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“Reach Your Peak!” in Romania

Experiencing Europe, learning new things and having fun with new and old friends from different countries – that’s what young people from Germany, Sweden and Romania were experiencing this summer. What exactly happens on a youth encounter as part of Generation Europe – The Academy? A detailed report.

The international group was meeting under the title “Reach Your Peak!” from July 27 to August 7, 2023, in Ploiești and Zărnești, Romania. Generation Europe – The Academy participants Bianca Dumitrascu and Daria Tangerica report exclusively from the event. They provide us with close insights into topics and methods. Thank you very much, Bianca and Daria!

Day 1: Arrival and Welcome

The first day of the project was the arrival day, when the Swedish and German groups joined the Romanian group in Ploiești, a city located about 60 km north of Bucharest. They were welcomed with a warm dinner at a local restaurant, where they received two get-to-know-each-other questions, which they had to discuss at their table. The questions were designed to break the ice and spark some interesting conversations. After dinner, they walked back to their accommodation, where they could recharge their batteries for the following days.

Day 2: Discovering Ploiești and Zărnești

The second day started with a lot of energy and excitement, as the participants were eager to discover Ploiești and its surroundings. After having breakfast, the group leaders met with the local press, who were interested in learning more about the project and its objectives. They also took some group photos with all the participants.

The next activity was a Rock-Paper-Scissors championship, which was a fun way to warm up and get ready for the next challenge: playing Actionbound, an interactive game meant to bring members of the team closer to each other through a variety of tasks around the city. For instance, one task was to move eight pieces of paper from one table to another without using their hands.

After completing the game, all teams gathered to have lunch and then left for Zărnești, a town situated at the foot of the Piatra Craiului Mountains. The journey took about three hours. Everybody was amazed by the breathtaking view of the mountains that welcomed them at the guesthouse where they would stay.

After settling in their rooms, they met for dinner and the official opening of the youth encounter. Every participant received a badge with their name and a blank space for pronouns. Since Romania is well known for its bears, the participants had the chance to become bears themselves. They were divided into four bear houses: Panda bear, Polar bear, Brumi bear, and Koala bear. The group leaders formed their own house: Gummy Bear. To get to know each other better, everyone answered the question “Who am I and what do I bring to this group?” based on a Dixit card that they had chosen. Dixit is a game that uses cards with abstract images that can be interpreted in different ways. The participants shared their personal stories, interests, passions, and expectations for the project. They also set some rules for the next days, so that everyone would feel comfortable and respected. After a short administrative briefing, all participants had a free evening so they can rest after the long travel and challenges they had faced during the day.

Day 3: Hiking, Team Building and Captain Future

The third day was very special and exciting for all participants, as they had their first mountain trip together. They started by having a nice breakfast and then went on a hike along a scenic trail. On the way, they connected with nature through a Nature Bingo game, which required them to find 24 things such as soft moss, a chirping bird, a pinecone, a tickly feather and take photos of them. Their destination was a meadow, where they did some team building activities facilitated by the Swedish group. The activities included saying their names with a representative move, throwing a ball while asking and answering questions, and changing places according to different criteria. The activities were designed to help the participants remember each other’s names and learn more about each other.

After a snack break, they walked back to the guesthouse in pairs, discussing some more questions such as “Who is your hero?”, “If you could go anywhere in this world, where would you like to go?” and “What is your favourite hobby?”. The questions were meant to deepen their friendship and understanding of each other. The afternoon session was called “Go Planet!”, where the participants were split into five teams and had to create a video inspired by “Captain Planet”. The cartoon is about a group of young people who have special rings that can summon Captain Planet, a superhero who fights against environmental villains. The participants had one hour and a half to create a video not longer than three minutes, and to be as creative as they wanted: by creating costumes, writing an impactful script and editing the video so it looks professional. After a coffee break, they watched all the videos and were very impressed by the different ideas and messages that the teams had come up with.

The last part of the day consisted of personal reflection and feedback. The participants completed their reflection sheets, where they wrote about what they learned, what they liked, and what they wished for the next days. They also got together in their bear houses to summarize the best moments of the day, what could be improved, and how they felt as a group. After a long day full of activities and emotions, the participants enjoyed their dinner, a board games evening, and some stargazing.

Day 4: Local Activities and Active Citizenship

The fourth day was another busy and productive day for the participants, as they had to recap and reflect their previous experiences. The participants of the first youth encounter in Sweden in 2022 reported about their experiences, while the new participants could get a glimpse of what Generation Europe – The Academy is about. After a small coffee break, each local group updated the others on how they had acted locally for their community since the last youth encounter. They shared their stories, challenges, successes, and plans for the future. Both youngsters and youth leaders were excited to hear what each local group had been working on.

The third session of the day was called “Closer”. This session was meant to challenge participants to think about what active citizenship is, while getting to know each other even better. The outcome of this activity was full of creativity and a variety of interesting ideas. In the last session of the day, they had time to complete their learning reflection sheets and then wrote a feedback letter to their youth leaders in their bear houses. Later in the evening, they had dinner and the Swedish Intercultural Night, where they learned more about Sweden’s culture, played two games (one of them being a Kahoot quiz), and tried some Swedish candies.

Day 5: Local Impact and Karaoke

For the first session of the day, all participants gathered in the activity room. The German group kick-started the discussion about measuring the impact of local activities. The participants split into national groups and responded to several guiding questions. After that, each local group presented the key points from their discussions, helping everyone gain a broader perspective on the outcomes of the local activities. The local groups also updated their “problem tree” – a method they use to identify the issues addressed in their local action plans. After a quick walk in the woods and lunch, the participants engaged in two energizers that required attention and coordination. They then divided into three internationally mixed teams. The goal was to discuss the “problem trees” they had created during the previous session. Following a learning reflection session and the bear houses feedback, the participants enjoyed dinner. They spent the rest of the evening bonding over a lively karaoke session.

