What do Virtual Exchange and a potluck have in common?

Climate change is considered one of the most pressing concerns of our time, and has already had a significant impact on human movement and life on earth. Young people have been a major source of momentum behind climate action in recent years. Through Virtual Exchange we wanted to offer the opportunity for young people to connect with each other on this theme. How do they experience and perceive climate change? And how do they feel about their role as young people? We collected some of the experiences from the Virtual Exchange ‘Cultural Encounters: The Big Climate Movement 2020’. 

Over the past 9 weeks, 1131 youth from 84 countries engaged in discussions on the themes of climate change, migration and contemporary political action in the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange course ‘Cultural Encounters: The Big Climate Movement’. They met for a live two-hour session each week, in which trained facilitators helped guide participants in constructive dialogue that put value and emphasis on participants’ lived experiences, identities, and unique contexts. 

At first, some participants were confused since they thought it was going to be another ‘course’ where they would be bombarded with data and taught the facts that they could find anywhere online” one of the group facilitators explains.

“(S)tep by step, as they were asked not only what they think about the topic but why and how they think, feel, or believe as they do, they began getting more and more engaged. As participants grasp the idea that it’s not necessarily about what they know, but how they perceive the issue, they begin feeling confident to contribute, get empowered, and the sessions became cozy and rich potlucks where everyone brings the most authentic things they have without fearing if others will like them or not.” 

It is this group and relationship building process in our Virtual Exchange model that allows participants to learn about different experiences directly from the people who lived them, develop empathy, challenge their beliefs and move toward thinking collaboratively about solutions.  

When groups are reaching the ‘potluck’ level of comfort and trust, facilitators also observe a high level of activation concerning the course theme. As they heard stories from their peers about enduring natural disasters and seeing less snow in their mountains every year, they often expressed feeling fear and anxiety about their future. However, there was also often a palpable sense of hope and determination;

“We’re gonna go forward and inform other people about the climate” 

“I was pessimistic and didn’t see any hope. After these sessions, I got my hope back. What I heard from others in the group made me feel like we can get through this.”

“Even though everyone here has different stories, we all care. If all young people care this much we can create change.”

Here are some remarkable examples to illustrate how groups collectively or participants individually continue their engagement with climate action and other crouse themes beyond this Virtual Exchange:

  • One group that decided to write a book for kids on Sustainable Development, and have already begun to collaborate on this via Zoom. 
  • A group that did a ‘Two Truths and a Lie: Environment Edition’ activity in which they each completed a number of green actions before their session and then tried to guess which one of the three green action ideas presented by each person they had not done (yet!)
  • A participant who joined a group of young people in Morocco on a regular basis to clear beaches of plastic waste.
  • A participant who is a member of UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development who asked one of his fellows to help facilitate an online event with him, and invited his whole group to participate.
  • A participant who is bringing the knowledge and experiences she has gained from the discussions into an initiative to fight climate change in her country.
  • A participant who was inspired by this course to do a podcast on the environment, and is now recruiting her fellow group members to be guests in her upcoming episodes. 
  • A participant who founded a startup to help girls in rural areas use their voice to speak up about climate change.

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