What A Leadership Exchange Taught Me About Acceptance

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The country is at odds over the EU referendum as the campaigning draws to it’s conclusion. Social media is filled with either side of the campaign shouting the odds at each other, but there is an overwhelming sense of anger and hatred coming from a lot of the referendum posts. Driving home from York to Suffolk left me feeling quite frustrated, seeing what felt like hateful propaganda littering the countryside.

A few days ago I was fortunate to escape for a few days to the beautiful Paris for a leadership exchange in association with Erasmus+, an organisation that provides different opportunities across Europe. It was a bit of a jump into the dark as I wasn’t totally sure about the type of activities we would be involved in, but it was well worth the initial anxiety about a trip outside of my comfort zone! The focus of the training program was to hone in on our leadership skills and share cross-cultural experiences with youth leaders from the UK, France and Sweden.
Although the bulk of the course was delivered in English, the presence of other IMG_0103.jpglanguages meant that conversations switched between the different languages in attempts to overcome predictable barriers despite the impressive skills of of the bilingual young people who were there. Despite the barriers, as a group, we managed to find ways to bond together and create friendships despite not always totally understanding what was being said! We were a mixed group, coming from different backgrounds, religions, cultures and therefore sharing our own unique experiences within the group. Of course, the usual group-work non-judgemental and accepting approaches applied, but it was obvious from early on in the training that our views on discrimination were something that would bond the group together even further. As youth leaders, in various settings, many of us had witnessed or experienced discrimination towards ourselves or others based on being different. It was something a lot of people had worked hard to challenge, overcome or educate others about.

Of course, there was the potential for clashes to occur throughout the training due to the different language and other barriers we had to overcome frequently throughout the day. But I definitely learnt some more skills and practiced the ones I already knew to help make the situation more manageable. Here were a few bits I learnt:

  • Be patient with other people
  • Take time to make sure everyone has a shared level of understanding- it doesn’t matter if you have to repeat yourself… and maybe if you’re repeating the same thing and it’s still not working, perhaps you need to change tact and explain it in a different way
  • You can be united with others through your differences, differences do not have to be divisive and you can often learn a whole lot more from individuals who are different to you
  • There are other ways to communicate that aren’t just by utilising a shared language

IMG_0135.jpgThe EU referendum is making me really sad. I have my own beliefs that support voting to stay in, but I really take offence at making hateful and potentially dangerous comments or aspersions about groups of the population. The UK is a wonderfully diverse country and that’s something I’m really proud to be part of. If going on a cultural exchange last week reminded me of anything, it’s that I want to be able to have the opportunity to learn from people who are different to me, those who have experiences that aren’t exactly the same as my own. The more we can share, surely the more we can learn?!

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