Erasmus+ project “Under the European Stars” in Spain

Photo by Prva gimnazija Varaždin

The third mobility of the Erasmus+ project “Under the European Stars” was held in Spain from 23rd to 30th October 2022 and united over 40 students and 20 teachers from Croatia, Hungary, Finland and Spain. The host school was El Centro Inglés in the city of El Puerto de Santa Maria. The main objective and focus of the project was mental health, digital detox and mindfulness. Students participated in a series of various activities and challenges over the course of a week and came out with experiences which they describe as inspiring and unforgettable. We talked to Rafaela Nađ and Petra Ptiček, participants from Prva gimnazija Varaždin, Croatia, about their impressions and lessons learned from this project.

Challenging activities and beautiful places

The trip to Spain took the whole day and when our participants arrived at El Puerto de Santa Maria on a Sunday night, they had a chance to meet their host families. On the next day they experienced a full day at the host school, El Centro Ingles, where they had a workshop about Digital Detox, Mindfulness, Resilience and Connection to Nature as well as a TaiChi class. On Tuesday came the dreaded overnight trip to La Sauceda, where they were to spend a whole night with no signal or electricity. During the day they hiked to El Ajibe and went to Laguna El Moral at night. The students recall this experience as the most memorable one because they felt connected to nature and themselves the most during that time. Wednesday was the day when they finally saw Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. After taking a hike to Llanos del Juncal and taking in its magnificent views, the students had a chance to enjoy the seaside. They stayed the night at Wakana and then did a lot of outdoor activities during the next day. One of the most fascinating ones was a muddy Spartan race, along with a zipline and some yoga which helped the participants create some pleasant and funny memories. Friday was spent on the beach called Playa de Muralla and ended with a Cultural Evening at the host school. On the last day of the project they visited Cadiz, the province city center and the next day was occupied by the trip back home.

Impressions and lessons learned in Spain

How did you decide to join the project?

RAFAELA: When I saw the name of the project on our school website, I didn’t know what to expect from it. I was aware that it was a continuation of an international cooperation of the last Erasmus+ project “Amazing race” whose theme was very similar to the theme of the new project „Under the European Stars“. Without overthinking I wrote an essay that was needed for application and impatiently waited for the list of students who were chosen to take part in the project.

PETRA: I really like to travel, and when the teachers presented this project to us, I was immediately in for it. This project was actually a sports Erasmus, and that appealed to me even more because I like to engage in sports activities.

How did it appeal to your personal interests?

RAFAELA: Personally, I am very interested in the themes we were focusing on in this project. Nowadays we do not pay enough attention to our mental and overall health because we live a very busy lifestyle. Because of the obligations I need to fulfill everyday, I stopped paying attention to myself and my interests and this project was a way of running away from reality.

PETRA: I have been involved in sports since I was a child, and the very thought of being able to hike and engage in physical activities in another country sparked my interests.

How did you prepare for mobility in Spain?

RAFAELA: I did pre-mobility tasks and went hiking a few times to prepare for it not just mentally, but also physically. I also filled out the Under the European Stars Spain Mobility Pre-Questionnaire to help me focus on what I wanted to get from this trip.
PETRA: I often hiked with my family and with the team participating in the project. I participated in many races, and I mostly prepared in the gym.

What did you learn about culture and lifestyle in Spain?

RAFAELA: I learned how different all of our cultures and lifestyles are. In Spain school starts at 9 AM, so they have to wake up much later than us (because school in Croatia starts at 7:30 AM), but they also come home much later than us. I also noticed that when they meet someone, they do not shake hands, but give two kisses on cheeks. Spanish people are also much friendlier than Croatians. I would say that our culture is similar to Hungarian culture, probably because our countries aren’t very far away from each other. Finish people at first seemed very private and closed off, but later I realized that they are very accepting towards new people.

PETRA: Spain is famous around the world for Flamenco music and dance, bullfights, fantastic beaches, and lots of sunshine. Most Spanish people love spicy food and almost every day they eat Jamón Serrano, which is similar to our prosciutto. They are very similar in character to us Croats and are very funny.

What did you find interesting about the host school and host students?

RAFAELA: I found it very interesting that the kids in Spain go to school from the age of 2 and that they start learning English so early on.
PETRA: I didn’t expect them to be as loud, fun and social as we are. I like their modesty and caring behavior. It was strange to me that almost none of the Spanish people have ever hiked in their life, and many of them eat very little – 2 large meals a day.

Did you have some funny experiences during the project?

PETRA: When we were in the Spartan race, we were constantly passing obstacles that were in water and mud. My friend fell from a hanging obstacle straight onto her face into muddy water. At the end of the race, the splashing of mud and water started, so at the end we were all smeared and full of mud.

What did you find the most valuable?

PETRA: I consider the most valuable moments when after hiking on El Ajibe we had mindfulness, i.e. we had to be in silence and think for 5 minutes, we did the same when we came to the lagoon. Everyone stood alone without light in the dark by a tree and thought about everything in silence.

Did the participation in the project change some of your views about other countries?

RAFAELA: Participating in this project made me change my view on a lot of things. I realized that learning isn’t just sitting in a classroom or solving tasks. It also showed me that no matter how different we are, we can all get along if we have common interests, like we have in this project.

How did you benefit from the project?

RAFAELA: Apart from my English language skills which improved, I tested my stamina, too. I was able to climb not one, but two hills in one day. I was very present and connected to nature during that time, maybe because I didn’t have other things to worry about. Digital Detox was one of the hardest things to do because I am always on my phone, either talking to my friends or looking up something for school. I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive a whole day without signal and internet, but I somehow managed to do it. Because of that my self-esteem improved drastically. I proved to myself that I could do anything I wanted. I was also very social during this week. I met a lot of new people and made friends from all over Europe.

PETRA: The biggest benefit I got from this project was getting to know myself better. Through the various difficult things I went through, I proved to myself that I can do anything I imagine and that sometimes I just need to step out of my comfort zone and beautiful things will happen. My English vocabulary has expanded because I talked in English continuously for a week, and I can also say that now I know how to manage without a phone.

Photo by Prva gimnazija Varaždin

Would you recommend other students to take part in the Erasmus + project?

RAFAELA: I would recommend taking part in any kind of Erasmus+ projects because they give students an opportunity to meet new people all over the world and also to make new friends. By taking part in an Erasmus+ project we get to know other cultures and widen our horizons.

PETRA:  I would recommend this project to everyone because it is an unrepeatable and memorable experience. You get to know yourself better as well as your school peers, and most interestingly, you get to know people from different countries which gives you insight into their culture and lifestyle.

Written by Eleonora Kramer and Elizaveta Donskikh

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