Part of our core values here at The Get On Up Blog is promoting the work of young people who are trying to make a difference in their communities. This post is the second of its kind, and I hope to continue this series in the coming months. After reading it, I hope it inspires you to get out and get active!
I met the founders of the I Am You Project during the 2015 Youth to Youth Conference in Lithuania. The I Am You Project “aims to renew the traditional concept of youth cultural exchanges, utilizing the internet to connect people from all cultures… Over a period of two weeks each participant of the Program is assigned a partner from a different cultural background and, through a series of activities, they get to know each other and each other’s culture. This helps them to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding, respect, and intensify cross-cultural cooperation.”
As many of you already know, meeting these young social entrepreneurs at the Youth to Youth conference inspired me to create The Get On Up Blog in the first place. I got a chance to interview these awesome individuals in order to learn more about the I Am You Project and gain insight into what inspires them, what they’ve learned so far, and where they see the project heading in the future.
Q: What prompted you to start I Am You? Was it one event or a combination of experiences?
It was definitely a combination of different experiences. After going on an exchange program to Russia as a high school student a few years ago, I had the opportunity for the first time to meet people from all over the world. I was able to speak in a foreign language and to talk about my own country. I realized how intercultural dialog is important, and how all of us young people are actually equal no matter where we are from or what our religious or political views are. Keeping in mind that I am from a small country in Europe that is known in the media usually for negative things, or simply unheard of, I always had this aim in mind: to make people learn more from me, who was born and resided there and who can tell the others the truth you won’t here from the mass media.
So, being part of the I AM YOU Project is definitely a great, interesting and educational way to help young people around the world to better understand each other, breaking ridiculous stereotypes, and to encourage them to make a change. I believe in our project and I’m sure it will make difference one day. Aleksandar (Serbia)
Q: How many people make up the I Am You team?
The project came out as a result of the inspiration from six people, with the help of two mentors. With time, we needed help to launch our website, so we had two more volunteers eager to help us. At a later stage a few more people got interested and involved in our activities, so nowadays we have 10 members who work on different aspects. What’s also important for us apart from the fact that they are all volunteers is that they represent different countries and cultures. Olesya (Russia)
Q: How has your organization been received from your respective communities?
The project seems to be very appealing to the target audience, and communities are very supportive. Though our interaction with it is limited considering that the project is not yet working at full blast, we have almost one thousands followers on on our facebook page, and many people have already signed up for the program. This is amazing to receive so much support not only from our friends and communities, but also from strangers who are as thrilled as us by this project! Olesya (Russia)
Q: Has there been any negative response to I Am You?
Well, up to now we did not have a real negative response on the overall project, but there have been a couple of episodes on our Facebook page of people who commented our posts highly criticizing our multicultural approach. Such episodes remind us how ethnocentrism is still largely diffused and how important and impellent is the objective we want to achieve. We truly believe on the importance of intercultural dialogue, and IMU will be a further step forward in promoting mutual understanding among people of different cultures. Daniele (Italy)
Q: What’s one of the most interesting, or surprising things you’ve learned about from another culture?
In the IMU team we have all travelled a lot, and we had the chance to live in foreign countries for quite some time, until we felt they were “home” as well. Rather than one single experience or story, what I find extremely amazing is the passion with which people introduce you to their country. You can see the excitement in their eyes when they show you around their cities and lands, and you can feel the emotions in their voices when they tell you their national history, and how (often) it is intertwined with their personal one. You learn so much from people! This is what I learned from other cultures, that we are all different, but we all have the same proud for our origins and country. This is what lays at the basis of our exchange project, the curiosity of open one’s mind towards foreign cultures, and the pride to share our own culture with foreigners. Daniele (Italy)
Q: What is a country or culture you want to learn more about?
Maybe it sounds cliche, but definitely as many as possible. Even the countries where I think I know everything about, there is probably a lot more to be discovered. Since the things I know about most of the countries are those I could hear from my family and friends, or the mass media and the Internet, I’m sure I have a lot of preconceived notions and I would like to break them. Aleksandar (Serbia)
Q: What is a country or culture you wish to be more engaging in your project?
Definitely those countries that are less known world wide. There are so many countries and interesting cultures around the globe that most of us know little or know nothing. I would definitely like to have as many representatives from different cultural backgrounds as possible being engaged in our project. As I have mentioned before, I would also like to see young people from my home country being engaged more and represent Serbia in the best possible way. Aleksandar (Serbia)
Q: Is there an end goal for the project?
Although we really hope that day will come sooner than later, there is too much work to do to challenge stereotypes to foresee a moment where we will have reached an “end goal” for I Am You. Our work will be finished when we will live in a world of openness towards foreign cultures, where people do not judge others on the basis of their cultural heritage.
Meanwhile, we have different intermediate goal! At the end of each single partnership our participants will start a raising-awareness campaign on the issues they care the most as young people, and our objective is to have an impact on their local community through that campaigns. Daniele (Italy)
Q: Any countries you want to visit because of I Am You?
I definitely want to visit Serbia! As a Mexican, I can tell you that Serbia seems to be very far away from home! Aleksandar always tells me about his country and I really want to go there. If a Mexican seems exotic to people, for me, a Serbian is much more exotic! Serbian and Russian culture is something I would like to know better. Besides, despite geographic distances, I am pretty sure that Mexican and Serbians have many similarities. I can guarantee that to you! I am currently living in Tunisia and I discovered that aside from language, we really have an enormous amount in common! To be honest, I think that we are worldwide citizens, so I will visit as many countries as possible, until people get used to it. People are surprised to see a Mexican woman happily living in Tunis, they joke and say that I traveled the wrong side and that I should be in Europe. This is one of the reasons I want to break with stereotypes, but that is another story. Graciela (Mexico)
Q: Are you looking to monetize this project, or is it simply something you are all doing on your free time?
More than being an intercultural exchange project, we want to make young people put themselves in somebody else’s shoes to understand the other’s point of view. When our goals for the future is to offer on-site exchanges rather than online discussions. This exchange project is part of a peace building initiative and was inspired from Erasmus and cultural exchanges. We do need to receive funding to make I Am You grow and connect as many people as possible! Graciela (Mexico)
Q: I signed up on the website, what next?
That’s probably the first most important step you could do! Soon our website will be ready and we will issue our first call for applications. We are going to inform you by email (check your spam box as well, the first time your provider could send our email there!) and we will keep you update of any new development. So, as we always say: stay tuned, great things ahead! Daniele (Italy)
You can visit the I Am You Project’s facebook page, or follow them on twitter at @imu.pro2