Écouves, Normandy, France (report by Tom Dent)
This youth exchange took place in Écouves, Normandy, France, and was aimed at giving students the opportunity to meet people from different cultures, and to learn and develop new skills. Hanga and I were the responsible adults, and students were chosen based upon age, English language skills, and consideration was also given to those students who had not had the chance to participate in similar projects before.
We left Budapest in the early hours of Monday morning, and arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, before taking the RER into the centre of Paris, negotiating the metro, and even managed to find time to do a little sight-seeing at Notre-Dame cathedral. We then travelled to Montparnasse railway station, and caught the train to Surdon, where we met by members of the French team, Pauline, and the project organiser, Nolwenn. From there, they took us by minibus to Camping D’Écouves, on the edge of the forest outside the village of Radon.
Upon arrival at the campsite, all the participants were able to look at the tents they would be sleeping in for the next 10 days, before taking part in the first activities of the camp – some games designed to help the French, Italian, and Hungarian groups remember each other’s names. After dinner, they had the opportunity to get to know the other group members, and acquaint themselves with the campsite.
The weather on the first night was, as it would be for much of our trip, wet. Despite that, all were more than accepting of the situation.The showers and general facilities were generally approved of, as was the food, prepared by a vast array of cheerful, friendly volunteers. The day’s activities began with an energiser, to wake people up before the groups were given the chance to decide which of the workshops they would like to participate in on that day. The options were breakdancing, journalism, DIY, or building and decorating boxes to be used as book exchanges.
The breakdancing workshop built up to a choreographed routine, with participants being guided through various dynamic moves. Journalism involved documenting the events of the camp, with group members taking pictures of camp activities and interviewing people on site to built up a profile of everyone taking part in the trip. The DIY workshop (held by Hanga and myself) involved a range of activities, including finding materials around site to build with, creating a washing line for soaking clothes, and collecting various useful plants from the immediate area. The book box workshop participants spent their time hammering and painting, assembling boxes to be left in the local villages as book exchanges. Students had the opportunity to try out different workshops as the camp progressed.
In the next days, various activities arranged by the organisers took place – canoeing downriver, a trip into the nearby town of Alençon with a list of tasks to accomplish in teams (and a welcome opportunity to do laundry), treetop climbing, and an egg game, in which groups of teenagers walked around the village of Radon attempting to exchange objects for ones of greater value, starting with an egg. The participants could not be deemed wholly successful in this challenge, with one of the more significant treasures acquired being a bottle of syrup which had expired several years previously. In the evening there was also serious, considered debate on topics such as social media, gender equality, and democracy.
Each group also took their turn in hosting an evening representing the culture of their respective countries, with food (we made paprikás krumpli and mákos guba), quizzes on language and history, videos, and music. A great deal of thought and preparation went into the organisation of these evenings, and each group member made considerable focused effort to make the events inclusive and entertaining. The participants were also invited to dinner with French families, families of members of the French group who lived locally.
On the final evening of the camp, the families of the French group were invited to view an exhibition of what had been done over the course of the last 9 days. An impressively edited video documented all of the activities, as well as fun the participants had had. There were also displays from the various workshops, including a performance from the breakdance workshop.
As the camp came to a close the next morning, many tearful goodbyes were shed, as the groups left one by one. The camp volunteers warmly bid farewell to the students, and the Hungarians piled into buses back towards Surdon to catch the train for Paris, sad to be leaving, and glad to have had the experience. The trip back to Budapest was largely without incident, although there was some minor drama at the airport when one of our students realised she had mislaid her ID – thankfully, understanding airport staff were able to help us find a solution. We arrived to Budapest just before midnight, and all students were able to meet their parents and look forward to sleeping in a bed for the first time in almost 2 weeks.