Tuesday, June 24, 2008

IDEA hosted 50 students in Amsterdam at the EYS 2008

From May 4-9 the International Debate Education Association hosted 50 participants from 6 countries - Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and The Netherlands in an event called European Youth Speak: Unity in Diversity Exchange. There were only 6 countries, but at least 15 cultures were represented among this group. Each country nominated 7 students (16-21) and one university supervisor, with the emphasis on creating as diverse group as possible. AND truly, what an exchange of cultures! Pity you missed it.

On the first evening, during the icebreaking session, we started off with teaching each other the 3 most useful words in our all the languages and a survival tip for each country present. One lesson learnt for sure: in Estonia you don't hug or kiss unless you are boyfriends and girlfriends - and maybe not even then. Hint why the birth rate is so low in Estonia?! ☺

The next 2 days were devoted to transferring the set of skills needed for better communication. The trainers, Marcin and I focused the sessions on how to become more effective speakers in terms of argumentation and presentation in the international environment. We also taught the format of Legislative debate; a format of discussion we were to use on the latter 2 days to steer our discussion regarding the specific policies youth should adopt to deal with problems of various cultures living together. We also started to talk about common problems in our societies. In mixed groups we exchanged best practices how these are or how they should be treated, always bringing the real life examples and experience from our communities into the discussion.

On the second night we exchanged also many things with the city of Amsterdam. The Dutch participants first took us to the concert on Museumsplein and then showed us the true multicultural face of Amsterdam guiding us through the dodgy corners in the opposite direction from the Hostel in the middle of the night. On the third night we hosted a heated debate on whether religious symbols should be shown in public institutions as part of the Project Stranger. The debate was very tight and in the end, it was the team affirming the resolution that won the hearts and minds of the public and thereby the debate.

The next 2 days were devoted to heated discussions on policies. The ultimate goal was to produce a common statement - resolution of the participants attending the European Youth Speak Conference. Additionally each country was to come up with a national action plan that was feasible for the participants to carry out. These national action plans were then presented in the final discussion called Youth-to-Youth Exchange, the highlight event of the daily program. The national delegations fought for the main prize - 200 EUR to help with launch of their project. The Estonian idea of a exchange of students between the Russian and Estonian families (which btw could be surely well commercialized as a next reality show on the Estonian national TV) won the main prize. The closing speech was done by Rogier Elshout, the National Youth Council Representative for European Affairs, who made remarks on the national action plans and advised the young participants how to make the plans even better by adopting more local and participatory approach. It could be best summarized by a quote from his speech “go and talk to the people; ask them what they need and develop the project with them, not for them!”.

The highlight of the evening program was surely the Hyde Park – Speakers’ corner event taking place on the forth night in the Oosterpark. Each of the participants had the chance to be critically evaluated by their peers on their vision of multicultural Europe using the 'format' of speakers' corner – there are no rules apart from time limit! The event was moderated by Bahram Sadeghi and the closing speech was delivered Jelena Jakulj, Policy Officer Access Croatia, who reflected upon the performance and the ideas of the speakers.

The participants’ differences in attitudes and feeling of being strange that was visible at the beginning slowly faded away and was lessened through the discussion and talks through the sessions during the day or in the evening. Hence, mission completed and see more of you next year!

For more photos, click here: http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/marczaleski/EYS?authkey=eDmkIv
thanks Marcin, Winnie and Sergiu!

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