Maltese people always tend to enjoy boasting about our travels to anyone who will listen. And even to those who won’t. Hands up if you know someone who went on Erasmus. Now hands up if they like to remind you that they did very five minutes. If you think that sounds like an unfair stereotype, you’ve just figured out the topic of this article.
Well to be fair I’m actually going to talk about what it was like to go on a Youth Exchange project called Skip The Stereotypes which was, unsurprisingly, devoted to learning about different stereotypes so it still counts.
So what is a Youth Exchange?
A Youth Exchange is a programme is an opportunity for people between the ages of 13-30 to travel and meet people from other countries that lasts anywhere between five days and one month. For more detailed information about these and Erasmus+ in general you can visit the EU website here.
The project I went on was an eight-day youth exchange in the beautiful city of Pákozd, Hungary called Skip the Stereotypes. The main scope of the project was to describe the cultural stereotypes of each person’s home country, while learning about other stereotypes relating to other countries. We also discussed different topics such as gender, sexuality, race, age, and so on, and how to break these stereotypes. All this while getting to know each other and messing around and having fun… but we’ll get to that part later.
What did we learn?
With people from Italy, Spain, Poland, Romania, France, Hungary and Malta, the trip was full of discussions about how different cultures react to different social issues.
Some of the funnier stereotypes that were shared and discussed include thinking that Spanish people exaggerating a lot, which was confirmed to be true by the Spanish participants, and that Italian people are loud. Which, while not confirmed by them, was true. Just trust me on that one.
Some of the most interesting social differences I personally noted were one about how differently immigrants are treated in Malta and France, and the other was how countries would react to inter-racial versus same-sex couples, and which one would be more acceptable.
The first one came about during an exercise where people were given a role and, without knowing ‘what’ or ‘who’ they were, had to guess based on how other people treated them. For this one, I was playing an immigrant and in my group one Maltese person treated me like an outsider who shouldn’t be in their country (note: they were acting and don’t actually feel like that) and someone from the south of France offered my character a place to stay or some food. I think this perfectly showed the difference in how many (not all) Maltese people feel about the migration issue.
In the second example, we were asked to discuss how people in our countries would react if their child told them they were in an inter-racial relationship or a same-sex one, and which one would be more accepted. For this one, many of the countries agreed that same-sex couples would be more accepted, while the Romanian group believed that inter-racial couples would receive less hate. The Italian group also shared that there would be a difference depending on if you were in the North or the South of the country.
The stereotypes people brought up about Malta came in two forms. Half of the participants believed that Malta was part of Italy or Sicily, including one Italian participant, while the rest had no idea where Malta was, and soon “Where is Malta?” became an inside joke of the week.
However, one Spanish guy did know something about Malta! He believed that we were all bad drivers and given the state of our roads and traffic, I think we do the best with what we’re given… So yes we are all bad drivers.
Why you should you try these projects
Apart from the obvious social benefits of learning about different stereotypes and how to break or understand them, there was a lot more to look forward to than just that. First of all I should explain that the ‘lessons’ we had were nothing like you’re used to from school. Every session was interactive, energetic and, most importantly, pretty damn fun!
Beyond the more educational side of things, there were also a lot of team building exercises and activities. And let’s be completely honest, we all know that these were the best parts of the whole week. With 36 total strangers stuck together for a relatively long time, these social events were necessary and allowed us to feel comfortable with each other.
This time round, the exchange organisers managed to fit as many of these activities as they could, while still finishing the programme set. Canoeing, visiting the world largest statue of a soldier, Miskahuszár, and organising a flashmob in the middle of a town called Székesfehérvár. Not too bad.
The participants were also given the chance to present their culture and traditions to the others in what were called intercultural nights. And sure the traditional Romanian dances and Hungarian folk music was cool and all…