On the 2nd November 2012, fresh faced and excited, 9 British students stepped off the plane into Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, for the 71st International Session of the European Youth Parliament. Stumbling back to England 9 days later looking like the living dead, we were instantly interrogated about the experience by friends and family. “We got an average of 3 hours sleep every night and worked for about 9 hours a day with people we’d never met,” we replied, grinning enthusiastically and concluding, “IT WAS BRILLIANT!”
I was reminded firmly of the last words of Gillian O’Halloran, the session President, in her touching closing ceremony speech; “Nobody will ever really understand EYP,” she warned us, “No matter how much you try to explain it, they won’t get it.” This is true. Even I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what happened to us all this week. But I know it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Arriving at the first venue, De Eemhof, we were overwhelmed by the crowd of strangers around us; different languages, different styles, different mannerisms. Over those first few days every boundary was broken down, differences forgotten and bonds forged. One of the first events, Eurovillage, symbolised this transition perfectly. At the start we assembled in our delegations, knowing nobody else, one nation for each table, each table covered in food and drink from our home country. By the end of the night I was back at our cottage full of Dutch biscuits and Belgian chocolate, wearing a fez and wielding a Greek flag, curled up on the sofa laughing hysterically as the Turkish and Italian delegates tried to teach me to roll my “Rs” (something us British girls completely failed to master over the course of the week) From that night onwards we were no longer strangers. We were friends.
Firmer bonds were established at De Eemhof through teambuilding, with our committee which was composed of 15 delegates from different countries. Making each other levitate, feeding each other yoghurt while blindfolded- we learned to trust each other and work as a group, not for individual gain. On the last day Andreia, our chair, taped three balls to the ceiling in different corners of the room, placed a triangle in the middle of the floor, gave us some paper and some tape and declared “I’m going to cut the tape in an hour. You have until then to make sure that when I do, the balls somehow land in that triangle.” We stared at each other in astonishment at the apparent impossibility of the task. And yet an hour later the balls were cut free and rolled through the elaborate structure we’d created together, hitting the triangle with a resounding thud. At that moment, our first true achievement as a team, I knew we could manage the harder work that lay ahead of us.
It certainly wasn’t all fun and games. After those first few days we moved back into Amsterdam for committee work. The jeans and coats were replaced by smart shoes and suits and we left the Opening Ceremony with a new attitude, aware of the importance of the task ahead of us. Committee Work, 8 or 9 hours at a time for several days, was gruelling, repetitive and at times frustrating. Without the teambuilding I don’t know if our team could have handled the disagreements and the long exhausting process. As it was, we pulled through – after fierce oppositions and hotly debated disagreements in our committee room we would emerge for the coffee breaks still with smiles on our faces and nothing but warmth towards each other. At the end of it, we had produced a resolution which all 15 people, each one with different ideas, different cultures and different attitudes, were happy with.
The next day, after what felt like barely a blink but had in fact been an entire week, General Assembly began. The conclusion of hours of input and weeks of research, each motion was pulled inside out and analysed through the eyes of over 200 delegates. Our resolution, along with most others, passed, but even those that didn’t had clearly been extremely well executed and researched. It felt an appropriate and satisfying conclusion to the work we’d put in.
It wasn’t all about the day activities, of course. In fact I think the only time I was ever alone was in the shower, and in a room shared between 6 girls those certainly didn’t last long! There was a party or event every night. From the once-in-a-lifetime guided tour and gala evening at the Rijksmuseum to the awkward hilarity of the silent disco, there were opportunities to look glamorous and opportunities to dance like an idiot, often both at the same time. The highlight of the week’s evening activities had to be the party buses. In fact, I think most of the friends I made were due to falling on top of them when we drove round corners.
What did we learn from this International Session? It’s hard to say in words. We learned that sleep is a luxury, not a necessity. That vitamin tablets can and will save your life. How to dance like a pro on a moving vehicle. The experience runs deeper than that- while we learned a lot about other cultures and countries and to respect and value the opinions of others, more important were our similarities. We were all young people with something to say. There was no hostility between nations, no barrier formed by religion, ethnicity or politics. Prejudices and stereotypes fell away and the foundations of lasting friendships were laid. As a British citizen in a nation where Euroscepticism is currently rife, it was the first time I had ever really felt a part of this community, part of a bigger picture.
The theme of the session was “Ending the Crisis.” While short term solutions may be impossible for even the greatest minds right now, something we all saw at EYP was hope for the future. From the quality of the resolutions we produced and the extent of our co-operation and perseverance, it was questionable as to why we should be classified so often as “the lost generation.” Witnessed by an array of important sponsors and politicians, the message we had for others was almost as important as the ones we learned ourselves- challenging stereotypes not only about nations, but about young people and what we are capable of when given the opportunity.
My thanks go out to the organisers, and to the President Gillian O’Halloran for being part of this amazing opportunity for myself and so many other young people.