Youth Exchange 2014: Poland

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Young people from throughout Rhondda Cynon Taf have strengthened the international bonds of friendship with a visit to Poland as part of the annual International Youth Exchange.

Nine young people aged between 16 and 20 joined two youth leaders from Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Youth Engagement and Participation Service on the two-week visit to Wrzesnia in central Poland.

The group represented not only Rhondda Cynon Taf as a County Borough, but Wales as a whole on their visit which saw them join fellow students from France, Germany and, of course, Poland.

All of the young people who took part in the Youth Exchange are active volunteers within their own communities. Together they discussed the many cultural issues affecting young people today and helped gain valuable experience which will influence their volunteering activities on their return home. Here are some reviews written by two of the young people who attended:

The International Youth Exchange in Wrzesnia, Poland was a once-in-a-life time experience where we got to experience different cultures and make new friends. Whilst in Poland we got to visit various places like the salt mines, a sewage plant and multiple cities across Poland. Visiting these places allowed us to develop our knowledge of the Polish culture and how they help the environment. Whilst learning the culture, we also had shopping trips and a few relaxing times at the swimming pool and beach, in our downtime – it was a lot of fun! Overall, Poland was an amazing experience where I was able to make new life-time friends and memories I will never forget.” – Lauren, 17.

During the first two weeks of August, a group of young people including myself along with two members of staff travelled to Poland as part of the International Youth Exchange.

Throughout the course of the exchange we learnt about the ecology in different countries through presentations as well as worked in a number of workshops to create an ecology presentation, which was an experience in itself. I also made a lot of new friends; this meant that I encountered different cultures and personalities all in two fun-filled weeks. We visited a number of places in Wrzesnia and Poznan such as the shopping areas, swimming pools, scenery and Lake District. My favourite parts of the two weeks have to be the Welsh culture evening simply because it was the best out of them all, and a trip where we made gingerbread and got to take in the beautiful scenery of the city.” – Lauren, 18.

The group of local young people, led by Youth Leaders Kathryn Cope and Phil Davies, undertook a whole host of inter-cultural activities, working on a project based around ecology and the environment. Together, they compared how each partner country deals with the issues facing sustainable living.

The young people worked hard on research prior to leaving Wales, including a visit to Bryn Pica Waste Management site where helped them make a short film to take with them to Poland.

They fully participated at the many meetings, workshops and activities, including promoting intercultural understanding and making sure their European friends enjoyed a taste of Welsh food, music, sport and traditions.

I sat with both leaders to ask them some of the highlights from their trip:

Q: “What were your first impressions of Poland?”
A: “It is so clean! There is a lot of graffiti, but it is very organised and modern.”
A: “The weather shocked us. Before arriving, all the young people assumed Poland would be a typical Eastern European country like Russia and would be very cold – they were planning on taking warm clothes but they did take shorts and t-shirts because we advised them to.”
Q: “What challenges did you overcome and what did the experience teach you over all?”
A: “I learnt more about youth work in 30 minutes there than I ever have previously – the group were amazing, they worked very and, they just made it!”
A: “If even one of them was not there, it wouldn’t have been the same.”
Q:”Any funny or embarrassing moments?”
A: “Well, I missed the bus to the plane because I slept late – all the kids managed to make it! I also thought I’d broken my finger and I fell down the stairs.”
A: “All in all, we went to the hospital four times in two weeks!”
Q: “What Polish did you learn?”
A: “Tak is “yes”, “thank you” is DziÄ™kujÄ™ (Gin-Qwee).”
A: “Dobry (droo-pah) is “good” and (shglepp) is “shop.”
A: “Oh, and Frytki (friskee) is “chips!”
A: “One of the most memorable moments was when a couple, one of whom was French and barely spoke English had an argument with her boyfriend through Google Translate! After some tears and about 10 minutes they kissed and made up – you could say that Google saved their relationship!”
Q: “What did you all learn about recycling in Poland?”
A: “There is a way to go, but they do recycle – especially plastic. Our young people did a sorting exercise as part of their presentation, the same one they learnt at Bryn Pica and it went down really well!”
Q: “What did you teach them about Wales?”
A: “We sang some songs with them, showed them some dance moves, we played rugby which they loved, and they designed their own love spoons – the winner got a leek!”
Q: “One highlight of the trip?”
A: “One day an American wandered into our camp and starting singing about the conflict in Ukraine, which was memorable – the kids sang the song on every bus trip the rest of the week!”
A: “Kath’s quote of the week was: “I don’t like squash, it makes the water dry!”
A: “I know what I meant!”
Q: “Please sum up your experience in one word, and would you go again?”
A: “Outstanding, and definitely.”
A: “Once-in-a-lifetime, and yes.”

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education & Lifelong Learning Cllr Eudine Hanagan said: “The annual International Youth Exchange gives young people taking part the opportunity to learn about other countries’ cultures, customs and languages, both past and present.

“It also allows them to take part in a unique opportunity to learn more about each other, have fun and make new friends and is a fantastic event which enriches the life experiences of all the young people who attend.”

For further information on international exchanges, volunteering, or conferences, please contact Kerry Rees at Rhondda Cynon Taff’s Youth Engagement & Participation Service on 01443 744139 or 07786523915. Alternatively, please email:

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