Team Red in Eskisehir (May 6-7)

It Saturday, May 6th, 9 in the morning. Together with 13 AEGEE- Eskişehir members, we are visiting a high school in Eskişehir. There are about 30 students, at 9am, I repeat, on a Saturday morning. First of all, thank you for that.

The first exercise: Think of an object or an animal right now. Turn to your partner. Tell your partner your animal or object. And now convince your partner that your chosen animal or object is the best one (because it is!)

Often leading to interesting battles (tire versus banana or panda versus dog), this easy exercise is of course about much more than ‘which of the two will save your life in the deserted island scenario’. It is about engaging in a discussion, listening to the other’s viewpoint, questioning your own assumptions and beliefs, and possibly finding a common ground. Only a few pairs actually came to an agreement. Others agreed to disagree.

The second exercise: Explain Civic Education to 1) your grandma, 2) a businessman, 3) a scientist, or 4) a 5-year-old.

This is one of the answers we received:

“I am a boy. Generally, I am playing with my cars. Also, I got a friend whose name is Susanne. And she can play with her own dolls. But also, we can play with each others’ toys.” I assume you can guess who the targeted audience was. Although I would like to add, “Not only because we should share our resources, but also because it is perfectly normal for boys to play with dolls and girls with cars.”

In our workshops, we always do a game in which we give the participants a pile of individual words, making up the AEGEE definition of Civic Education, which they have to put into the right order, as fast as possible. The ambassadors needed to memorize this perfectly because, during our training in Budapest, Joanna from AEGEE-Europe could interrupt our activity at any point and demand a perfect recitation…

However, this one definition is not enough, which is why we ask participants to make up their own. When talking about the importance of Civic Education, you need to be aware of the audience. Who are you talking to and how can Civic Education be interesting, useful or even profitable to them? Maybe a businessman can take advantage of the fact that his employees or clients are not aware of their rights, or maybe a scientist chose his profession exactly because it enables him to withdraw himself from society. Who knows?

During our trip, we have had conversations about Civic Education and related topics with lots of different people. And as I wrote earlier, Civic Education usually does not have a direct translation in many languages. However, usually, when we give some examples (voting, being aware of fake news, promoting gender equality and sustainability) everybody understands more or less what we are talking about. It is a huge umbrella term, or blanket term for that matter, indeed.

Talking about umbrellas and blankets (okay, I admit, a bad bridge), they would have been quite useful during our short stay in Eskişehir. After our night train to Eskişehir (which means Old City), Europe on Track’s #1 welcoming committee was awaiting us at the station. After some rest, we were thrown into Turkish night, full of swinging hips and special hand-claps and clicks (wish I had that talent), a nice anise color-changing beverage and other delicious appetizers, an introduction to Turkish soap operas (that all have the same plotline), and, as always, political conversations. During our walks in Sazova park and Odunpazarı (the historic city center), we learned about the big separation in Turkey between the European and the Asian part, the problems with education the villages, and (Eskişehir being a big university town) many students’ stance on Erdogan… In the high school, we asked whether young people (age 15+) should be allowed to vote. “Yes, of course,” one student proclaimed, “because we know better what is good for us.” To which another student responded, “But young people are not able to think for themselves yet; They have too much pressure from the family, and whether they are aware of it or not, they will probably just follow what the family does, because how you grow up makes you think in a certain way. Also, it is cultural in Turkey to not want to disagree with your family.” “That is true,” the first student responded, “but you can disagree with someone in a respectful way. We need to engage in discussions like we did today, and learn how to act as a family as a nation. And we need to wait for a generation shift as it takes time. But it is solved with education because we are educated so we grow up differently.” Throughout this trip, when I ask what distinguishes our generation from older generations, besides formal education, many respondents mention the role of technology and social media which increases the access to information and communication. Since Wikipedia is blocked in Turkey since April 29, 2017, it was especially interesting to talk about that here (see also: Team Red in Izmir). Despite the uneasiness that comes with having to express yourself in front of a big group in a language you are not comfortable speaking, we were very impressed by the critical thoughts and comments of both the high school students and the participants in the workshop for AEGEE-Eskişehir.

Right after a dinner in a beautiful Turkish restaurant, and right before we were about to embark on the 12-hour train to Izmir, we were given the following proposal as a ‘punishment’ for our stolen flag: “You will stay one more night with us in Eskişehir, and then you get your flag back.” For a moment, we were startled… “We want to but… we can’t…” “Joke!” They exclaimed while coloring our lips purple (the real punishment). Believe us, we would have loved to stay longer. Thank you, AEGEE- Eskişehir, for the hospitality and for introducing us to your culture. See you somewhere in Europe!

Also, check out their really cool Summer University video:

Written by Eleanor Denneman, Photos by Paweł Lenarczyk