Scots brought together by Erasmus+ youth exchange

Sunday, 15 December 2019

The breakdown of barriers between Scots was one of the positive unexpected outcomes of the CY.B.RU.S. youth exchange as young people with different backgrounds from across the nation came together for a week in Cyprus.

The Erasmus+ funded youth exchange, in which EPIC Assist participated in November, intended to bring young people from four countries together to break down barriers between cultures. One of the more surprising unintended outcomes was nevertheless the fact that barriers were broken down between the 10 Scottish participants themselves.

The Scots, who together with 20 other young people from across Europe spent a week in the mountain village of Agros, came from a variety of geographical, political and social backgrounds. The areas represented places such as Clydebank, Fort William, Inverness and Edinburgh and the participants ranged from students to storytellers, youth workers, ski instructors and builders. Coming together made them realise how diverse Scotland really is.

‘It was great to meet people from across Scotland. It is not often you get the chance to sit down together and talk about what it means to be Scottish. It was really enlightening in understanding what it means to be Scottish’, said Niall Moorjani, 25, himself a London-based Scot with both Indian and English heritage.

The diversity of the Scottish participants seemed to be an exclusive positive experience for the young people.

‘I had never met any of the others before we met at Edinburgh Waverley Station [to start the trip], but the silence broke right away’, said Jason Smith, 23, from Clydebank.

He emphasised how different people brought different qualities.

‘We can use each other as contacts going forward. This has given me a network and personal development,’ added Jason.

Niall also agreed that the Scots had benefitted from each other.

‘There have been engaging and respectful conversations about what being Scottish is. We come from a politically volatile environment at the moment so it has been great and really rewarding’, he underlined.

The connections made between the Scots did not come at the expense of the more formal objective of breaking down barriers between people from different countries, however. Through icebreaker activities, workshops, intercultural nights, attending a football game between Cyprus and Scotland, day trips to Nicosia and Limassol and spending time together in general, the young people increased their intercultural and interhuman understanding.

‘I definitely learned not to trust stereotypes’, was the first thing Michelle-Domonique Bell, 22, from Clydebank, said when asked about what she had taken away from the trip.

Another Scottish participant who agreed to this statement was Rachel Moreno. The 21-year-old spent many of her childhood years in Inverness but is now based in Dundee.

‘I learned to have a lot more tolerance for different perspectives and I gained more understanding of cultural differences. I realised that differences are important and at the same time not important. The culture you are used to is important but it is not a barrier. That awareness was important’, she said.

The conversations with Russian participants were particularly fascinating for the Scots.

‘We cannot get a clear picture [about Russia] from our media so when you talk to people from that country, it is really intellectually engaging and exciting. It was nice to have some stereotypes dispelled and to have interesting conversations with the Russians about their politics’, said Niall.

Eoghann Gollan, 19, from Edderton in the Highlands, also appreciated how stereotypes about Russians were broken.

‘I learned a lot about Russians. People make them out to be grumpy but that is completely wrong. They are just really nice and normal people’, he highlighted.

Wallace Hastings, 25, from Fort William, talked about how important it is to realise that the politics of a country is not necessarily a representation of an individual’s views.

‘When you actually meet people from other countries, you break barriers and you break this idea that Russia is that big, perverted, scary country. The people within the country might not agree with the politics going on and there is something wonderful to that,’ said Wallace.

Rachel also said she increased her understanding for opinions she did not agree with as a result of the youth exchange.

‘There were some of the Russian opinions which I did not understand or agree with but when they explained why they had those opinions, I understood their logic. It starts to make sense when the opinions are explained and I don’t feel that it comes from a bad place,’ she emphasised.

There is therefore no doubt that the CY.B.RU.S. youth exchange achieved the goal of changing young people’s attitudes towards diversity. EPIC Assist Charity Scotland would like to thank all the participants and the participating organisations in the project, the hosts Youth Dynamics and the funding from Erasmus+ for making this project possible. A special thanks also goes to the village of Agros for its hospitality. We hope to be able to participate in more EU-funded projects in the near future!