Youth exchange "The Story of My Life"

July 30 - August 7, 2012

Tallinn and Venevere, Estonia

The project “The Story of My Life” created an environment for old and young people to meet and share their views of life and exchange different experiences. Youth exchange was initiated with the idea to celebrate and support European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. During time spent together a common understanding of intergenerational relationships with its positive and negative aspects was created. The influence of the project is still visible as the participants carry on the ideas of active citizenship and personal development.

Young people from Estonia, Finland, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia and Germany met active Estonian elderly people from two organisations Nõmme Vanameeste Klubi (Nõmme Old Men’s Club) and Kohila Reumaühing (Kohila Union of Reumatic diseases).

Who were we?

Project “The Story of My Life” brought together international group of young people (from Estonia, Finland, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia and Germany) and active Estonian elderly people from two organisations as Nõmme Vanameeste Klubi (Nõmme Old Men’s Club) and Kohila Reumaühing (Kohila Union of Reumatic diseases).

What was it all about?

During ten days last summer the youth exchange “The Story of My Life” took place but unlike all the other youth exchanges it also included senior participants. Much discussion has been around the topic that different generations are not able to communicate with each other due to lack of common language and understanding. Keeping that in mind, this youth exchange put two different age groups together in order to enforce the communication and prove that in reality differences are not so big.

What we did?

The project consisted of three parts. In the beginning only young people met in order to get to know each other and discuss age and society matters in all Europe. During this time general overview of situation in Europe and youth way of thinking got much clearer. Although the countries participating were different the problems in Europe are quite similar – many countries face the questions of ageing and its impact on society, communicative gap between generations, youth problems like unemployment etc.

Italian participants showing stereotypes about young and old people in their country.

During the second phase of the project young people met elderly people. Different activities made the groups interact and discuss topics as active ageing, keys to long and happy life, need for intercultural and intergenerational dialogue. During this time also personal information was shared – all the people shared their travel stories, childhood dreams, work experiences etc. Additionally some new skills were learned and young people got part of history that happened before they were born (tools that were used decades ago, cars and their maintenance, career paths etc). As it came out, there is skepticism from both sides but in the process of dialogue the groups discovered that there are as many similarities as there are differences.

The poster depicting childhood dream jobs of old and young participants.

The highlight of the project was public event happening in Nõmme turg (local market) where idea of active ageing and intergenerational dialogue was introduced in an entertaining way. Elderly people introduced their activities to give good example also to the local people, young people shared their intercultural experience and introduced both the project and their home countries. The event was created and prepared by the whole group and met a great interest by people visiting the market.

Together preparing for the public event

The last phase of the project involved only young people again to sum up the experience. There were a lot of emotions and ideas to develop back at home. Long term results have shown that the project had a strong impact both on young and old participants. Pan-European contacts were made, but more importantly – many of the participants got motivation for self development. Elderly people have started to learn English and create projects with other similar organisations, younger participants have developed international projects.

What we learned from the project?

Understanding that people and cultures are different

Thanks to this youth exchange everybody experienced in reality how different cultures can be. And what is the most important part about this – it is a really great and amazing thing that there are these small and big differences. This camp and the people participating in it taught that people should always try to do their best to accept these differences and should also try to benefit from them – there is so much to learn from other cultures.

Understanding that the people and cultures are similar

Even though we came from different backgrounds and cultures (and our senior participants even from different generations!) we understood that many of our problems and joys are the same. Everybody realized that even if we might want different things in life but we all get sad and happy the same way. We are all equal, even though we are really different (considering our ages/cultures and so on).

Spending time with the senior participants

It was an extraordinary chance to meet and do things together with the seniors. It was really great to see that even when you get older, your life does not have to get boring! During this camp many of us realized for the first time that getting older is not a bad thing, it is just a normal thing that we all go through. Seniors taught us all that the key to be happy at any age is to be positive (no complaining!) and active also.

Getting rid of stereotypes

The biggest effect of this camp was getting rid of many stereotypes in our minds. If a person does not travel a lot or does not communicate with people from other cultures, she or he might have some kind of an image of certain nationalities. Not all Italians love pasta and wine and not all Estonians are really quiet and modest.

The same appears to be with different generations – older people seem to think that youngsters don’t know much about life. The same goes for youngsters – many of us seem to think that older people are boring and very strict. This camp proved this really is not the case! We all are different and rather than making generalizations based on age or nationality everybody should make an effort to get to know each other.

Creating a world map – as it came out, many elderly people have been to places youngsters aren’t even aware of.

Being active

This camp taught us how to be independent and dream big! We can really do anything. It does not matter how old you are or where you come from or what do you believe in! The only thing that does matter is that you have courage do dream big and also do something in order to make your dreams come true!

Group dancing at the public event in the market place, lead by senior ladies.


Some additional personal comments:

  • Its unbelievable how much strangers can change the way you see your life. I am more confident after the project and believe in myself 100%. The main message I got from the project – everything is possible! (told by a young participant)
  • You have to be open, free of limitations and bold or at least aim at all of these. It goes both about young and old people. Don’t be alone! (told by a senior participant)
  • I have never seen so cool elderly people and as I have mentioned repeatedly to my friends – with those old ladies I can always have party with. With uttermost certainty I can tell that I don’t look at any old person with the same attitude as I did before. (told by a young participant)

Explore more!

Gallery of the project

Video made by participants