A Review of Trolls and Elves in the Land of Digital Youth Work training programme
The training course our Lithuanian team has ventured to was called “Trolls and elves in the land of digital youth work”. Personally, I did not know what to expect from it, as it was my first time in an Erasmus+ training. I was unaware of such training courses, and having just started volunteering for LGBT youth mental health counselling online, this seemed like a great opportunity to improve my skills and gain some additional training in this field. As the course outline mentions, the training “will equip youth workers with tools and resources to successfully operate in digital youth work in their daily functioning” which was perfectly in line with my volunteer work. Thus, after the application process, me and six other Lithuanians set out for the journey to Rabka-Zdrój, a beautiful town in southern Poland nestled in the valleys and hills approaching the Gorce mountains.
In the very early hours of July 7th we started our journey from Vilnius. At first, I was apprehensive at the thought of a long journey by car with six other strangers, but one by one, as we collected our team across Lithuania and crossed the border, small talk became a little mundane and boredom did its job. While travelling, we spiced up our journey with long conversations and brain teaser puzzles, but our adventure only started as just an hour away from Warsaw one of the tires burst and we came to a complete halt. Nevertheless, the guys in our team jumped to the occasion and quickly replaced it with a spare that got us to a car service station in Wyszków.
After the repairs, our journey continued through the Polish countryside, passing by Warsaw and other cities among the way. As we approached Kraków, we decided to take a rest stop, explore the city a little and stay for dinner.
The evening quickly came upon us and we were still an hour away from Rabka-Zdrój, we therefore got back on the road to finish the last kilometres of our very long and adventure filled journey and arrived at our destination around midnight.
At our destination we were met by Barbara – our coordinator and after checking in we quickly went to sleep. The following morning we were greeted by this view right outside our balcony.
A luscious green private garden and a beautiful villa to call home for a week. Once finished with breakfast we started off with some icebreaker activities and name learning games, which were really beneficial and in retrospect a very important part of the training as it encouraged communication and established a common safe space with the other members.
As the day continued, we tailored the activities for the rest of our week to accommodate our individual goals and interests, as well as established some rules and expectations. Towards the evening we went over the structure of the course and how it will be modified, and formed reflection groups which were then utilised to answer a questionnaire at the end of each day. The night was ended with a Polish cultural night filled with fun and enjoyment for all, facilitating more opportunities to grow closer together.
The second day of our stay there, our “theme song” or the song chosen by the group Chordettes – Lollipop played on the speakers and called us to the common room. Our training has begun, and we were introduced to the challenges involved when it comes to youth work, along with political strategies associated with youth work. Followed by statistics on digital access and how the web is used by young people. As we continued our day, one of our tasks was to create a list of digital tools that could be used to create and distribute digital content more effectively. Me and Ieva collaborated and wrote about Kahoot and Sankymatic, programmes that we thought are wonderful when it comes to creating quizzes and displaying numerical data respectively. Our evening was finished off with Lithuanian cultural night, full of typical foods, drinks and dances from Lithuania. Since we talked about Kahoot during the day, we decided to create one about Lithuania for the cultural evening as well, implementing the digital tools we learned to practise.
The third day once again started with theory, but quickly followed by a field research activity in the afternoon, utilising GPS based scavenger hunt activity throughout the town of Rabka-zdrój. We went on an adventure around the town and in different spots we had to have discussions in our reflection group teams on the topic of youth workers and best tools and practises to provide it for them. Along with doing all the activities on the app, we had utilise multiple ways to record our main talking points such as: text, voice notes, videos ,as well as pictures. It was a fun experience all while experimenting with different methods of communication and recording data.
After the activity, we had a free evening where a lot of us decided to spend next to the nearby river and park further developing intercultural communication and learning about different cultures.
Fourth day of the project – we went over what we learned from yesterday’s field research, then we started to identify the challenges when it comes to youth work, went around a list of challenges in pairs and identified specific problems we think there in each category. Afterwards, we went around the same lists and identified possible solutions. Once the activity was over we presented the main points to the group. Furthermore, some areas were focussed on to bring more awareness and attention to, and we created discussion tables where participants were allowed to freely roam to respective areas they are interested in and join in the discussion as well as contribute their thoughts and ideas. In total there were five tables, and I was offered to be a moderator instead of a participant in the Mental Health table – an area that I’m quite interested in personally. Once again after the activity was over, the moderators including myself were given the opportunity to address all the main points to the rest of the participants. The evening finished off with a Spanish cultural night allowing us to try Sangria and Jamón while witnessing a dance from the Seville region of Spain from the other participants.
Day five! Given the presidential elections in Poland, we tried to adjust and talk about policy and the political climate of attitudes towards youth work. For the afternoon, as our Polish friends went off to Kraków to vote, we were given a free afternoon and we decided to go to a mountain lake called Morskie Oko. A trek up the mountains with beautiful views along the way. Once at the top we witnessed natural beauty like no other – gorgeous mountains and a lake with a green blue tint unseen before. The views were phenomenal and so was the atmosphere there given the dynamic of our group. We spent the day there, appreciating nature, chilling by the lake and taking in the experience, taking the time to contemplate and enjoy the good times we shared together. As the evening approached we descended the mountain and crossed the border which was nearby to get some traditional and typical snacks and drinks from Slovakia! As we made our way home, we were starving yet most restaurants were closed. We ended up finding a kebab place that was open which filled our stomachs and exhausted but still singing along to songs in the car, we made our way back to Rabka-zdrój.
Our final day, we summarised everything that we learned and divided into how we can apply it to our personal, as well as professional lives. We were given the freedom to choose anyone to work with, and as Ieva was also interested in the Mental health field and Laura was interested in the use of digital tool Padlet we formed a group and created our project. Once done and presented, we had our Youth pass ceremony and then a farewell party.
I don’t know how to conclude this project or describe the emotions felt and the experience I’ve had. It’s truly one of the most wonderful things that have happened in my life, I never expected or thought that I could grow so close and form connections with people in the space of a week. I didn’t expect the atmosphere of the entire group to truly be a safe space – an opportunity to express yourself and to be treated with respect while having the freedom to be yourself and letting go of the fear of being judged. We were all so different, and each one of us while being in the same room has had a different experience and gained different skills from it. One thing is for sure, we undoubtedly all came back from the experience with some sort of gains to us. Be it professional being introduced and guided to the use of digital tools for content creation and management. Perhaps some of us improved our english skills or communication skills in general. To others it might have been working in a group and team work, in an uncompetitive in supportive environment. Personally, all of these are factors that contributed to my own experience there, yet I think the most important thing I learned is tolerance, kindness and people doing good to the world exist and are all around us, it gives hope and inspiration to do the same. In a world where we were struck by a pandemic and became so distant and hardly able to form new connections – this was a place where I was proved wrong, it takes time and effort to see the good when we are bombarded with so much negativity. As we separated our ways, I was sad but also hopeful that I will cross paths with these people again and I will forever be thankful for the time we spent together growing individually and as a team. Thank you to you all!