Erasmus+ ‘United in Diversity’ Youth Exchange in Italy
Among the participants were 42 young people from Armenia, Georgia, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Turkey, and Ukraine. They came together to share their experiences, cultures, and different perspectives. Here is the experience from one of the program’s participants, Gayane Astoyan.
Diversity – A Journey to Your New Self
by Gayane Astoyan
United in Diversity – perhaps this is the best way to describe Europe.
Cultural diversity has always been an inherent part of Europe. However, what does it mean to live in a culturally diverse society? Does it mean to accommodate others and lose your identity? Or is it about the enrichment of one’s own culture and revelation of new values? On January 12th, 2016 I went to participate in the project, “United in Diversity,” to be held in Pescara, Italy.
More than 40 young people from 6 countries came to live together for a week to create a mini model of our culturally diverse world. No matter how many times you have met people from other cultures, or how long you have lived with them, you still go through the same fears with thousands of questions in your head:
“Who are they?”
“Are they nice?”
“Do I need to leave my identity to get along with them, or will we be able to embrace our diversity and coexist in harmony?”
And here you are. You see these smiley, friendly people with the same questions in their eyes, “Who are they?” And this floating question in the air already unites us. You don’t feel lonely and lost anymore in this culturally diverse mini-world.
Having in mind hundreds of stereotypical information about different cultures, you create a special mindset and a behavioral pattern in your head to deal with your new acquaintances. But here you face the reality that six people from the same country and same culture can be… so different.
Then all the planned approaches you have created in your mind, based on preliminary information, turns into ashes because you have missed a crucial point — individuality. The problem with our perception of cultures is that we always generalize and label people with certain features and don’t give space for individuality.
During the sessions when we needed to work together to create a city or an image or a scenario, the main thought swirling in your head is we are different, from various cultures, with different backgrounds and experiences. Mission Impossible. But to your great surprise, you manage to collaborate, support each other, and create something unique and original. And here you realize, This is the beauty of diversity.
The revelation of cultures and your own self instills a sense of awe while you realize that your own identity is in progress while you are in this tiny multicultural world. Thus, when a Polish girl approached me during the intercultural night and asked me to pour some wine for her, I did as she asked; meanwhile, a thought crossed my mind like a lightning, “Wow, she is so drunk, that cannot even pour a drink for herself.” But the fact is that she was not drunk at all, and a second later she told me that in Polish culture you are not supposed to pour a drink for yourself because it’s a sign of loneliness.
I laughed loudly and felt so much shame because of catching myself at the thought of how quick I was to JUDGE and fuel my prejudices just because I didn’t have enough information. Then 8 days later, when you already need to leave and say goodbye to these friend- strangers, you feel your heart sink because you might never meet them again. You realize that each and every single of these people is an individual planet; a world with his or her own beautiful culture which you would love to discover. And thanks to them you went beyond the borders of your fears, stereotypes, prejudices, worldview, and obtained your diverse and new self.