Chilean Macedonian Friends

17 Nov

Un voyage incroyable! Featured

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Before the trip

The best things in life happen when you least expect them. We were never so convinced of this idea until we participated in the World Forum for Democracy 2016. Although words are not enough to describe how exciting this adventure was, we are gonna try to tell you briefly how we lived our first journey to the old continent. Everything started in the middle of this year, in the beginning of August, with a short message: "Hello kids, I've got some news". Our dear Miss Emilia Larrachea, Project Friends Chile manager, informed us from the other end of the globe about an event called  “World Forum for Democracy”, in which she wanted us to participate. The global meeting would be focused on the relationship between education and democracy and how they mutually reinforce each other, in order to reduce social divisions and increase citizen participation in democratic life.

Very excited for the relevance of the call, we began to work to integrate the Youth Delegation of the Forum, which considered only 75 young people from all over the world. To do so, we made a presentation video in English describing our motivations to attend the event and pointing out the contributions and reflections that we could make in the meeting. Besides, during the following months, we studied about the main themes of the forum by reading different texts concerning education, democracy, interculturality, national and global sociopolitical conflicts, etc. We also practiced English and French by watching videos and having chats online, so we could better communicate in Europe.

After a few weeks, our joy was great when we knew that both, my brother Javier and I had been selected by the Council of Europe to attend the Forum and travel to the city of Strasbourg, in the east of France, during November. After this, we started planning our trip. We obtained our passports, bought plane and train tickets, booked accommodation in some european cities, collected personal items, bought a few souvenirs to give away at the event, among other things. We only had to wait for our adventure to begin. The chosen day was October 29th.

During the trip

After several weeks of preparation and planning, the long-awaited date finally came. With backpacks and documents ready, as well as a mixture of happiness and nervousness, we started our trip in Temuco and headed to Santiago to catch the plane that would take us to Europe. Our first stop was in Amsterdam, in The Netherlands. Although we were there just for a few hours, we could see its wonderful canals and visit some emblematic places such as Dam Square, Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, the Flower Market and many others. What impressed us the most about this place was the huge amount of people riding bikes, the large number of electric cars in the streets and people's respect for the architectural heritage. Our trip continued in the city of Basel, Switzerland, where we stayed for 2 days. During those days, we visited the town's main attractions, such as the Cathedral, the City Hall, the Rhine River and its bridges, the Spalentor Gate, the Botanical Garden, the Autumn Fair, among others. In addition, we tried some typical goodies, like Bretzels and Magenbrots. After a 1-hour-train journey from Basel through beautiful meadows, we reached the last stop on our trip to Strasbourg: the small french town of Colmar. The city's architecture was astonishing. There were colorful houses, tall, ancient temples, the streets were adorned with beautiful Christmas decorations, the shops delighted us with tasty candy, typical dishes and showy handicrafts. In simple words, we felt we were within a fantasy story.

Finally, on Friday 4th of November we arrived in Strasbourg and were welcomed at the European Youth Center. There, we met the other young participants and the organising team that would prepare us for the upcoming forum. Unlike what you can believe, it was not difficult for us to make friends with people culturally different. The other youngsters were very kind and had the same interest to know and learn about other cultures.

The first surprise that came up when we arrived at the Youth Center was that they gave Javier and me separate rooms. He shared the room with a boy from Belarus, and I had an italian roomate and also an irish one. This was positive for both of us, as it allowed us to make new friends and get used to being more independent of each other. In the following days at the European Youth Center we strengthened bonds with the other participants and prepared to participate in the activities of the World Forum for Democracy. We had entertaining afternoons, connecting games, talks with experts, round tables, workshops, and of course, plenty time to go downtown to buy, drink or eat something or just replenish energy. A group of 75 strangers coming from more than 62 countries became a group of friends with a common goal: the respect and defense of democracy.

 On Monday 7th of November, the World Forum for Democracy officially began at the Council of Europe's main building. The opening ceremony was very exciting and was marked by the presence of important political figures such as Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, french Minister of Education, Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the major of Strasbourg and various personalities from the Television and the civil society.

One aspect that drew the attention of all participants of the Forum was that the members of the Youth Delegation wore customized t-shirts and hats, so we were easily recognized among the other attendees. Something that deeply impressed us during the forum was the high technology used for the event and its great coverage on the Internet and the social networks. There was instant translation into more than 7 languages, dozens of reporters and photographers and hundreds of posts about the Forum on websites like Facebook and Twitter.

