The ELvis experience
Three years ago I went on a trip to Belgium with two teachers and four older students. I was 15 years old at the time. I knew nobody, not my peers, not my host family, no one. I was excited and terrified at the same time. How was I going to survive a week alone, totally outside of my comfort zone?
It turned out to be a wonderful week and the start of many more trips over the course of the next three years. I learned that getting out of your comfort zone can be a blessing. It will open doors to great experiences and great people. Having participated in many ELvis projects both abroad and in the Netherlands has been the stepping stone to my very active participation in almost every school project. Which has not only allowed me to meet wonderful people and have a lot of fun at school. (Which I believe is very necessary in order to live through our teenage years of self-exploring, getting independent and being insecure). It has also allowed me to build a great résumé and enough self-knowledge to be very confident in my years as a young adult outside high school.
The next journey in life takes me to Nijmegen, arguably the oldest city of the Netherlands, where I am going to study European Law and live on my own. Thinking back to that terrified and excited 15 year old me I am sure I will survive next year, living on my own in a new city. That 15-year-old girl decided to take a leap and try something new, which has set in motion many experiences in my high school career. Not every experience was a pleasant one I have to admit. I have found myself in situations where I did not feel comfortable, but all experiences have taught me something about life and about myself. I believe it is good to challenge yourself, to try to be better. For me the fear of being average has challenged me into participating in every exciting thing that came my way.
I can only encourage you not to be satisfied with being average, to try new things and to get out of your comfort zone. For me it has been a blessing that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Especially when I will be travelling for my job or living outside of the Netherlands because I learned that an international oriented study (which will hopefully lead to an internationally oriented career) is wonderful. I will think back to the first taste I got of life outside of my small town Gulpen and outside of Sophianum and know that those have been the start of everything.
About ELvis from Ramallah
Ramallah, 26 January 2015
It’s been quite a few years since I left my secondary school, Sophianum, which was only an 8 minute bike ride from my home. Right now I am sitting in my new room in Ramallah, the Palestinian Territories, which is more than 5000 kilometers from that same home and happens to be separated from the west by an enormous wall. My Elvis exchanges at Sophianum had one thing in common with this journey: I brought Dutch chocolate and fruit sprinkles which some Dutch people have on their bread, as well as stroopwafels for my hosts. One host liked them more than the other did, but every single time it turned out to be a good conversation starter. A tiny way to show my hosts what my home country was like and its – seriously lacking – cuisine was like. The favour was usually returned by delicious cooking from la mamma.
Sharing food, stories and your day-to-day life for a brief week is how I remember my exchanges in Italy and Romania. Things that I was used to and views that I had were suddenly challenged. Dinner at 6pm? Not in Italy. Being skeptical about religion? Not in Romania. It would be a stretch to claim that my views actually changed because of these exchanges as I still like my dinner early and I can still be rather skeptical about religion. What they did teach me though was to listen to people and to put in some effort to understanding them, however foreign their views might have seemed to me at the time.
Frankly, that is the biggest thing I learned during my exchanges and, although my former teachers might not like it, maybe even one of the key points I took from my secondary education. For someone like me who works in an intercultural setting and is idealistic enough to believe that she can make a change in the world, understanding people is extremely important. Getting lost in translation – from time to time even literally – is the biggest risk and should in my view be avoided at all costs. Although there are still times that I just do not see why someone is making the point they are making, I attempt to wonder what could have influenced them to do as they do. Growing up in the far eastern part of Romania just after the Ceaucescu regime and the USSR collapsed can be one of those reasons as can be living through the intifadas here on the West Bank. Or, on a lighter note, Italians might always be late because that is simply what Italians do. Understanding those things makes my life and that of the person I am talking to a bit easier as we can far more quickly go to the key points we wish to discuss.
I might sound like your grandmother lecturing about life lessons (and trust me, that is the way I feel as well), but please get out into the world, travel, meet people, listen to them and attempt to understand. And do not to forget to bring those people skills you acquired to your next destination, because they will come in handy wherever in the world you are and in whatever career you wish to pursue!
Bente graduated from Sophianum in 2010. She is currently an undergrad student at Leiden University College The Hague and an intern at the Netherlands Representative Office in Ramallah. After the summer of 2015, Bente plans to study Global Environment and Climate Change Law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She has a passion for sustainability, travelling and meeting new people.
A student who participated in the project ‘WW2: an oral history’ reflects on his learning experience.
We have also interviewed some Italian students and their teacher about their ELvis experience. Watch the videoclip