I set up a Youth Exchange
Jiri Peterka, a 24-year-old student at Oxford University, organised an international Youth Exchange to help bring people together to learn more about the European Union (EU).
Looking around the room, watching people from different countries engage in lively debate about the EU, I couldn't believe I was responsible for making this happen. Young people were fiercely discussing EU border and immigration issues - shaping each others' thoughts and opinions by sharing their diverse range of experiences. The best part was that no-one had paid for this opportunity. We were all getting this incredible experience through , a European funding programme run in the UK by the British Council.
I was living in the Czech Republic when I first heard of Youth in Action's Youth Exchange. A friend told me that Youth in Action fund these projects where young people from all over Europe (and some neighbouring countries) can meet up and talk about a shared interest. It sounded great. You have to apply and after getting through the process I went to one in Luxembourg and then to a couple in France.
I moved to the UK and started a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and Oxford University. I soon realised there weren't any Youth Exchange projects being run locally and so decided to set one up myself. I called the project 'We Are Europe' and the aim was to bring young people together from different countries to explore how the EU works, in an interactive way. We created a simulation game where different people would represent various EU institutions and pretend they were on the European Council. I think the EU is quite an abstract topic for most people, with many finding it boring, so I thought this was a good way of teaching how it all works, as well as giving them the chance to share their views.
I applied for funding through the British Council and then got a group together to set the project up. We divided up the tasks - some organised the logistics like places and food, others planned the activities. I was responsible for writing the application forms and the overall management. We had people come over from Poland, Algeria, and the Czech Republic to take part. It went really well. We explored some really controversial issues - the most popular being EU enlargement and immigration. Hearing such a diverse range of views from so many different people really shaped opinion and helped everyone become better informed. There were a few language barriers here and there, but, really, we found we were all able to communicate quite well together.
Starting up this project has been beneficial to me in so many ways. It gave me so many skills that you just can't get from a degree alone. I've learnt project management skills, harnessed my creative abilities and honed my analytical and communication abilities. But, most importantly, I've made so many new friends with people all over Europe. I've got holiday plans to visit friends from Youth in Action in Italy and France over the next year.
I would happily tell anyone that Youth in Action is a great opportunity for young people. It's really inspiring to come up with you own idea to bring Europeans together and then see it come to life. After I graduate, I'm moving to London to start a law conversion course and think my time organising an exchange is going to equip me brilliantly for the future.
Want to know more about Youth Exchanges? Funded by the EU and managed in the UK by the British Council, Youth Exchanges are one of many opportunities offered to young people through Youth in Action: visit www.britishcouncil.org/youthinaction for more details.