“More in Common” Training in Bala, North Wales

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” - Jo Cox (1974-2016)

Between 6-13 December 2019, UNA Exchange, in collaboration with BeDiverse, brought together 30 youth workers from 13 different countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Portugal, Romania, UK) across Europe to the Urdd residential centre, Glan-Llyn in Bala, North Wales, to learn about how we can share our culture in many ways, and recognise not only the differences, but importantly the similarities across the continent.

“I believe that this course gave me an understanding of how similar we are and that there is really nothing dividing us. I will keep remidning everyone what I’ve learned here and promote Erasmus+ in the best way possible.”

How would you define culture? Most people would link it to nationality. But surely, we must have more in common than what our “cultural differences” may imply. Can culture transcend borders?

Thirty youth workers coming from thirteen different European countries gathered in North Wales in December 2019. They discussed cultural stereotypes, and more importantly, shared similarities – all in all, what makes us European and global citizens -, on a week-long training course organised by UNA Exchange and BeDiverse.

In a world where tensions still divide communities and countries, teaching and learning about how every one of us is connected feels more important than ever… Foreword by Helene Chaland, ESC volunteer at UNA Exchange.

Delivering a first stage training course for youth workers (anyone who works with young people aged 13-30, in a paid, voluntary, full or part-time position) to equip them with the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills to be able to break beyond the constructs of culture, linked to nationality, this project was achieved through successive implementation of the following project objectives:

- develop understanding of multitude of cultural differences held within Europe, from international – local – small groups – individual.

- learn to recognise that nothing defines us specifically. We are made up of so many aspects of different identities. We have more in common than we think.

- break down stereotypes related to nations, aesthetics and religion by exploring our own identifying aspects and those within the areas we live and work.

- develop a deeper sense of European citizenship by moving away from the focus of nation-states defining culture to recognising that we are one Europe, even one world.

- consider creating a new type of ‘intercultural evening’ to be undertaken during Erasmus+ events.

“This project was professionally conducted, well thought out and researched. It was one long learning week discovering new knowledge about diverse cultures and interacting with participants from European Countries. I am going home another person!”

The training course was strongly based on experiential learning (learning by doing) and non-formal education, with adequate time allocated for debriefing and reflection throughout the whole program.

The 6 days of delivery were jam-packed, starting with time taken to get to know each other, moving forward with the flow of looking at visible culture through the themes of national stereotypes, cultural communication and trade, and a review of the definition of culture (or the non-definition - as there are over 160 in the world… all.. well.. culturally defined!). The course then moved on to considering hidden culture by exploring the values and importance of different elements of hidden culture to us in different ways. The next step was to consider common culture, which we viewed through exploring commonalities in our greetings, our music and dance tastes, the culture of success, elements of our behaviour, and importantly, the historical culture of our current nation-states, and external influences on this. We ended the week by exploring how we could share culture in different ways. With 4 groups tasked with designing a session to share visible, hidden, common and difference, the participating youth workers designed some incredibly engaging and well thought out activities that were tried and tested on the rest of the group.

“This course opened my eyes to aspects of cultures and differences of us which turned out to be common for many countries.”

Firstly, we looked at the culture of drinking alcohol across the continent, as an extremely visible form of culture, and explored what we drink, why we drink and when we drink in different parts of the world. We then looked at hidden culture in relation to notions of beauty and how beauty is conceived by different genders of other genders, in a very interesting exploitative role-play session. Following this we explored the idea of differences in culture around the notion of celebrations, using symbols to represent ‘universal’ celebrations, and ended with an extremely provocative session around commonalities in culture, based on our emotional experiences to specific events.

“I am impressed by the amount of new things I learnt from other European nations, and about the common European history we have! All these were done in an enjoyable way and I would like to thank the trainers and Urdd Glan Llyn staff for making this project so nice.”

“As I know more about European countries and cultures I feel more a European.”

Of course, it wasn’t all hard work! The participants had a free afternoon where Urdd staff took them to visit the site of Dryweryn, and were able to find out about the history of the region. They also spent time in the local town of Bala, exploring the shops, learning about the history of the lady of Bala and the mythical beliefs around her, joining a local rotary club meeting, going for a tour of all the local Christmas decorations, as well as sampling some of the finest beers in a local pub. The group even had a go at canoeing on the lake - so the damp and cold weather did not stop them enjoying themselves!

“I feel myself more European and feel more sensitive culturally thanks to the time spent with people from 13 different countries of Europe and thanks to the training”

The feedback from the project was incredible. All objectives and learning outcomes were met with an 8.5 out of 10 score - some participants have already used their learning at home, one presenting the project to 300 students at his university in Estonia, and another utilising all the activities with a group of women and children in a refuge he works at in Prague.

Some feedback comments are below:

“it was very interesting to discover what we share more than I thought”

“The various activities really made me realise that our differences are not so different after all.”

“Especially being from the UK we can feel excluded [from the EU] but this project helped me feel part of something bigger”

“I learned that issues exist beyond borders/ other social constructs - borders have very little to do with it.”

“The amount of information shared was TERRIFIC!”

“gave more thought to my own cultural practices and where it fits with others”

“I might not always be able to identify my own cultural identities but that’s only because we have so much in common”

“the cat’s story was very deep and helpful to understand the stupidity of prejudice that turns into discrimination”

“Had multiple discussions about prejudice and even broke down a few for me this week.”

“Brexit has made this [feeling like an EU citizen] difficult as a UK citizen but this project helped me to put that aside.”

“No matter how deep I dig I cannot find out what culture really is. This training pointed out amazingly how the differences are fabricated throughout the centuries and how many similarities we have while we live on the illusion of separation.”

“I learned to develop a passion for training courses by creating aims for activities, outcomes and practical arrangements. I learnt that young people will change the world and thankfully, we’ve got Erasmus+ to open their eyes.”

“This experience has been enjoyable, engaging and useful for me as a European Citizen, but also as a world citizen. I’ve learnt that we have more in common than we think!! The activities helped us to be more determined and to share our culture with others starting from our single identities!!”

Text and photos by Leila Usmani, BeDiverse trainer