The exchange of experiences and help at the international level has been a very old and recurrent phenomenon over the years. Many times we forget it because we feel locked up in our homes, living with those we think are the same people as always or alone.
Beyond ourselves, outside, there are many others who are also longing to meet, talk, exchange experiences and knowledge, get to know each other, see, experience, and yes, to be enriched, it is human to be edified.
Nowadays there are non-profit organizations as well as government programs that know this need and have systematized it through programs or policies, one of them is the so-called “Erasmus” which we will talk about in this article. And I want to take you to know a more personal experience, my visit to Bulgaria, which more than a youth exchange organized by the organization: “International Initiatives for Cooperation” (IIC), with the support of the European Union, was a turning point in my life.
What is Erasmus
The official website of the European Union explains that the Erasmus + program supports education, training, youth, and sport in Europe. “It has an estimated budget of 26.2 billion euros.
For the period 2021-2027, the program places particular emphasis on social inclusion, ecological and digital transitions, and promoting the participation of young people in democratic life.”
This program also seeks to support the priorities and activities of other Plans, Projects, and agendas in relation to Education, Digitalization, and Social Rights.
What concerns us for the purposes of this article is that Erasmus + offers opportunities for mobility and cooperation in different areas such as higher education, education, and training of professionals, school education (including early childhood care and education), adult education, youth, and sport, where universities and NGOs can participate by registering on the platform and participate in the calls that are published year after year.
Giving the opportunity to citizens of the European Union (and those who are not, but belong to affiliated organizations) to learn, participate, interact and work together.
Dreams do transform us
By the summer of 2014, thanks to a Facebook post I fulfilled one of my dreams, to travel to Europe.
Like every dreamer, I imagined myself visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, and some Greek beach, (in our World History or Art classes, is what we were most talked about), when you dream you do not think in kilometers and much less in the budget, times are different.
At that time, I had not heard anything about Bulgaria, much less about Razlog and very little about international youth exchanges.
It was an opportunity to a new world, to “jump the pond”, a bridge that would take me to live new experiences, and yes, it did, thank God it did not meet my expectations at all, but it broke with every paradigm that I had built so far and led me to live unimaginable experiences, meet extraordinary people and realize my potential.
A country where no is yes and yes is no, where letters are written in Cyrillic, where you have an espresso with your colleagues before starting work and “Rakia” for dinner.
A place where it is possible that the cab driver “robs you” (overcharging you) and gives you “free lodging” (so you don’t sleep in the street) the same day. I invite you to watch videos to get to know its landscapes, better yet I urge you to visit Bulgaria and see for yourself.
Travel to Plovdiv and get to know different epochs of history and cultures walking through a single street, stay in its characteristic huts at the top of the hill, hopefully, swim in the black sea visiting Varna or Burgas and above all get lost in the contrasts that Sofia, the capital, offers.
Don’t forget to perfume and bathe yourselves with their rose products, and eat, eat a lot, Balkan and Mediterranean style, the Bulgarian food does not disappoint even the most amateur eater.
Now, let’s talk about Razlog, a community in the Bulgarian mountains, at the foot of the Pirin where in the winter you can visit ski in its neighboring community of Bansko and in the summer you can enjoy its green landscapes and vibrant crystal clear river that crosses the community, as well as attend its traditional music festivals, or “take a dip” in its rehabilitative baths. It is only two hours away from the capital, it can be reached by car or bus and one of the most relevant features of Razlog is that it is home to an association called IIC.
“International Initiatives for Cooperation (IIC).
On its website, we find that “International Initiatives for Cooperation” (IIC) www.iicbg.org is a non-governmental non-profit organization created in 2003. The association works in Bulgaria and is based in the city of Razlog.
The mission of the association is to develop and build the capacity of the civil society in Bulgaria through the design and implementation of different projects, activities, and initiatives aimed at promoting the cultural, social, and economic development of the country and respectively of the municipalities on its territory.
This Mission could only be carried out through different strategies such as working with young people between 13 and 30 years old who actively collaborate with the organization and have different nationalities, “they work for their own personal development, they are aware of the importance of their role in society and through the activities of the organization they support their development and growth.
They have a lot of knowledge and skills in the field of youth and can easily work in an intercultural environment. With the support of the association, the volunteers develop, implement and participate in a number of European youth projects such as seminars, trainings, and youth exchanges.
