This morning I was guessing how it could be possible that just two years ago I was studying and living in a small village of my country and right now I’ve been visiting 6 countries all over Europe and I met and still have contacts with more than 200 friends which comes from cities, countrysides and different backgrounds. Guess how it became possible, I’m gonna give you a keyword and that is ERASMUS+. ERASMUS+ is a program funded by EU and since 2014 until 2020 aims to promote education, training, sport and youth mobility. “Education is an important context for intercultural communication, since students and teachers come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and they bring a variety of expectations to the classroom.”
Intercultural learning happens wherever different cultures meet. It’s partly about gaining practical knowledge of the differences and similarities between cultures, but it also goes deeper. It involves discovering how your own cultural identities shape the way you understand and operate in the world, and recognizing culture at work in your everyday experience. Simply immersing yourself in a different culture does not automatically produce intercultural awareness. In reality, it usually depends on a blend of personal motivation and guided learning. Europe big effort to promote intercultural learning and inclusion is reflected in the programme budget: almost 15 billion euros funding thousands of opportunities all around Europe and beyond. Why is it so crucial for the EU to push towards this direction? The reason was totally obvious to Roberto, one of the 4 million people involved in the program until now:” after finishing my first youth exchange in Estonia in a beautiful natural environment and a cozy house together with other 35 people I experienced how to live and collaborate with other youngsters with a very different cultural background. A week full of non-formal activities created to stimulate multicultural understanding, show crucial differences and similarities in order to truly be able to go beyond them”.
As societies become increasingly multicultural and multiethnic there is the need of promoting such diversity. In a sincere effort to establish a true and meaningful intercultural dialogue, many teachers and students are raising the challenge of get in contact with each other, transcending borders, continents, cultures and languages. They encourage research on the students’ own origins and the promotion of exchanges with students of other countries.
What is Intercultural learning for me? It’s something that at least once in life, everyone has to experience. I think it has the capacity to really help you. When I took place at my first project, I heard many times the word “Intercultural learning” which I didn’t heard before. When you go abroad for your first time you don’t know anything also about yourself and about the others, when you are out from your comfort zone it can help you to understand new things, new cultures, to improve and learn skills, to fight prejudices and stereotypes. It’s something that can really change your life for that reason I wanted to ask to some other partecipants what International Learning is for them.
Here the experience of one of the partecipants of “Bridges of inclusion”: “I’m Gigi from Italy and I’m a 28-year-old sports teacher at the highschhol and special needs Instructor, I partecipated to my first project in 2010, Erasmus and in particular the International learning changed my life. How it changed? I started breaking my own barriers, shaping myself with less prejudices and more knowledge about different countries and different cultures. Now my aim is different compared with my aim in 2010 because I partecipate in Erasmus+ projects for inspiring myself and bring my experience to my classroom for my students. So I changed my prospective and that will help my students to change their point of view about other cultures and countries.”
Nevena from Macedonia also shared her experiance from Erasmus+:
“The greatest learning I have from my exchange experience is that we have to separate ourselves from the “I’ and learn to accept the “We”. Soon, you would realize that it is the most beautiful experience in life that you can have in your whole existence.
In school, we have seen that the way people dress, speak, and act reflect a certain culture. With this, we could already say that “our culture is our identity”. Learning cultural differences then, is learning how to accept another’s identity. It is a way of understanding their differences in order for us to learn how to respect one’s individuality and promote peace in the society. Also I learnt that language and culture are definitely not barriers for making friends and building contacts.”
So, intercultural learning helps inculcate values such as empathy, open mindedness, respect, and inclusivity. Empathy is seen in the way one would learn not to judge a person based on their personality, cultural background, race and familial upbringing. It is a way for us to put others in our own shoes and be understanding of how they feel in the society. Open mindedness is then practiced when one have learn not to isolate himself in a single culture or practice.
The multicultural society has inevitably led to the coexistence of people from different worlds and with mentalities, traditions and habits that may diverge significantly from those to which we usually refer. The multicultural reality has not yet been accepted by all and even less valued. So we need to find those roads that can promote the growth of an open mentality able to welcome diversity and to create a real intercultural dimension.
Alessia, Gigi, Nevena e Roberto.