In order to continue with our story, we can use the expression again we used at the beginning of this article: "The best things in life happen when you least expect them". Why do we do this? The first day of the Forum happily coincided with our birthday. If your birthday is a special day in itself, imagine how extraordinary it becomes if you celebrate it in another country, along with new friends from all over the world and while participating in a world-class event! Without a doubt, this great coincidence was one of the best things that happened to us on our trip to Europe, as we had a terrific international party, full of greetings, laughter and gifts.

In the last days of the forum, we participated in many activities. We attended different "laboratories", meetings where innovative initiatives related to the themes of the Forum were presented. Personally speaking, I attended the laboratories of "Digital Education" and "Embracing a global citizenship" and Javier participated in "Know your rights" and "Refugees: Opportunities without borders". We were able to intervene by asking questions to the speakers and by sharing our own insights and comments. We also registered to be part of the "Young Journalists" of the World Forum for Democracy, so we were trained with journalism skills, oral and written skills for interviewing, writing and editing texts, etc. Moreover, we participated in some additional events, such as lightning talks, storytellings, interviews, among others. All these activities were a great contribution to our personal and academic development. We learnt a lot about civic education, innovative initiatives on democracy and citizen participation, stories of sacrifice and successful ventures, etc. At the same time, we learnt to interact better in formal contexts and to deal with the great responsibility of representing an organization, in our case Project Friends Chile.

 The last day of the forum, that's Wednesday 8th of November, was very emotional. We watched the US presidential elections together on television and had a deep conversation about the challenges facing democracy, at the European Youth Center. At the closing ceremony, the main conclusions of the event and the winning initiative of the forum were announced. That same day, back in the European Youth Center, we had a special dinner with the other participants and coordinators, or rather, with our friends and colleagues.

After several days of teamwork, coexistence and reflection, none of us wanted this incredible experience to come to an end. However, we were all very happy to have met such extraordinary people, hardworking and committed to society, education and democracy. We were happy to have had the opportunity to meet other human beings who don't surrender against cultural, geographical or religious barriers and whose main objective is to fight for a more equal, free and inclusive society. That last night, together with dancing, singing and playing games, we shared our joy for having participated in the forum, exchanged gifts and affectionate messages and promised to keep in touch with each other and meet again in the future. This is how 75 strangers coming from completely different countries,  of different ages and different lifestyles, became a single group of friends, united by a common purpose: Democracy.

After the trip

Sadly, our last day in the city of Strasbourg arrived. After more than one week enjoying the culture, people and food of Europe, it was time to return to our home. Thus, on Friday 11th of November we left the European Youth Center, carrying on our shoulders so much more than our luggage: ideas, knowledge, goals, values, friends and hundreds of incredible memories.

We didn’t want to leave France without trying one of its specialties, so the last thing we did in Strasbourg was to try the Tarte Flambée. Just a single word can describe this traditional dish: Délicieuse!

 With much nostalgia and sadness, but at the same time, very happy and grateful to have participated in this activity, we started our trip by train to Basel. It seemed that France said goodbye to us with the most beautiful sunset: snowy hills and picturesque autumn forests. Onto the plane, it was time to rest and wait to arrive without any inconvenience to Chile.

In the end, after a twenty-hour trip, we arrived in our beloved Villarrica. Our family  eagerly waited for us. The rainy Sunday was the perfect excuse to stay indoors all day long, resting and sharing a great time with our loved ones. We had hundreds of anecdotes to tell, photographs to look at, gifts to share, but above all, life experiences to recall. We were back home. And you know the popular saying, there's no place like home!

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Last modified on Tuesday, 22 November 2016 14:35
Nicolas

Nicolas

Hello everyone! My name is Nicolás. I am an 19-year-old chilean boy, born and raised in Villarrica. I consider myself as a cheerful and friendly person, so I really like meeting new people. I enjoy doing sports and taking photographs. I'm very grateful to "Project Friends Chile" for allowing me to know different cultures and places.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/Nicoo.Espinoza

1 comment

  • Nicolas

    Thank you very much Bozanka! :D We really appreciate your affectionate words and generous help. We wish you great happiness and success in your life :) Saludos!

    Nicolas Tuesday, 22 November 2016 14:44 Comment Link
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