Life beyond the border

What does it mean to be a European citizen? Two youth groups from very different locations and backgrounds brought together their cultural experiences to define their European identity.

Who: Wishaw/Shotts Youth Exchange Group and Kreisjugendring Wunsiedel

Participants: 13 British people travelling

A new partnership

One visit by representatives of Kreisjugendring Wunsiedel was all it took to convince the Learning and Leisure Department of North Lanarkshire Council that a new youth partnership was firmly in the making. The meeting not only resulted in the formation of the Wishaw/Shotts Youth Exchange Group but was followed up by a project visit to Germany. During pre-visit discussions with the German group about possible activities they could undertake together, one particular theme emerged: due to Wunsiedel’s location, its history as a former East/West German border town proved to be a fascinating backdrop for collaboration. The aim of their first venture was to promote European citizenship and investigate what life was like living on a border.

The thing that surprised me most about Germany was not the differences in culture, landscape and everyday life, but in fact the similarities. (UK participant)

Exploring life along the border

Prior to the trip, Wishaw/Shotts Youth Exchange Group met once a week to learn about German culture, devise activities for the visit and decide on a programme schedule which would allow them to work jointly with their German peers. During the visit to Germany, the groups visited iconic sites along the border to learn more about life before and after reunification. A highlight of the trip was a visit to Mödlareuth, a village which was split in two after WW2, with one half belonging to East Germany and the other to West Germany. For many of the Scottish visitors, the realities of the German separation were a new discovery:  One participant noted that her visit to the village Mödlareuth and the museum documenting the unique situation, gave her a deeper understanding of how Germany was greatly affected by the consequences of the war, and not just Britain.

I became more confident in introducing myself to new people. I think that this skill will help me in life in things such as interviews, jobs etc. (UK participant)

A European understanding

Throughout the trip, both youth groups spent as much time as possible engaging in joint activities to ensure that the young people considerably improved their communication and interpersonal skills. Alongside engaging in discussions surrounding European culture and history, the groups worked together to prepare a presentation illustrating their findings and reflected on how these could relate to their own experiences. For example, due to Scotland’s geography, the Wishaw/Schotts Exchange group were able to provide their own perspective to living on a border and the notion of being a European Citizen.

For the majority of these young people travelling to, and meeting young people from, another country would have been well beyond their means. (UK Youth Group leader).