We began by exploring our own cultural and individual identities, and as a result of these discussions, we started to grapple with the real issues and stereotypes that we had arrived with. The first few evening sessions were based on intercultural learning and each country had to present the best and worst things about their country and provide delicious snacks for the other participants. Naturally, we were armed with the culinary goodness of Walkers crisps, English tea and Pimms, and we were later told that our British humour and penchant for sarcasm had won the hearts of our European counterparts. The intercultural evenings coincided with the content of the sessions, and so we felt prepared for what the course was to throw at us over the next few days.
We considered how we communicate with one another both consciously and sub-consciously, and building on this sense of communicative reflection, we were encouraged to look at the values we hold. Interestingly, cultural differences did not seem to be a barrier in us creating a consistent set of ideals, and this sense of unity and shared purpose created a good environment in which to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of Human Rights Education (HRE) in relation to our chosen topic for the week, refugee welfare.
One of the most memorable sessions was that on conflict. We were given some background information on the refugee situation in Davos, a very small town in Switzerland, and there was a debate as to whether a new refugee shelter should be built in this small historic town. The group was separated into three political parties: the 'no' party, the 'yes' party, and a Christian Activist group. Maddy found herself heading up the 'no' party, Hannah in the Christian activist group and Georgia went to the Media Team.
We had some time to discuss our arguments for the debate we would be having in the afternoon, during which time the Media Team were constantly harassing the teams and being very troublesome - a role Georgia didn't find difficult to get into! Hannah's Christian group adopted a position based on the phrase, 'what would Jesus do?' and, after this, came to the conclusion that the shelter should be built despite the 'no' group's objections. As the session went on, the arguments became more coherent and succinct, and finally some practical solutions were brokered. This session was one of the highlights of the week for us as all of the participants were fully engaged and committed to the debate, which led to a great amount of thoughtful and meaningful discussion.
We were lucky enough to be given the chance to explore Vienna, too, attempting to complete a list of outrageous challenges that the DBYN host team had kindly set us! With 50 tasks altogether, it turned into a competition between the host team and the participants, and a forfeit for the losing team was agreed. Although we fought hard, it was impossible for us to complete all the tasks and, in keeping to our word, later that evening three of the male participants completed the forfeit and had their hair shaved off!
One morning we were able to listen to an expert speak about their work with refugees in Vienna and how the Austrian Salesian Province is trying to help them. Some local refugees later came to visit us, and this proved to be a great opportunity for us to put into practice what we had learned about intercultural communication in a Salesian context and, with a relaxed and unscheduled evening, we were able to play games and learn from each other in a way that reflected the methods Don Bosco used in Turin. Magic tricks, language games, sports activities and an amazing array of food were just some of the things that brought us together. We personally found the day exceptionally rewarding; although language had initially been a barrier between us and the refugees, the universality of Salesian methods and practices was clear to see and became a bridge between us.
As a way of putting our new skills into practice, we as a whole group were asked to devise a campaign aimed at helping refugees in our respective organisations. Issues of motivation and the nature of the campaign were discussed extensively, and we spoke specifically of an idea called, 'Don Bosco 4 Refugees'. The creativity and passion of the groups for this campaign project was self-evident, and the various presentations, in particular, were impassioned and impressive. Each group took a different target area of people and came up with some fantastic ideas in light of the project's main aims: to help refugees feel socially integrated and to promote the recognition of refugees as individuals.
The remaining couple of days were spent evaluating our experience, celebrating our time together, tidying up and saying our goodbyes to all the fantastic people we had met. It really was a great week, filled with lots of enjoyable moments with an amazing group of people.