Minsk – 27th August until 4th September 2012
At the end of the summer of 2012; the Swift, along with youth organisations from three other countries (Italy, Armenia, and Poland) sent their respective representatives to exchange their cultural ideas and beliefs through the rich mediums of sport, food, and drink conversation, hosted by the Belarusians in the beautiful city of Minsk.
The group left the Swift for Heathrow at 2am, where we were booked on two separate flights. The competent group travelled via Warsaw and arrived on time with no drama or fuss (with the exception of Ola, who forgot her suitcase and experienced her first bit of Belarusian culture filling in a lost luggage form at Minsk airport). Meanwhile Ese and Grace decided to miss their connecting flight and complete a whirlwind tour of Europe, visiting Vienna, making an unscheduled stop in Prague, before finally making it to Minsk four hours late.
After arriving at our accommodation at Hostel Traveller (owned by the lovely Ksenia who joined our group for several of the activities), the group quickly set about making new friends and exchanging cultures through the fine art of party games, including the brilliant ‘Rabbit’ game introduced by the Polish, which resulted in an intimate moment between Simeon and Gemma.
After the Italians reinforced a stereotype by arriving a day late, the programme began in earnest with each group leading a session of games they brought from their own country. These included ‘Spaghetti People’ from Armenia; an Italian version of dodge ball which encouraged plenty of malice; the Polish ‘KGB is watching you’; the bouncing ball game from locals; and of course British Bulldog, during which no injuries occurred to anyone important.
The project included a visit to Mir castle, around an hour’s drive outside Minsk. The journey provided an excellent opportunity to exchange national songs, with each and every nation present singing something which may or may not have been polite. Particularly memorable was ‘Bella Ciao’ from the Italians, ‘Bubbles Forever’ from the Brits, and the national anthems of Poland, Armenia, and Slovenia. The castle was alright too.
An intercultural night around halfway through the trip gave each group the chance to show off the best their country had to offer. Everyone indulged in Italian pasta, Armenian bread and dried-seed-things, and Polish sausage. The British tea was mostly ignored in favour of the best reasonably priced Vodka, Scotch, and Rum that Europe has to offer.
During the free time available at the hostel, Amma put some of it to good use by learning to write Belarusian. Not one to be selfish she put her knowledge to good use by creating, with the help of Ese, an instructional video for the rest of us.
Our Belarusian host, Petre, happened to be a singer, so the group travelled down to a bar in Minsk, where a mini-concert was laid on, and goodbyes said to the Armenians who had to catch a flight a day early. The following day was the last, and after spending the day at Gorky Park in central Minsk completing the last of the sporting sessions and handing out some definitely-not-associated-with-the-Olympics-in-case-we-get-sued medals (kindly provided by Newham Council) to all the participants, the only thing left to do was return to the hostel and throw a party.
Meet the British contingent
(In reading order: Amahleke; Amma; Andan; Ese; Gemma; Grace; Ola; Paul; Simeon; Simon)
This project was made possible by the work of Innovative Social and Community Action (ISCA) and the Swift Centre, and funding from the EU Youth in Action programme through the British Council.