The volunteers are creative and innovative, open to new ideas and adventures. They promote active citizenship among young people by organizing various initiatives and supporting the development of local youth”. As well as through international exchange, the support of adult volunteers, and the promotion of cultural, social and environmental activities.
As a locally and internationally recognized organization, IIC has been characterized by its transparent management as well as its support to the economic development of its region thanks to the results of its international programs with national impact.
Syria was a volunteer at IIC
I rescue my notes from that time (my seven-year-old self was what she wrote) in which I describe how my experience was doing my volunteering thanks to an Erasmus + program in the organization:
During my time at IIC Bulgaria I worked on different projects:
1. Office work, advertising some of the projects and work camps, contacting candidates, and answering some of their questions.
2. Spanish classes, with my co-volunteer Kristel planning and teaching Spanish in a schedule of 2 hours per week and making a practical Spanish booklet for foreigners.
3. Artwork with people (differently-abled) spending 2 hours per day doing drawings and other art techniques and 2 hours playing or helping them.
4. Cooking Mexican food at a local restaurant and at a special children’s home once a week.
My first concern is whether the people at Razlog and the IIC team think and feel satisfied with my work here and my initiative. I think two months is a perfect time to do small projects and help with summer activities like cultural or social, I would like to have more time to work because here there are many projects and many actions to plan, the organization, the people, and the place are amazing.
In IIC they speak Spanish and English, Bulgarians are very friendly and always try to “shake hands”. I have grown as a person, the least of my worries is communicating with new people or people who were involved in the projects at some point.
I developed respect and tolerance, now I know how to listen to my co-worker and work with special goals. I always thought we were very different because of our culture but after this experience, I learned that we have a lot in common as human beings, the same interests, the same concerns, the same needs.
My future plans are to work in an Organization or University in my country and continue helping people all over the world. Europe is a great place to be and to develop as a person”.
Today I would also like to share with you that in that summer, three Mexican women, Thalia, Kristel, and I, coincided as volunteers, the three of us were completely different, I mean we came from different regions of the country, our physical complexion and our personalities were also different, the objectives that we had personally were different.
And yes, we worked together, and yes, we supported each other, and yes, we had our tensions and yes, we resolved them.
Alone and thanks to the support of the IIC team, as well as other volunteers. At that time there was also a volunteer who came from India, Abhijeet, who accompanied us in different activities and gave us a film course.
The most representative things with him were the vegan dinners in what was our house in the “Indian style” to give it an adjective, the talks about their culture and the classes after dinner of Bollywood cinema, yes, with choreographies and everything, the most representative actors and musicians, the complete program.
I need a separate article to talk about the wonders we found in the people who run the organization, Kostadinka, better known as Didi, and David, they are a chapter apart.
Thanks to them are the young people of Razlog and the world we have developed our potential, as their mission says, they provide the opening and space through projects funded by the European Union, their region and wherever they travel, whether to provide a workshop, talk or form a project, exploit the full potential of whoever is allowed or allowed.
Alongside them is their Bulgarian team and family, who gave us lessons in their language, told us daily about their traditions, and accompanied us to visit places in the region, enjoy coffee on their terraces and share the best tips of their culture.
Some final words
I do not know if the creators of Erasmus + realized the scope that their program would have in the lives of many of us who have been participants in their words. If it was only intended for Europe, I regret to inform you that this has been exponentiated. The good news is shared and spread.
This experience has had repercussions in Mexico since much of what Bulgaria gave me had small fruits in my work and family there as well, it led me to participate in a cultural meeting in Indonesia later, and today that I live in Germany, I can only continue to spread the word about this good news.
Yes, there are people who are interested in the education of others, and international exchange is a very powerful tool. We recognize each other among different people.
The kilometers I walked through the Bulgarian lands, the shared smiles, the new flavors, the peculiar rhythms, are small glimpses of the treasures that this experience brought to my life. If you know someone who has participated in a similar program, ask him, and give him time, because that coffee will last more than two hours, as he has many anecdotes that he will surely want to share with you.
I close this article by affirming that the desires of a few, at a local level, have and can have repercussions at an international level, we are not alone. There are programs and people who support, work and offer their time and potential so that the benefit and growth are mutual so that we build ourselves as a community.