfare and Social Work, Furstenwalde, Germany;
  • Association ”Borussia,” Olshtin, Poland;
  • Youth Human Rights Movement, Voronezh, Russia.

Supported by: Youth in Action, The federal state of Brandenburg.

Date conducted: 16-26 February 2009.

Place conducted: Hirshluh, Germany.

Participants: 40 youth from four countries (10 each from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Russia), aged 20-25 years.

Exchange language: English.

Exchange products:

  • Theatrical performance for invited guests from the city of Furstenwalde (24 February 2009);
  • Photo exhibit “Colors of Diversity.”

East-West: From Conflict to Appreciating Diversity - the first step of youth towards sustainable elimination of cultural stereotypes and prejudices.

Recently conducted was the international youth exchange “East-West: From Conflict to Appreciating Diversity.” The project was organized by Sumy NGO Center for European Initiatives (Ukrainian partner) and by the Association of Youth Welfare and Social Work (German partner), along with partners from Poland and Russia, and with financial support from the European Union youth program “Youth in Action.” The exchange took place in the youth center Hirshluh, near the German capital, Berlin.

The primary objective of this exchange was to bring together youth to discuss conflict and stereotypes, to determine their origins from a historical context, and to provide an opportunity for youth leaders to understand opposing east and west issues within one country as well as between European nations.

Young leaders, active students, and young workers, took part in the program, whose questionnaires were selected from more than three hundred applications from all over Ukraine. There was a strict selection process based on such criteria as: the ability to communicate in English, personal interest is in the theme of the project, activity and creativity, and most importantly, openness to intercultural communication and cooperation. In addition to the group of youth from Ukraine participating in the exchange there were also participants from the Russian Federation and EU member states, Poland and Germany. Overall, about forty youth participants from Western and Eastern Europe were invited to participate in this international youth project.

Over ten days the representatives of four countries: Ukraine, Poland, Germany and Russia, attended seminars and thematic workshops, prepared presentations and group appearances, and actively discussed and reasons for and methods to overcome stereotypes.

The first days of the project, were aimed at familiarizing the youth with one another. This was accomplished with sport and instructional teambuilding exercises, held outdoors by youth hosts.

One of the program requirements was a national evening, to be held by each participating country. Thus, each group presented their country, acquainting other participants with their national culture and providing all a merry time. In preparing the national presentations all participants used their imagination and skills: preparing a computer presentation, bringing a large number of national souvenirs, presented and enjoyed national dishes and drinks, and held quizzes and games.

The working language of the exchange was English, but members slowly began to teach each other their native languages. By the end, the Polish team started to understand and speak Russian, Ukrainians began to practice their recently obtaining knowledge of German, and Germans, in general, spoke Polish, and understood Ukrainian. But, if they encountered any confusion, they used half German half English. This mixing of cultures and languages became a turning point for these youth from four countries in their attempt to destroy stereotypes and prejudices.

One of the components of this project was a one-day excursion to Berlin, a city that for nearly half a century was a world symbol of division between east and west. Participants visited a museum/reference center of the Berlin Wall, the Museum of East Germany, and personally met with activists of the Berlin movement resistance. These measures were designed to help participants grasp the magnitude of the exchange and the effects of confrontation between east and west across not only Germany, but the whole world.

In addition to discussions and presentations, other methods that members used to express their attitude on the project subject, and to find common solutions, were theatrical and photo workshops. Participants were divided into two groups, according to their creative interests, where they worked on a theatrical performance and photo exhibition. For the second part of the exchange, professional teachers from Germany and Poland taught the youth theater arts and photography in working groups. The result was a theatrical performance and a photo exhibit, which were presented to the German community, primarily students and teachers of local schools, from the town of Furstenwalde.

At the end of the exchange members were invited to a farewell party, where they were awarded certificates from the European program “Youth in Action” for active participation in the program. They also had the opportunity to see a movie created by Polish trainers for this exchange.

The very next day, all participants said goodbye to each other and exchanged contact information to further relationships and support future cooperation. Although the ten-day international youth exchange flew by very fast, the youth felt unbelievable pleasure from participation, the sharing of experiences, and the new relationships with youth from other countries.

Maria Khodun, Exchange Participant

Testimonials

Daria Nakonechna, Kyiv:

“This may sound somewhat suspicious, but this exchange was super - the current topic, interesting form of work with participants, high level of organization, a successfully developed program, harmonious united disclosure and study of various aspects of selected topics, and rich cultural exchange (for example the excursions to Berlin and Spreewald, and the national evenings).

But the most fun was simply socializing with young people from other countries. In addition to familiarizing people with the attitude of Germany, Poland, Russia and Ukraine to the problem of East and West within one country and on a world level, you hear their attitude and go beyond a narrow perception of certain things to see and feel differently. As for me, it is value-added and shows the significance and importance of international youth exchanges.”

Roman Kovbasuk, Sumy:

“The Youth Exchange Program – is a great opportunity to be immersed in the diversity of cultures, languages, and traditions.

If you like to meet new people, have interesting discussions and travel - not waist time, participate, and broaden your outlook!

Maria Khodun, Sumy:

“I am sincerely grateful to all the organizers of East-West: From Conflict to Appreciating Diversity, and especially to the Center for European Initiatives, for providing this opportunity to participate in this international youth exchange.

This program allowed me to meet with young people from different European countries, to participate actively in seminars and workshops aimed at overcoming the stereotypes and avoiding conflicts among different nations, and represent Ukraine at the national party.

Among the brightest moments of the exchange teambuilding and presentations of national evenings are the most remembered. As it happened, our group was to present Ukraine on the first day of the exchange, and we were all very nervous. It was in fact desirable to present our country and surprise all with an original presentation. On the whole, the Ukrainian evening was at the greatest level, and our Ukrainian borsch left nobody indifferent to Ukrainian cuisine.

The ten days of this exchange flew by very fast, and I did not want to say goodbye to all my new friends.”