Ibrahim M. and Ibrahim K. are two 18-year-olds who come from London, go to the same school and are great mates. We talked to them in the summer, during an International Youth Exchange titled ‘Find Yourself’, at the village of Zapotok in Slovenia.
You found out about the exchange, offering a chance to go to Slovenia for 12 days and meet other European youngsters, via email from school. How did things move forward from that?
Ibrahim K.: We met with Julia, the UK group Youth Leader, and she was quite tough. She was saying things like ‘there’s no comfort there and especially no wi-fi connection’; she made it sound hard (laughing). But, truly, it’s fun.
Ibrahim M.: I’m really enjoying it. I would come again, 100%.
What attracted you most to come here?
Ibrahim M.: I thought it was an opportunity, a new experience, somewhere I’ve never been before – I might as well take it and see how it is.
Ibrahim K.: I never knew about Slovenia before, so I started researching it and found out it’s a really beautiful country. Then Julia told us we’re going to live in a jungle in the middle of nowhere and meet loads of new people from Germany, Croatia and Slovenia. I found that beautiful because I really like to integrate with other people and learn from different cultures.
Ibrahim M. on the left and Ibrahim K. on the right
How do you like the activities you’ve been doing so far?
Ibrahim K.: Some of it is repetitive, but most of it makes you think after you finish it. It’s fun while it lasts, but afterwards you start questioning yourself: ‘Wow, was that just a game or something that has a deeper meaning?’ I’ve come to the conclusion that all the activities have meaning behind them, which is beautiful.
Ibrahim M.: I agree. At first, they might seem a bit boring and you’re wondering what’s the meaning of it. Then you realise they’re designed to help you get to know everyone better, hear their story and learn about where they come from, which is really nice.
As you said, it’s about getting to know people, their stories and cultures. What are some of the most meaningful connections you established here?
Ibrahim M.: There are two Palestinian brothers here and when I heard their story and what they struggled with, what they went through … it was really touching. It made me realise how privileged I am. I’m in a country where I’ve got a passport, a place to stay, food and drink – everything. Then I hear other people’s stories, saying how they had to travel country to country by walking, nowhere to live, no passport and no money. That’s what touched me the most about this trip.
Ibrahim K.: We share the language with the Palestinians, so it’s easier for us to communicate with them. They were very happy about that, so we created a very quick friendship and they were very open, sharing their story with us. What happened to them were things you only see on TV. Apart from that, I think everyone here is friendly, so it’s not hard to bond.
Ibrahim M.: I’m happy I met all of these people, honestly.
How was this experience different to what you know back home?
Ibrahim M.: Most of all, the environment here is completely different. London is a modern city, and here, we experienced real nature. We went for a walk through the forest the other day and we came to a meadow with a beautiful mountain view … I would never see that in London. Even the air you breathe here is so fresh, compared to the polluted air at home.
Ibrahim K.: Yeah, I agree 100%. First thing I noticed when I came here is that there’s nothing but green. We ran from here to castle Turjak, and the environment was just breath-taking. In terms of land, greenery and fresh air, Slovenia is the best country I’ve been to in Europe so far.
What do you think you’re going to take home from this experience?
Ibrahim M.: The reason I’m happy I came here is that it made me realise how grateful I am for what I have. I think that if I didn’t experience this, I would have never seen how other people have lived and what they have gone through. This was probably the most important thing this trip taught me.
Ibrahim K.: Since I came here, I’ve been realising that a lot of the habits I had back home were bad. Now, being in the middle of a forest, I reached the mentality that it’s not impossible to stop. I think I became a little bit stronger, mentally.
Some of the people I talked to so far mentioned that it was very important for them to have time for themselves here, allowed to have it and even reminded that they can take it. One of the activities was even going to the woods to think for a couple of hours. Was that important for you as well?
Ibrahim K.: For me it was one of the best experiences ever. I could talk to my inner self, I also wrote a lot. It’s one of those things you never think of doing. When I was reading the plan for this activity in London, I was thinking to myself ‘3 hours in the woods, in silence? What am I going to do there, what’s the point?’ And then I came there and it was beautiful.
Ibrahim M.: As I said, it’s something we’re not used to. It’s nice for us to be out of our comfort zone a little bit. We had time to ourselves, talking to our thoughts. I’d say it helped everyone relax and let go of themselves.
Ibrahim K.: I also got an idea of who I want to be, what I want to do. I want to work in a field that scrutinizes the government. I have a lot of energy and ideas, and because I’m passionate about human rights, working in this field is my ultimate goal and I believe I’m going to pursue this path.
Slovene Philanthropy organises youth exchanges with the purpose of offering the youth an experience of intercultural cooperation, sensitizing them to differences and encouraging them to become agents of an open and solidary society.
Zavod Movit, the Slovenian National Agency of Erasmus+ programme, has recognised meaning in the project; the European Commission supported the project with funds, which enabled the quality in the programme and free participation for youth.