March 2015, saw the first Asfar Erasmus+ Youth Exchange, Inspire Europe, occur in Istanbul, following over 6 months preparation to bring young people aged 18 to 30, together in a unique cultural and learning experience.
20 young people from the UK and Turkey, were able to meet, engage, learn about each other’s’ cultures, develop new skills and have a fantastic time.
The first day involved an early start for UK Participants, as we travelled from London Heathrow to Istanbul Ataturk Airport via Turkish Airlines. All UK Participants were from different backgrounds: some born and bred in London; others from the North of England (myself included); with others from a more diverse background.
We arrived in Istanbul at 6pm and spent a chilled evening near our hotel in Kumpaki (not far from Beyazit Square) with our host organisation Takim Yildizi, Ozkan, who took us to a Tea house for what became Ozkan’s signature order: Nargile, better known as Shisha or Water pipe.
The next day saw our first workshop in the form of introductions, icebreakers and induction into the project for both UK and Turkish Participants.
It also allowed all participants to get to know each other better. After an energetic morning involving One to One and Group games, we enjoyed a lunch before heading to the Sultan Ahmet district for a scavenger hunt.
The scavenger hunt, involved participants being grouped into 4 teams and being given 12 tasks to find sites: designed to develop team; leadership; language skills, while also learning about the history of Turkey and the geography of Istanbul. For each task, teams had to take a wacky photo or obtain a key object from the site.
The first tasks were quite simple, such as finding the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (generally known as the Blue Mosque in the UK) and Aya Sofia. Other sites included: Topkapi Palace; Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum; the station where the Oriental Express leaves from; the Spice Bazaar.
You can seem some of the fantastic fun photos from this event below.
All teams finished in the Lale Restaurant, also known as the pudding shop, where travellers heading East in the 1960s use stopped off.
On the evening, we visited the Kapalı çarşı (the Grand Bazaar) and after dinner chilled, while others enjoyed Istanbul’s night life.
During the day, Inspire Europe participants from the UK and Turkey, were invited to the Erasmus university students spring Picnic.
Throughout the day, participants got the chance to learn about different EU programmes, including the original Erasmus programme, while meeting a range of fellow young people from international and diverse backgrounds.
On Inspire Europe’s 4th day, participants had the opportunity to develop new skills, especially Conflict Resolution Skills. Participants also learned about Human Rights, EU Citizenship and diverse communities, including Refugees throughout the world. The workshop was designed to encourage inter-cultural engagement, reduce xenophobia and promote understanding of Citizenship.
After lunch, Asfar led a workshop on Social Action and Project design, development and management, including how to write a successful Erasmus+ application. The workshop was particularly popular amongst Turkish participants, who were eager run their own youth exchanges and youth initiatives.
After the workshop, everyone had some much needed chill time, with some groups going to Istiklal Caddesi; some visiting Museums and the Kapalı çarşı; and others just walking around the city.
On the evening we all met up in for dinner in Kumkapi and afterwards went to Taksim.
On our 5th day, we visited IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, an international development organisation that delivers humanitarian aid to the world’s poorest communities and also aims to prevent violation of basic rights and freedoms throughout 136 countries throughout the world.
IHH was one of the organisations that commissioned a flotilla of boats in order to lift Israel’s blockade against Gaza in May 2010. The flotilla’s lead boat, the Mavi Mamara was attacked by Israel resulting in the death of 9 people. IHH has been seeking justice for these death for the last 5 years.
Following our visit to IHH, we visited Gulhane Park and our Turkish hosts introduced us to a traditional tea drinking session. Afterwards, we walked down to the Bosphorus and ate fish sandwiches near Galata bridge.
And after walking back up to the hotel via the backstreets of Istanbul, we all enjoyed a much needed quiet evening.
In the morning, all participants enjoyed some rest time (while, personally, I visited the wonderful Istanbul Archaeological Museum for the fifth time in 15 months). After lunch, we all took a ferry to Asian Istanbul.
Turkish participants introduced us to Kadikoy and took us for a Picnic by the Bosphorus to watch the sunset. During this time, all participants spent more time consolidating their relationships that had sprung up over the last 6 days.
Afterwards, we headed back to the main road opposite Kadikoy’s ferry ports for our farewell dinner at a traditional Kebapci (Kebab House). Following this we hit a few bars around Kadikoy, before using the Mamaray to return to the hotel, well others continued to Taksim until the early hours.
The next morning, our last day in Istanbul, I headed down stairs for breakfast. At 5am, I had spoken to my colleague, who returned home with UK participants, who advised we had at least one Turkish stop over. So, although I expected to see at least one Turkish participant, I was surprised to find 4 eating breakfast. They had spent the night socialising in the lobby! They wished to spend the morning with us before our flight.
Almost everyone looked tired, myself included. After packing up, our new Turkish friends came with us to the airport. They were still eagerly asking me questions about Erasmus+ funding, projects and partnership-working. They stayed with us, right until we passed the gates to the duty free area.
Inspire Europe, Istanbul, was Asfar’s first youth exchange, and the careful balance of workshops, informal learning, inter-cultural engagement and citizenship activities, resulted in one of the best experience of my life: and I was just the project manager!
Although it has only been a few days since the youth exchange ended, I am still being contacted by participants, telling me how much they enjoyed it, how much they learned and how they are looking forward to the next one.
Everyone should get involved in at least one Erasmus+ programme. If you are interested in learning more about our Erasmus+ programmes, please get in touch by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org