Follow-up: Why „Enjoy the colours of my society”, 2010.03.19-28, Palić, Subotica, Serbia is one of the best training courses I’ve been to?

Between 19th and 28th of March, 2010, I went to Palić (Subotica, Serbia) for „Enjoy the colours of my society” training course. The training was organized by VIFO organization. Below you’ll find my reasoning for considering the training one of the best trainings I’ve ever been part to.

What was the training about?

The description meant to be read by politicians (read „not humans”), is something like this:

Overall aim is to train youth workers, youth leaders on being able to multiply human rights in the youth field emphasis on cultural diversity with active participation of young people using non formal methodology and cross community cooperation. To raise awareness and develop attitudes in connection with cultural diversity, to develop understanding and skills towards using non formal methods within human rights education in local, regional and international level. To focus on mainly respecting cultural diversity and cross community cooperation in all over Europe and more widen area. Cultural diversities are within lifestyles, traditions, histories, gender, education, minorities as traditional, sexual and new minorities, etc of young people. To build a human rights multiply network with youth leaders and youth workers who establish and implement human rights youth projects emphasis on cultural diversity in local and regional level and to cooperate together in international level.

In words that can be comprehended (gotta love this word!) by humans, I would summarize it like this:

  • Around 20 participants from different countries, most of them in the Balkans (I remember countries such as Serbia, Slovakia, Montenegro, Poland, Germany, Romania, are some examples) got together to learn about cultural diversity;
  • In a typical conference, the speakers come and feed the participants with information; Instead, this was a non-formal training, with both trainers (from Hungary) mostly just facilitating the exchange of information between participants (so case studies), helping participants work as teams (so interaction) and in the same time get new ideas with the information they already have within them (so providing insights).

So, we got 20 participants with more or less equal distribution between a few countries, who got to participate in a training about cultural diversity mostly via things they already knew.

How was the event organization?

My expectations from organizing such an event were:

  • Basic (and not bad) food & shelter;
  • Basic methods of communicating abroad (which is just a fancy wording for „Internet”);
  • A space for the event and training materials;
  • Keeping promises made prior of the training;
  • Finding good trainers (evaluated below);
  • Finding good participants (evaluated below);
  • Most of the participants to have the required conditions above;

All my expectations were met.

I’ll get into a few more details:
a. On the plus side:
– Food was always plenty;  In the morning we had Swedish Buffet (something like all-you-can-eat), at lunch for the first dish there was a bowl of soup from which you could eat as much as needed, the portions for the other dishes were always plenty (and more than that, actually); Statistically speaking, from a group with 20 persons who are served the same dish, there will always be a given percentage who won’t eat due to various reasons, so the food was more than plenty;
– The food was highly diverse; Although the Serbian food is based on meat (I can only assume so), in the 10 days we were in Palić (and around), the menus were different one from another; Breakfast was the same each morning, but the buffet contained plenty of options to choose from;
– (from my point of view) Food was most of the time at least average tasty, (rarely) great; This is a plus factor;
– Clean room, good bathrooms & all;
– Close-to-no-Internet; Why is it a good factor? It helped creating the kind of isolated atmosphere that can only lead to human interaction; To me, it was just the enough amount of Internet (close-to-none);
– The space for the event was cool (as in great, not cold), we even went outside from time to time; Materials were always plenty (even though at the end it was a bit tricky to find a classic pen); Flip chart, multi-colored papers, sticky notes, colored pencils, marker pens, scotch tape, projector, you name it – we had it all;
– Most promises made prior of the training were met;
– I could say that most of the participants had the conditions above;
b. On the side that contains items that can be improved:
– I don’t think that „healthy” was a criteria when establishing menus; Let’s take breakfast items:

  • Healthy: milk, yogurt, apples, boiled eggs (each day?), tea;
  • Mostly healthy: fried fish, coffee, semi-hard cheese, pickles (cucumbers);
  • Mostly unhealthy: white bread, apricot jam, not-that-great-type-of cereals;
  • Unhealthy: a lot of types meat products with grease, additives, preservatives (some of them were just „mostly” unhealthy, but we had something like fried grease – eeew! – and some types of salami and Bologna sausages), chocolate cream, sugar;

