Defining Europe after Troika. An exchange in Portugal.
The Spainsh team at work

Establishing a dialog between the youth of Southern European nations. Coherent strategy for resolving crises of the future. Mutual understanding and cooperation. These themes and many more were the focal points of an Erasmus+ youth exchange in Moura, Portugal. Being one of the group leaders during this exchange has been an enriching experience and a true privilege.

Snapshots of endless lines at Greek ATMs will immortalize July of 2015 in our collective memory. They ought to be followed closely by shots of anxious negotiations between heads of states and officials in Brussels over the approval of the next Greek bailout along with the images of groups of migrants storming the Eurotunnel in their desperate attempt to reach the UK.

Needless to say, summertime is a hectic time in the schedules of active young Europeans. They tend to get busy with internships, work placements, volunteering in their communities or overseas, or, as the topic of this article suggests - participating in youth exchanges. These projects help them concentrate on their professional priorities, allows them to network and to add solid points to their résumés. Such experiences are aimed at increasing the overall employability, providing cultural and language learning opportunities, and are certainly perceived as chances to travel and gain an insight into the lives of the local communities. They are excellent opportunities for both the participants and the leaders to get together, discuss good educational ideas, learn from one another, and naturally, to immerse themselves in the culture of a new country and to share their own.

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A beautifully situated city of Moura, the capital of the Alentejo region, became a home for some 40 youngsters from Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal during the final week of July. They all have been the recipient states of the financial aid, overseen by Troika. According to a local well-known legend in Moura, the Moorish princess, having realized the ignominious plot by the enemy wanting to take over power and land, fell to her imminent death from the castle’s tower. Her lifeless body has been eternalized in the city’s Coat of Arms and serves a vivid reminder of the region’s tumultuous historical past. Merriam-Webster defines the word ENDEMIC as; belonging or native to a particular people or country; a characteristic of or prevalent in a particular field, area, or environment; and restricted or peculiar to a locality or region. The special energy conducive to informal learning that condensed in Moura, was reminiscent of this definition.

A unique group of young people had gathered to debate the impact of Troika’s actions and the severity of austerity measures which have been implemented in their home countries. The timing for the project was especially suitable, due to the recent developments in Greece. Arguably, it was particularly beneficial to discuss the current issues with the young Greeks. They were driven to come up with viable, long lasting solutions for the future, the youngsters focused on themes such as: employment, migration, education, family issues and education. A workshop on negotiations was held, during which a simulation of negotiations was presented. In addition to the scheduled workshops, lectures, and seminars, we all had a chance to truly immerse ourselves in the Portuguese culture and to get familiar with the natural marvels of the region. The generosity and hospitality of the locals surpassed our greatest expectations. The residents were very welcoming and genuinely content to participate in the activities.

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In unison, the participants of the project agreed that we are not better prepared for the financial crises of the future. The majority of the participants of the program decided that the balance of power within the EU has significantly shifted. Young people today are mainly concerned about their futures in regards to jobs, families and social relations as these have been left especially vulnerable to austerity measures. However, it is not all grim, filled with desperation and no hope for a brighter future within their professional fields. Participants felt strongly that the southern nations of the EU need to stick together and help one another through these difficult times. The groups concluded that migration can have its positive sides (an internship abroad, getting work experience, working and receiving adequate pay at a desired position, travel), as well as its disadvantages (when it is imposed on youth due to the lack of opportunities in their home states, causes long separation from families and close ones).

Spending a week in a foreign country, in the middle of the summer, talking about the economy may seem like a strange choice; but, there is no doubt that the memory of this exchange will stay with the participants for a long time. They will surely encourage their peers back home to become more active and more engaged in their local organizations and at their universities. Communication and effective cooperation are key components in our future relations as inhabitants of the Mediterranean and citizens of the European Union. Europeans have to actively collaborate in order to secure a durable solution to the economic issues.