The importance of the work of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam rests for the most part in opening eyes, in shedding light where darkness resided. He taught that there was more than we are told, he inspired people to doubt the generally accepted ‘truths’, thus leading them to critical thinking and breaking the walls obscuring their minds.
In a way, Erasmus continues to do this to the present day, indirectly, through a project of the European Union named in his honor. And so the legacy of Erasmus lives on and he continues in his work hundreds of years after his death.
Kolenica, our land of peace,
Kolenica, our oasis…
My recent participation in an Erasmus+ project in Croatia has indeed torn down many walls around my mind and it has revealed many more which yet need to be torn. This eye-opening experience has left me with many lessons and a lot of knowledge without attending a single lecture. It was a perfect chance to get out of my comfort zone, which has allowed me to meet and get to know amazing people. What is more, I brought home a good deal of souvenirs. No, not the plastic magnets and thematic shirts and hats. Real souvenirs, in the true sense of the word – memories.
But to let go of the ambiguity and give you something tangible – what was the project about? Now this question seems simple, but since the project was about something else for each of us, I’ll focus instead on what it was supposed to be about. The name of the project was Ruralize and the topic was, surprisingly, rural life and challenges or opportunities related to it. But as I said, learning about these topics did not consist of listening to lectures all day. Oh no!
We were thrown directly into the midst of a Croatian village, on a farm where we spent a week and during this week we learnt from and taught each other, studied through experiencing, discovered new cultures and of course, had fun. Lots of fun.
The venue of the project, Kolenica, was a true refuge from the fast and stressful life. We were accommodated in the house of the organizers of the project, and since there were 30 of us, you can probably imagine it was no tiny hut. The house came with a large yard, some chicken, horses and a bunch of other animals. Around us there were a couple of houses, vineyards and nature. What more could you ask for?
The project as a whole consisted of many smaller elements, each offering development and experience in different areas.
The daily workshops were a great chance to practice teamwork and coming up with and presenting ideas. The main point of the workshops was in gathering information and forwarding it to others, preferably in a creative way. This was something we really enjoyed and we learnt a lot during the workshops.
The intercultural nights showed us the beauty of diversity and tradition. Seeing the differences between the cultures taught us that their richness is a thing to be preserved, discovered and enjoyed. The similarities, on the other hand, made us feel like Europeans, rather than Croatians, Lithuanians, Bulgarians, Italians or Slovaks. I believe I can speak on behalf of all the participants when I say that we understood that we are all part of one big family (and I don’t mean just Europe) despite our differences, whether cultural or personal. What is more, the need to present your own culture makes you learn a lot about it yourself.
The main part of the project, however, was building a recreation ground for the inhabitants of Kolenica and its outskirts and as a part of a future youth centre. At first we were a little taken aback that we were actually going to build something, but after spending some time planning, we got to work and the results began to show up. For the record, there were no carpenters or technically skilled people among us – we did, however, have an incredible support in form of Ante – the simplest way to describe Ante is to say that if you find something impossible, Ante will do it with one hand behind his back. He basically did most of the work, our role resided mainly in coming up with ideas and holding stuff for him to nail it. And Ante nailed it.
Long story short, we managed to build a recreation ground consisting of a path of senses, where you can try to feel various materials with your hands and feet, a sports ground with a rope park and a boot camp, a music wall that our colleagues already performed on, a bookhouse and the foundations of a chillout house. It was so satisfying to see the fruits of our work at the end of the project.
The whole week has provided me with so many exciting experiences and it had a great influence on me as a person. Spending those seven days with complete strangers in a foreign country has not only allowed me to get to know many incredible people, but I’ve also learnt a lot about myself. I’ve realized what is really important in life and that we often worry about things that simply aren’t worth it. All there is to add is – don’t hesitate, participate and RURALIZE!