Erasmus+ training course “Euro-Mediterranian youth work preventing polarisation” in Räpina

Impressions by Marieke Groenendijk, 3-03-2023

Once upon a time, in a small town in southern Estonia, near the Russian border, a group of youth workers came together. In the coldest month of the year, February , where the temperature can reach -17 degrees and the landscape is white and frozen, the group learned about the prevention of polarisation. With participants in this Erasmus+ training course from Spain, Estonia, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Italy and the Netherlands they learned about this subject through an informal, intercultural and inspiring setting.

In this article I will try to give you an impression of my week in Estonia in my first Training Course!

The first day started on Sunday the 19th of February in which several groups started by building a snow-person, which resulted in very creative works of art! In the rest of the day we learned about the dynamics of polarisation based on the theory of philosopher Bart Brandsma. In the evening there was time to present the countries the participants represent.

Snow-person-building activity

The little village of Räpina

On the second day, Monday the 20th of February, we talked about the specific topics of polarisation in our own countries. Therefore each country chose a topic and presented it to the rest of the group. In the afternoon we did a big role play, in which we acted as different organizations within an imaginary town called ForestVille. The native people of ForestVille are very connected to nature, but their sons and daughters looked for a better life in the city. Their kids became entrepreneurs and wanted to return to ForestVille and cut trees for their businesses. The major of the city organized a meeting with the two parties plus a youth organization and an NGO in favor of nature. The media were also watching the conversation and disrupting it by spreading fake news. In this role play we actually experienced polarization by ourselves.

On Tuesday the 21th, the third day of the training week, we continued the presentations by the countries about their specific polarization topics. We looked at the differences and similarities that our countries polarization issues had. Often they were related to religion and/or politics, and the media almost always played a role. In the evening we had a cultural night in which we presented our countries.

Tea from Jordan !

On Wednesday, halfway the week, we had time off. A big part of the group went to Tartu, the second biggest city in Estonia. It was also the coldest day of the week, so when we walked from the hotel to the bus station it was -17 degrees. Luckily the sun was shining and during the day it was only -10 degrees. In Tartu, a part of the group did a walking tour and learned all the ins and outs of the city. Some people who decided not to go to Tartu went by bus through the Russian border and visited a lot of tiny villages.

A visit to Tartu!

Thursday the 23rd we learned about the Living Libraries concept and did a fishbowl exercise which helped us to speak more easily about polarizing issues and see each others standpoints. We also received a lot of explanation about all the options Erasmus+ has to offer.

On the last day of the Training Course, Friday the 24th – which as well happened to be an Independence Day of Estonia, each of us developed an idea to implement in our own organisations and presented them to each other. This was also a moment to say goodbye to the people who were leaving early the next day.

I think we’ve all learned quite a lot during this training course!

As well about the prevention of polarization as each other’s countries, culture and politics. Next to this we experienced Estonian culture.

Here are some fun facts I take away from my week in Estonia:

  • Every lunch we ate a different soup;
  • The busses and trains keep on driving even-though there is lots of snowfall;
  • Finish and Estonian language look a like, but definitely are not the same;
  • About 40% of the population speaks Russian;
  • Estonians like their start ups, for every Estonian there are 10 start ups…;
  • They are super digital! They even have little robots delivering food.

By asking some of my fellow participants from the Training Course, I received the following answers:

Tuba from Turkey told me she learned about the framework of polarization and on what issues different countries are polarized. She also learned about food, scenes and drinks from other Mediterranean and European countries! What she enjoyed the most was the training itself, the cold and the Estonian food.

Regina from Italy reflected that “The training was a full-on experience both in terms of content and at a personal level. It ensured a good mix of theoretical knowledge and practical tools while allowing for international differences to emerge and being valued. I had a great time and met pretty amazing people from whom I learnt a lot!

There was a richness of contexts and experiences and a willingness to get to know the other person/organization fully that led me to have a refreshed and inspired outlook towards my work back home. Big thanks to our trainers’ team: Razan, Xavi, Ljuba and Syrine for handling the training with patience, humor, care and eagerness to teach and share!”

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