By Andrada Rus, participant from Romania
Little did I know back then that rapid prototyping would be embraced to such an unprecedented level that I would end up taking part in my first digital Erasmus+ Youth Exchange. Now for those of you who`re familiar with Erasmus Projects, you`d probably think it sounds far fetched to make such a youth exchange online. I mean...how do you get people to really know each other, to develop trust and do all types of cultural exchange activities like international nights? Well, bear with the possibility because I`ve witnessed an amazing Erasmus Project gone digital and it was a highly memorable experience.
What really stood out to me was the approach of the project on mental health through artistic endeavours and positive psychology. Let`s have a closer look at what made the project so special.
I loved that the project came from a perspective of portraying making art as something accessible to anyone to express their emotions. So many of us grow apart from our playful attempts at creating art in time because we come to think it`s only for the gifted ones. And while it`s true that not all of us are going to be the next Van Gogh, Fredie Mercury, or J.K Rowling, using art is an incredible means towards becoming more grounded in the present. During the project`s mornings, we had different artistic challenges and prompts, from journaling to creating nature mandalas. We also engaged in artistic endeavours during the project`s evenings, where we all became aspiring poets on anything ranging from poems inspired from the atmosphere in our rooms to digitalisation and the life of an AI. As our voices were shaking with lyrics, I was amazed at what some young souls can create in a very short time if given the right prompts and a little imbold to believe that they too can make art. Art was really essential to this project, as we also used exercises such as painting your river of life or island of calm to clarify our journeys purpose and imagine our ideal life, as well as learnt how to rapid prototype posters to raise awareness about mental health.
I also was very intrigued by the fact that the project exposed us to the standpoint of positive psychology. Having this perspective is crucial these days. Many times those of us struggling with mental health issues come to believe that our condition only has negative outcomes. Feeling like a burden is only one step away. However, through positive psychology I really gained a new perspective on living with anxiety, for instance. I`ve never thought before that overthinking helped me become the person with a plan B, the person who`s calmer through worst-case scenarios because I`ve already gone through all those scenarios within my head. Or how I became more empathic with other people and their journey due to my own struggles. And since I`ve mentioned before how we don`t create art because we don`t think we`re gifted enough, through positive psychology we also got to discover our own character strengths, I definitely recommend that you also do the test at viacharacter.org
These were just a few of the highlights of the digital youth exchange for me, and while I did miss hugging all the amazing humans I`ve met online through the project and observing how they take their coffee or tea during the breaks, I must say that intimacy did not lack at all. Having breakout rooms, channels for sharing about our day on Slack, and special evenings for socializing with games, even karaoke and the famous International Night gave a twitch of embodiment to the digital relations we`ve built.
So to all of you out there missing international gatherings, don`t lose hope and join the next Digital Youth Exchange in March. It`s going to be an unforgettable memory where you meet people who keep you inspired even though a pandemic and give you reasons to hold on until we can physically meet somewhere in the world again.