Youth for Europe 2023
Report by Dan Norman
Date 27th July 2023 to 1st August 2023
After months of news spreading around and the excitement building for a youth for Europe meeting in Belgium, many people across the seven European countries gathered from far and wide to meet up in a wildlife park on the outskirts of Eeklo. We were all older kids and young adults, many of us meeting for the first time in a town twinned with Newbury. It was going to be something that many of us had never experienced before.
Immediately on arrival, we were propelled into activities across Eeklo. It was quite the whiplash from the sleepy bus journey from England. First thing to get started with was meeting the mayor! We gathered in the town hall for local drinks and talked to some of the most important people in Eeklo. Not only did we sign the town hall book but we even collectively drew a questionably accurate map of all of the twinned towns within the pages.
After that, we were off to a local reggae festival in town where we danced and partied so hard that our conga line ended up being covered in the local newspaper.
The second day was launched immediately into activities. Chaotic games were a regular on this trip. We played Feather Bowling, a Belgian sport similar to curling and is known as Trabollen locally. The second game was a kind of golf where we had to hit a football with a mallet into large holes. Us two Newbrarians teamed up with our friend from Bagnols-sur-Cèze to beat the opposition with our wit and skill. We came last, to much hilarity. The games did not end there however, in the centre of Eeklo we had a competition on who could take the best photo in groups. We Newbrarians teamed up with our friend from Bagnols again in order to produce an exhilarating redemption arc to land a winning photograph. We did not. We finished off our day of events by playing an exhilarating courtyard form to capture the flag.
Naturally we came back to a night of spaghetti, drinking and plenty of card games.
The third day was a special day. It was the birthday of Piotr so naturally we had to celebrate. Normally a group of people singing happy birthday to you could feel like an awkward moment. However, 20 people surprising Piotr by badly singing happy birthday in Polish could only leave him with a wave of joy and all-round laughter.
After exploring the bounds of Eeklo, day trips to the cities of Ghent and Brugge were a fantastic experience to say the least. In Ghent where we started the day with a trip to the local swimming pool. Jumping down winding slides together on inflatable rings, slipping off and tumbling through the water. Not feeling like we were quite exhilarated enough, at least 15 of us collectively went down the winding white water slide together in a jumbled mess of human and water. Even with a lifeguard carefully watching us at all times, I am bewildered that we made it to the bottom in one piece. Of course, we required a well needed rest and that was in the form of a long stay in the jacuzzi and sauna.
Ready to continue with the day, we were off to the city centre. After exploring the cathedral, we were given time to wonder about in whatever way we wanted to. A few of us went for food and sheltered from the rain while eating some lovely Belgian fries.
As the day came to a close, we had a late-night walk in the forest with a guide explaining the local flora and fauna. We saw a wild range of wildlife and learned many things about the local natural diversity. Observing stoats running amongst the forest was definitely a highlight. The day ended off by drinking vodka with Piotr and partying till 3am to celebrate his birthday.
The following day we went off to Brugge which was incredible as well. Horses pulling carriages down the road was a regular occurrence and with the beautiful old city streets, this made Brugge feel like a fairytale. Naturally we had to try some waffles to really sell the Belgium experience. The day was a long one but felt brief with the amount of enjoyment we had in exploring this city.
When we got back, what more could we do than drink some Spanish sangria that was hand made on site by the skilled people from Carcaxient. Naturally we had to end the day with a multitude of card games.
On the final day we all got ready to begin our team working task of the trip, hand crafting a bee hotel from natural resources. Pulling out the measuring tape, saws, drills and shovels, we constructed a large bee hotel for the nature park. It was hard work but with the amount of people on hand, was not tiring in the slightest.
The local news company was out to see our work and interviewed a wide range of members of the group. Turns out we were on the news again! The interviewer became a celebrity given the fact that she was able to interview many of the members in their native languages.
After a morning of work, what more could we do than go to the local brewery and drink some Belgian beers (after a lovely tour of the building of course). Somehow the man running it could speak even more languages than the interviewer and too much amusement was almost able to talk to everyone in the group in their native language.
There was no other way to end the day than some Italian made Pizza and as usual, plenty of card games.
Unfortunately, even the best experiences must come to an end. Much to everyone’s sadness, on the 6th day we all had to leave. Many goodbyes were had and a few tears were shed.
Being able to connect with people in your age group from all across Europe in a short but intense time span is hard to describe unless you experience it yourself. One day you’re in Newbury ready to go to Belgium, a week later you have 20 friends from across the continent down to host each other and meet up.
Youth for Europe caused many individuals’ social circles to rapidly grow, giving many the need to meet up and see each other again. Many did decide to travel across Europe to see each other over the following months and this created both new stories and friendships that would have never have happened without Youth for Europe.