Having participated in prior projects aimed at cultural exchange and collaboration, I am highly appreciative of the wonderful and exceptionally rare opportunity that I was given – to take part in an Erasmus+ project on the topic Balancing Happiness in Stepanavan, Armenia. At the project venue I met a colourful blend of young people from countries, totally different from one another. The cross-border cooperation between Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, The Netherlands, Italy and Ukraine gave to all of us an incentive to explore new places, themes and approaches through practicing our linguistic skills and broadening our horizons through socially important mind-enrichening activities.
Being with respect to topical issues which are present among modern-day youth, the theme of the project really appealed to me. The abominable contemporary phenomena of emotional imbalance, abrupt mood swings and anxiousness are a pressing problem – a problem that, beyond controversy, does great harm to our society. Willing to make my contribution for solving the problem, I decided to join in the Erasmus+ project, applying for the meeting in Armenia – a choice I will neither regret nor forget!
Once accepted, I and my other colleagues from Bulgaria were looking forward to the beginning of the project activities. We were imbued with enthusiasm to meet our partners and to immerse ourselves in the philosophical world of Mandala, in the intriguing Thai-Chi practices and exercises for happiness balancing. High-spirited, well-prepared and having high expectations from our Armenian hosts, we headed for the Caucasus country.
As soon as we arrived (via astonishing Georgia together with our fellow Dutch, Georgian and Italian colleagues), we were met at the mountainous town of Stepanavan in a most hospitable manner by the project coordinators and facilitators from Armenian side and the hotel personnel. There we got acquainted with the rest of our partners from Ukraine and Armenia. We spent the whole day in getting to know each other and exchanging first impressions.
Once we had arrived in Stepanavan, we – all the foreigners were faced with the Armenian hospitality, giving us the exceptional sense of pleasantness, sincerity and friendliness. We were made conversant with the packed program of the unforgettable week that we were to spend and then we had a long and deserved rest.
The project week began with the introduction of the chief goals and priorities of our project meeting. As usual, we had to lay out our fears, expectations and personal contributions that each one of us was to make, ensuring an active participation within the project. This was followed by a long sequence of highly exhilarating ice-breaking games, among which the so-known Mission 25 stood out! It was a dynamic, interestingly thought-out and efficient game that definitely mixed the national groups. This was followed by an Erasmus+ and Youthpass presentation. We even made a secret friend post.
Throughout the whole week we participated in diverse activities and workshops dedicated to balancing happiness. We made suggestions, we gave valuable pieces of advice, we listened to the ideas of the others – we developed further on priceless skills and personal qualities the applicability of which is unquestionable. In addition to this, after fulfilling the ice-breaking activities, we were often divided into groups where we had all sorts of assignments. Using original ideas and implementing them wholesomely in our tasks, we succeeded in producing materials, slogans and posters, all of which aimed at the subject matter. We discussed the concepts of happiness in different cultures as well.
I was enthralled by discovering more about the existence of the so-known Blue zones. We discussed what makes an individual happy and satisfied with his life - what is the key to longevity, in other words. And we reached to a conclusion – it is the good food, the laughter, the patience and balance, the purpose in life and the social inclusion.
The 8 tips from neuroscientists were a cool find, but it was for the Thai-Chi forms that I was very impressed. We were shown breathing movements and exercises as a means of relaxation. The Life river, the self-defense techniques and the Mandala world were an utterly new experience to me.
What truly amazed me was the splendid atmosphere during the two intercultural evenings. Dances, songs, quizzes, traditional food – we had so much fun that we might have lost for a moment the balance over our happiness and joy, I daresay.
Not only did we focus on our top priority, namely balancing happiness, but we also combined the project engagement with the exploration of the local way of living, of the ancient Armenian culture and the historical and natural sights, all of which were worth a visit.
Our stay in Yerevan was the capstone of the journey in the Caucasus region. A city of bright colours – splendorous greenery, mind-blowing view to the nearby mountain peaks and massive red-stone buildings!
In conclusion, according to me, what I have experienced in Armenia is what is known as lifelong learning. Erasmus+ teaches us how to be tolerant and initiative, how to become culturally competent. This Erasmus+ exchange was a highly enjoyable experience that totally exceeded my expectations. Erasmus+ shows us the right way to benefit from the unity in diversity. The valuable lessons I learned taught me patience, respectfulness, responsibility and citizenship. It is precisely these European projects which instill values and beliefs. This is the right approach to developing cultural awareness and open-mindedness to other people and nations. This is how we, the students – the future of Europe, become conversant with many socially important issues. Being absolutely satisfied with the goals achieved, having created many friendships abroad and feeling myself enriched, I await most impatiently my next participation in another project!
My stay in Armenia will always bring me pleasant remembrance of the time spent and I am inclined to think that I have created special bonds - friendships that will hopefully stand the test of time
With special regard to the hosts, I can say nothing else but express my most deep-felt thankfulness to them and to the project leader from Armenian side – Mrs. Karina Manukyan! Thank you, my dear friends, colleagues and partners! Thank you wholeheartedly!