Youth Centres send young people regularly to youth exchanges and volunteer work all around Europe nad near regions. Young people from different backgrounds and tons of different motives take off full of enthusiasm and a healthy dose of excitement. Youth Centre Marttinen wanted to research what kind of support young people need going into, during and returning from different learning mobilities . Community educator Päivi Hartikainen found out about the need for support after trips using different creative workshops and interviews; around twenty young people participated into the workshops and interviews. Stories and experiences gathered in the meetings were part of Hartikainen’s thesis from HUMAK University of applied sciences. Material from these interviews havebeen used to create the citations in this blog text.
Importance of preparation in advance
‘’I’ve had an interest before but actually going has been too frightening or guidance was somewhat unclear. Now a good opportunity raised its head when the youth worker I knew gave enough information ahead. I need to have all the information available clearly analyzable in advance.’’
Significance of support showed its colors when a young person was doing volunteer work abroad, because they stay in the country for a longer period of time by themselves. In youth exchanges there is always an instructor / leader / youth worker with the group from their own country. The instructor/mentor usually is responsible to make sure the ground work and planning related organizing is done and communicated clearly. In the interviews, one of the most notable aspects mentioned that helped or supported takin part was adequate information in advance given by a familiar group leader or i.e. an international youth work coordinator. From them young people could ask for help for things related to going to a youth exchange or voluntary work.
There are a lot of youth centres and youth services implemeting learning mobilities. Support given by them; or on the contrary the lack of support was a big deal according to the interviews. In one case the interviewee couldn’t even say what organization sent them to volunteer work, because the process and ground work were done so smoothly. In another case a young person who had to end their time abroad earlier than planned had to find out themselves who the persons sending organization was. The person unfortunately didn’t in anyway have the necessary information about their rights and responsibilities during their period of working as a volunteer.
Meaning of trust and mentors professionalism
Help and support was also found from friends that had previous experience from youth exchange or voluntary work. Some of the interviewees didn’t really have a need for extra support; or they felt that they could get answers or had enough information before heading off.
Participants who in youth exchanges emphasised the professionalism, know-how and reliability of the youth workers felt also like they got enough support during and after the exchange from their youth worker. One participant in a youth exchange told they felt completely left alone during the exchange, and didn’t receive enough support from peers or the youth worker, still they felt like that was the main factor in their process of becoming independent. Other interviewees found that support from their friends and family was enough; some were writing a blog or diary from their experiences and going through them that way.
On the other hand, even if young people are discussing their experiences with their friends, parents or other relatives, they felt their not always able to share the passion or profound interest for i.e. voluntary work or what it is like living and working in a foreign country.
Keeping in touch with the sending organization
‘’My own instructor from the workshop and the sending youth centre helped with sorting things out before leaving. When I got there I had two mentors who were both lovely people. Group spirit was great because we were all equal; they didn’t just give us orders from above. The esponsibility for in example organizing events was always on us volunteers but they gave us support if we needed it.’’
‘’We should have a mentor, but they are also my boss and they never have time to talk. There’s always a really rosy picture painted about these experiences but it lack realism, that’s why I wanted to write my own blog. Difficult things in the end are what teach us the most.’’
During the period of volunteer work, support was gotten from the receiving organizations own mentors and tutors that did they’re duties well. In one case a young person didn’t manage to arrange a meeting with their mentor, even though they asked for a meeting. The mentor was also their boss / superviser. Here, skype calls with the sending organization were also thought to be very important, because it gave the young person a change to analyze and organize their thoughts in their mother tongue. Interestingly, a couple of the young people interviewed felt like they got support by participating to these interviews and workshops. Both thought that daily things and questions troubling their minds are easy to speak to someone who through their own experiences can understand what working as a volunteer is about and what it feels like to work in a foreign culture.
Need for support is biggest after the experience
‘’I’ve talked with former EVS’s but I haven’t done this kind of reflection (interview). Know I see that there really was a need for that. I’ve talked to friends of course, but you really need someone who has gone through a similar thing and really understands what this whole thing is about.’’
‘’Up to this point it’s been quite hard to organize what has happened and what I’ve learned. Now it’s good that were talking via a computer (Skype interview) because if you were here face to face with me, you probably wouldn’t get much out from me.’’
‘’There was no reflection after the experience, other than filling a few papers. It’d be good to have something were people who got back from the world would meet each other so you could share your experiences with people who know and have been through similar.’’
Specific support young people told that they missed was after getting back home from volunteer work, but also after youth exchanges. The experience is intense; in a relatively short period of time the young people goe through an experience that has a major impact on their self and personal growth. This is why the stage after getting back and reflecting on the experience should be focused with extra care.
After getting back, the culture shock in their own home country surprised a few. The magnitude of the shock was strengthened by the fact they couldn’t or didn’t know how reflect their experience enough. Creative workshops, peer group meetings with young people who went to volunteer and a skype meeting with the group after a youth exchange were suggested as suitable methods for reflection. Directing participants into peer groups would lessen the confusion from culture shock and the feeling of being left alone.
What is the suitable amount of support?
Everyone needs to figure out by themselves the means of how to get the goat out from the bus. It is how one young person said it; to learn and to be independent in their case needed the feeling of being alone and lost, feelings that can both be quite strong. The sending organization or youth workers need to be both active and passive at the same time when keeping in touch with a young person. You cannot leave the young person alone to deal with everything in their experience. Communication in their own language with a sending organization that is professional and has their own experiences was thought to be very important during volunteer work.
Writer: Päivi Hartikainen (translation by Marttinen staff)
Thesis: How to get a goat from a bus? Young peoples need for support during Erasmus + activities is readable from this link http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-201805046453
Marttinen is one of the nine centres supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.