Day 6: A visit to Bran

The day began with a delicious breakfast that energized the group for the adventure ahead. They set off to Bran, a small Transylvanian town, about 25 kilometers southwest of the city of Brașov. They visited its famous medieval castle. Everybody learned something new about Romanian history and then spent some time in nature, surrounded by the stunning scenery of the Carpathian Mountains. They also enjoyed some fun team building activities in the fresh air. After lunch at a local restaurant, they had some free time to wander around Bran and discover its charms. Then they headed back. After dinner, they had an open-space evening, where they relaxed with a movie, sang their hearts out at karaoke again and took some time to rest.

Day 7: Storytelling and Awareness

The seventh day started with a session of storytelling, facilitated by the Swedish group leaders. The aim of this session was to better understand the different techniques used in storytelling and the connection that can be established between people who share their feelings and those who listen. Divided in teams, participants created stories by combining their own experiences, which made this exercise quite emotional. After a short coffee break, participants played an escape room facilitated by the Romanian team, using the Breakout Box method. The escape room was called ”I cannot deal with this” and its purpose was to find out more about different types of bullying, anxiety and their impact on both the bully and the victim. Next, we had a lunch break and the rest of the day was meant to help every participant feel and understand their emotions through three different workshops about relaxation techniques: mindfulness and meditation, drawing and arts & crafts. The participants found these techniques very useful and were thankful for the moral support given by the group leaders. Following the second coffee break, participants completed their learning reflections sheets and then worked in their Bear Houses for the daily feedback. Lastly, after having dinner, they had so much fun at the German Intercultural Night, where we watched an unique presentation about all the different cultures that form the German team, danced and ate snacks from Germany.

Day 8: Finalising the Local Action Plans

The first session of the day was the “Simulation Game”. The participants, divided in four teams, had to practice their communication, teamwork and diplomacy skills in order to win, while balancing each others different moral principles. The coffee break was much needed after such intense debates. For the second session, they split into national teams and everyone updated their “problem tree” regarding the local action plans. Next, they had some brainstorming to create new local activities. Following the lunch break, each country finished their local action plan for the year to come, setting milestones and having taken into consideration the resources and methods they are going to need and use. After that, a walk in the woods to clear the heads was much appreciated. Afterwards they quickly completed their reflection sheets and Bear House feedback. After a delicious dinner, there was the Romanian Intercultural Night with traditional dances, a beautiful presentation about culture and history, some snacks and games.

Day 9: A Visit to Brasov

Early in the morning the group left for Brasov, the beautiful, touristic mountain city. There they had fun during an Actionbound interactive adventure, meant to help the participants discover Brasov and its old, historical buildings and the most breathtaking views of the city. Following this one hour walk, they discussed the possible activities for the day. Some went to libraries, coffee and souvenirs shops, others continued to walk in the park, visited museums or tried local snacks. Everyone was satisfied and thankful for the free time, because they had the chance to relax while seeing new places and even talking to the locals when needed, while trying out delicious icecream. In the evening, they returned to the venue with many memories, stories and pictures from Brasov. Feeling tired after so many activities in the past week, the participants had dinner and then an open space evening, where they talked to their closest friends, admired the starry night sky or simply rested.

Day 10: Digital Tools and Forest Action

The first session of the day was about digital tools and how to use them in local activities. The Swedish team showed us apps such as Miro, Canva, Mentimeter, Google Cloud Vision and Chat GPT. Next, we worked in our country groups to figure out which apps will help us the most in the following year.

After that, we had a lunch break and then we walked to the forest. Arriving there, some of us developed a flashmob, others played board games or badminton. Following the relaxation session, we came back to the venue for the coffee break, learning reflection and feedback in the Bear Houses. Before dinner, participants have also finished their house quest, which consisted of creating a puzzle. In the evening, the participants had time for themselves: some watched a movie, some read a book, painted and talked or rested.

Day 11: Time to Say “See You Soon!”

After a happy breakfast, the group tracked their learning journey through PhotoExpress, an activity where they showed and explained their feelings about the project by making a photo collage in their Bear Houses. Before the coffee break, every participant customized their own envelope, where everybody could place encouragement messages. The second session of the day was about evaluating the project – divided into six teams, every group painted one piece of paper. Combined, the pieces created one big image of the project. Following the lunch break and our last daily energizer, we officially closed the project with multiple activities, such as the Time Machine, discussing over Dixit cards, watching the project recap video and finally, the YouthPass Ceremony. After that, we had dinner and the See You Soon Party, where everyone had so much fun around the camp fire.

Day 12: So Much More to Come!

The last day started with some time for packing the luggage. The Participants could also keep writing encouragement messages for each other or simply enjoy the mountain landscape for one more hour. At noon, they left Zărnești and headed to Bucharest, where we said goodbye to both the Swedish and the German group. After that, the Romanian team returned to Ploiești, grateful for the beautiful memories they had made during the project. They continued to chat on the WhatsApp group of the project, the Swedish and German teams keeping the others updated until they got home safely. Looking forward, they we excited for the local activities that are to come. In the past twelve days, we have grown and developed so much that we are now even more prepared to spread Generation Europe – The Academy’s purpose, by giving young people active citizenship skills and hence, the power of change!

More Reports on the Youth Encounter:

The international encounter “Reach Your Peak!” is organised by Asociatia „Un strop de fericire”, together with their project partners Awesome People (Örebro, Sweden) and Caritasverband Koblenz (Koblenz, Germany) as part of Generation Europe – The Academy. Thank you everybody for your commitment!