Youth project facilitation – a personal journey

My first experience as a facilitator collided with my first ever participation in an Erasmus+ Youth Exchange. It was June 2022 in Paestum, Italy. ’ImpACT for Nature’, was built around the topic of eco-sustainability. Throughout the ten days of the project, countless fireworks exploded in my mind and my heart.

My journey as a facilitator

Which was the exact moment when I became a facilitator? Was it greeting the first participants? Drawing a little hot air balloon on the Welcome poster? Preparing the materials for my workshop? Was it already the moment I said yes with a pounding heart to the coordinator on joining the project?

One thing is for sure, it is not a static moment or achievement of my life, but rather the best learning and blooming process I have ever experienced.

I did not like this word ’facilitator’ in the beginning, because it seemed strange, empty, and too formal.

When I started preparations, I wanted to create super original workshops and tried to fit countless learning points in a tight schedule. Luckily somewhere along the way I realised I had to step back and reflect a lot on informal learning and the diverse ways others experience an activity.

Planning daily reflection exercises for the group helped me a lot in putting myself in others’ shoes. Still, I could only vaguely guess how they would experience a particular day that we designed. Even more so, since I had not met the group yet.

The night before the project started, I was watching “The brief history of…” videos on YouTube in panic, realising how ignorant I could be as a group leader if I did not know the participants’ cultural background well enough.

And then, the first day arrived at last. The euphoric feeling of leading joyful activities, sharing laughter with the group, – things I was so looking forward to experience – came a little bit later. Not to say that I did not like the first day, but – Madonna! – was I drained completely already by lunchtime from trying to make my voice heard over the chaos 36 young adult can create, attempting to make them open up and connect with each other.

As the community slowly started to form, my job became way easier. I put all my energy in, just as the first day, but I got it back multiplied from the group. I would be lying if I said I did not get tired every single day. But I had a shower in the outdoors cabin that belonged to our bungalow, went down to the sea for a quick swim in the morning, or shared my feelings with the wonderful participants who became my roommates – who never forgot to ask me how am I doing – and then my steps got lighter, I smiled again and I got beautiful smiles back from 36 wonderful individuals, which made me feel like I could even fly, if I wanted to.

My priority as a facilitator quickly shifted from performing well in my workshops and being knowledgeable enough in topics like biodiversity loss or Armenia’s history. I focused on being as attentive towards the group as I could be. My main purpose became providing the base level of energy and positivity to keep them going, growing, learning, connecting, dancing, and smiling.

It was only in the evening, that I could look back and reflect on my, and others’ experiences, making amends with things that I missed out on and altering plans for the following days. Reading the daily reflections and evaluations of the group, which was one of my favourite parts of the day – enabling me to peak into diverse approaches towards shared experiences-, I learnt that no matter how much I think beforehand, I will not be able to predict the best way of learning for everybody. Instead, it is of utmost importance to always try and fail in different ways.

Not to say that preparation is unimportant for facilitation – on the contrary – I could not have felt more grateful to the coordinator for talking through every point of the programme thoroughly. I needed to know the details of each activity by heart. When I was in front of the group, I did not have the option anymore to make up plans. I had to catch the group’s reactions and had to ask the right questions to keep the discussions flowing. I needed to manage the time, fitting the overflowing thoughts and movements into the mundane framework of the daily schedule.

Youth Exchange

So in the end, what was it that I facilitated?

I might actually not know even the half of it. Nevertheless, I was able to witness several miracles happening in our camp.

Most of all, it was personal growth. Someone overcoming their fear of talking in front of a group. Others discovering the power of their language skills in connecting people and thoughts by translation. The ability to share important and personal, but at the same time global and political experiences with each other. Someone opening up to fun, and the joy of writing in our gossip box. The ability to take critical feedback and act upon it. The power of making connections through gestures and laughter. The courage to come up with new initiatives. The slow process of opening one’s self up to friendship and trust. The effect of complimenting someone. The igniting curiosity for other’s culture and history. The realisation that one can be a crucial part of the community without being the loudest one in the group.

It was the discussions and debates on what is sustainable. The realisation of the complexity of seemingly simple phenomenon, like a band of pine tree forest between the shore and the city. The creativity of grasping a serious environmental issue in a one-minute funny video, that has great awareness raising potential. Connecting a fact or concept learnt one day to a new idea on the next.

Understanding totally different approaches to the same concept. The creative solutions other minds come up with if they are the ones leading team-building or educational activities. The range of possibilities in expressing thoughts by visual channels when the language barrier is too high.

The magical moment of connection a song can create, alongside the sounds of a guitar. The potential to use all senses including sight, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting to grasp the concept of another culture. The power of community when facing an unexpected and difficult situation. The joy of being a secret friend to someone. The resonations simple questions like ’Can I help you?’ can create.


Facilitating a Youth Exchange for others offered an opportunity for tremendous personal growth in myself, and the expansion of my understanding of the world around me.

I remember sitting together with the coordinator, discussing the options of introducing the concept of sustainability to the group, going through different academic definitions. In the end we never used any, believing in the power of informal education, in the workshops and practical activities of our programme.

Looking back, I believe we did not make a mistake. I had the chance of learning about the Brundtland Report in university, nevertheless I still gained a new understanding of sustainability in Paestum.

Dear Participants, if you read this, you are my new concept of sustainability. Your attention towards each other, us, and your environment. The obviousness in the way you offered me help carrying around equipment or proposing creative initiatives that raised the quality of the project. Your curiosity towards others’ opinions, your ability to engage in constructive debate. Your creative ideas. The acceptance you showed towards the cultural differences we have between us. Your attention for nature and your willingness to act upon preserving it. Your diversity in our local community we created. It is your smile, your joy, your hopes. Thank you for facilitating my learning.

Author: Boróka Bartók

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