”I felt like I was at home, and this is what Europe should be: a big family that lives together in peace and harmony, sharing with each component what everyone has to offer, valuing the dissimilarities.”
How many times have we dreamed of taking part in outdoor activities, going on adventures with our family, friends, or learning to fend for ourselves in nature? Probably quite often. In Europe there are a few facilities and organizations that can offer you this kind of experience to be lived to the fullest!
On the second week of December 2021, an interesting Erasmus project took place in Finland, at the Oivanki Youth Centre, which gathered some youth educators from different European countries. For what purpose, you may be wondering. Well, what would be the best way to improve your skills and do real introspection if not by getting together with your peers and putting yourself out there by taking cultural diversity and new points of view as gold?
After all, unity is strength and common strength is beneficial to society.
After all, unity is strength and common strength is beneficial to society. But what is adventure education and who is a youth worker? Adventure education is a type of instruction which triggers an active learning process that requires commitment from both the learner and the instructor. It usually pushes the participant beyond his or her comfort line to trip in strong feelings that lead him or her to face both physically and mentally difficulties; we are talking about activities such as rock climbing, hiking, paddling, and many others. Essentially, this approach to education gives the youngsters the opportunity to put their skills and potentialities to good use. The learning process is more important rather than the result; it’s the path over the destination.
Participants are also stimulated to work in group and therefore each one of them will have to understand how to juggle between different individuals coming from different backgrounds, with a different way of facing life, which is very useful to make their way in everyday life. All this helps building trust in themselves and in others.
Being a youth worker, on the other hand, means making yourself available to others by promoting projects that build life skills through informal activities such as sports, group games or artwork. There is a great underlying responsibility but above all a great love for a youth that needs real emotions, physical contact, understanding and a chance to prove what dough it is made of. In other words, in this job we give space and voice to young people who are hungry to express themselves and really wants to enjoy their lives.
After this brief introduction to the world of youth work and adventure education, it is time to tell you about the wonderful week spent in snowy Finland, at the very heart of wilderness.
Just outside the town of Kuusamo there is the Oivanki Youth Centre which kindly gave us the warmest welcome. It seemed to be immersed in a Christmas snowball and it was nice to explore the place with colleagues from seven other European countries. Can you imagine the emotion of having the opportunity to enrich your visions through a real intercultural intimacy?
It was very nice to meet people from different Finnish areas, then others from England, Portugal, Slovenia, Hungary, Germany, and Ukraine. As for me, I was the only Italian in the group, but it hadn’t been a problem at all since everyone appreciated my country and my traditions; I felt like I was at home, and this is what Europe should be: a big family that lives together in peace and harmony, sharing with each component what everyone has to offer, valuing the dissimilarities.
On the first day of Erasmus, in addition to exploring the centre, we all got to know each other a bit more by taking part in icebreaker games and talking about who we are, what we like, what our passions are and what we do in life; basically, our adventure was starting to take off! Luckily, we quickly turned out to be a very like-minded group of people and it took so little to get to know each other. Thirty or so people who get along very well right from the start and manage to feel comfortable while remaining themselves, in my opinion, is a success.
”The learning process is more important rather than the result; it’s the path over the destination.”
It is important to feel good with others in a project like this because you can express yourself more easily by showing feelings, emotions, and thoughts with an open heart without the fear of judgment. Maybe, for some of us, this experience was just an adventure as we pulled ourselves out of our comfort zone; after all, adventure is subjective and always happens within us.
What did we talk about and what activities did we do during the week?
In my opinion that was a 360° week. What do I mean by that? We spent every day fully understanding the reason for our meeting and we were all committed to learn as much as we could and treasuring it. With some teachers and professionals in the field we delved into the deep meaning of being youth educators, understanding what adventure education really is and how to make what we are working for bear fruit in others.
We did tasks both alone with ourselves and divided into homogeneous groups developing projects of possible organizations that can actively involve people who have, in their lives, problems of different origins, reflecting on the purpose, the budget, cooperation, financing and time frame. We also reflected on the various ways of interacting with others and how we can best deal with our own difficulties, fears, or insecurities. We meditated on ourselves because what we have inside is reflected outside and it is very important to know how to face your weaknesses at best. After all, an educator remains a person like any other, with his ups and downs. He or she is not as invincible as someone might expect!
On that trip I understood how true the quote “there is no good or bad weather, but good or bad equipment” is, as Baden Powell, founder of scouting, said.
One of the most beautiful activities of our stay was for me the day of the snowshoe hike in the Riisitunturi National Park where some of us were challenged with the snow, being the first experience with this kind of climate. On that trip I understood how true the quote ”there is no good or bad weather, but good or bad equipment” is, as Baden Powell, founder of scouting, said. I fortunately was ready for any eventuality, but above all charged with positive feelings!
Therewith, we also had the opportunity to exchange our thoughts, expectations and hopes with the others and it was an activity that I really appreciated because being listened to and advised by a friend is a precious gift. We should remember that we are not alone because there is always somebody who is close to us and who is willing to lend his hand.
Obviously fun couldn’t be missed, in fact we have all taken part in activities such as curling, sledding with huskies, ice fishing or cross-country skiing. What to say about sauna? How could there not be! We relaxed, tried the Avanto which is a winter bath in the lake, and we had nice laughs in the Palju, a small tub with hot water. Even the international themed evenings were curious and funny; we tasted some typical foods of each country and danced until late hours.
I wondered what this experience had left me, and I gave myself only one answer: Hope.
In conclusion, there would be so much to tell that I could go on forever, but somehow, I must finish this article and sum it up like we did that cold Saturday of December. I was very excited, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. I wondered what this experience had left me, and I gave myself only one answer: Hope. Why hope? Well, I realized that in our society there are still wonderful people who seriously care about each other and work hard to make this planet better and better. There is love and seeing it in the eyes of others or perceiving it in the words spoken, it is something that warms the heart.
After all, Love moves the Sun and the other stars; it is the mechanism of the world and of all life, as the great poet Dante Alighieri said. Without it we could not be Human, and humanity needs people who can truly love. Thank you all for your attention. I hope the text has intrigued you and left a smile!
A warm greeting,
The writer is a volunteer in Piispala Youth Centre through European Solidarity Corps.