Simone Italia – Romania
A story by Simone
Country of origin: Italy
Destination Country: Romania
2001. Christmas time is approaching, a large part of Europe is about to switch its national currency to the Euro (€) and my life was about to dramatically change.
I’m at home when I receive a phone call on my home phone (of course, no mobile back then). It’s Veb Accademia europea (now Accademia europea di Firenze), with whom I kept in touch after they organized our youth exchanges during our high-school years. “We can’t put up a group and we need 6 participants for a youth exchange taking place in Romania” – ok, when would it be? – “next week”. I’m in. “ok, I knew that. Find 3 more participants please, we’ll find the other 2”.
Putting up a group would be extremely hard normally, because the youth exchange was during Christmas time (Italians like to stay home for Christmas) and it was in Romania, “land of gypsies and thieves” is the mentality of most people. Remember, there was low access to the internet back then, very little interaction with foreigners in my hometown, and few immigrants back then. However, I did manage to find the 3 other participants by speaking to the most curious and open minded friends I had.
We were called for a meeting in Florence to meet the other members of the group and to prepare for the trip. We talked about stereotypes, concepts of culture and multiculturalism, and introduced to how the project was planned and structured. We did some team-building activities and discussed about how to organize things we were expected to do as a group (an intercultural dinner and night, for example)… after that, we were ready to go, with loads of motivation and curiosity!
Getting to Sibiu was an adventure, but it was worth it. 10 days in which we dismantled all possible stereotypes we had been warned of (and we couldn’t care less…), 10 days in which we were pushed to do something we never did before, like playing animation in the streets with kids and adults with whom we had no common language. We were pushed to speak English more than the poor level we had learned at school and never used out of it. We got to know a number of funny, curious, open minded and educated people from Romania, Belgium and Portugal with such great and different skills. We went around to random houses to sing Christmas carols for Christmas Eve as it’s a typical tradition in Romania… a breath-taking experience.
Thanks to the links we built with the beautiful people we met, we met again in the following years in a number of places and occasions; this experience had a strong impact on my life for several reasons.
It was probably the very first time I realized how much I like speaking all the languages I hear. All of them. I also realized how much satisfaction I might get from working in some type of youth organisation and from having such an amazing impact of people’s lives.
If it wasn’t for this type of experience, I probably would’ve never moved from my small hometown to go on other youth exchanges, mobility projects like LdV or move out to Florence to work in the same profession and with this enthusiasm. I probably wouldn’t have ever found the chance to speak languages and learn from other people.
I would definitely recommend it and since the first youth exchange I took part in, I have always encouraged all the people I managed to reach to go for such experience and open their minds.