– Although to me it’s not a criteria, others complained on cold rooms (or even overheating), bugs, bad smells due to smoke;
– Not keeping the promise with Internet connection;

What was the bonus?
Above I’ve listed the things which I take into account when evaluating a training. But the organizers did extra stuff, and it was all great:
a. Organizing some exits out of Palić – got to visit both Palić and Subotica; Museums, zoo, transportation – all paid by the program;
b. (speaking of which) I could live in Palić with dinars worth of 2 Euros, so this came good;
c. The location of the training was well chosen; In an isolated place, reminded me of countryside images in Romania; Why great? Because this helped me focus on the training itself and not on the location;
d. I once needed a projector – it was solved; I needed Internet at 10 PM – solved; We had troubles find solutions in our group – provided with hints; The organizers were more than happy to help the participants with hints, solutions, help and resources whenever problems arrived; This felt so good! Great involvement;
e. In the last day of the event, we went home with some food for the train; This rarely ever happens;
f. Thanks go to the organizers for doing a great job;

How were the trainers?

First, I would like to put some emphasis on the role of a trainer in a non-formal education training: which is mostly to facilitate things. You’ll see below a suggestion for improvement on getting insights. This is a very hard to achieve goal, and I can say that the trainers did a very good job on facilitating the event. See below detailed explanation.

– (one trainer specifically) Everything had a structure and it was well kept; If you imagine a well-organized non-formal education with some basic requirements (participants should speak, the environment should be safe, basic rules to be kept, focus on participants’ needs – read more about it here – Common European principles for validation of non-formal and informal learning); To put it simple, if you can imagine a project, the trainers made sure that all the rules of the project were kept; I had zero problems on this side; If you’d like to take just one thing from my review of the trainers, take this – everything was fine regarding non-formal education and training abilities of the trainers;
– (one trainer specifically) A lot of the comments were using smart emotions, I really enjoyed that; In a social norm, there can be a good social thing to say; One of the trainers did that marvelous;
– A lot of the questions were coaching-style questions – going into participants’ feelings, asking for personal opinions, requesting to find out others solutions, be it good or bad;
– Initiative was very much encouraged and appraised;
– The trainings were based on insights;
– Laughing was allowed;
– I really thought about this well: socialism has a lot to do with the state getting involved in people’s lives, almost controlling things, while capitalism has the state a lot less involved; I love capitalism and free markets, and liberalism; In the training course, whenever one person had an initiative, it was the sole role of that person to make sure that it went well; That was it – you say something, you are responsible for the idea; You start doing something, you’re sole owner of responsibility; It really bugged me at the training to see this, but it is actually a plus; How nice!

Things to be improved:
– I went to the training course with just two criteria for evaluation from the trainers’ part:
a. Getting insights;
b. Having fun (which is also partially insights, but also surprise);
I can say that at the training I had my fun, but the insight part was only partially fulfilled; I got not-that-great-of insights (not-as-expected) and not so many;
What’s the solution? Focus on smarter insights; That’s it;

(ta-da!) How were the participants?

– First of all, they were from different countries; Great, good, cool; Lots of interactions, different personalities, different cultures, and education, and ages; Great place to get new insights from people; Different people, different ideas; Just great;
– At a basic level, all people were kind and nice; I had a very good feeling all the time;
– It felt a bit strange that if 3 people were speaking the same language and I was the fourth not understanding this language, they would still use that incomprehensible (yeah, now it’s an even cooler word) language, even if I didn’t understand at all;

What insights did I get?

– I made a separate blog post on humor;
– Another blog post on leading;
– I should take more initiative;
– There was an exercise in which we had to form teams to solve different tasks; Some tasks required the entire group to be present; I told my idea: solve the common tasks first as a group, and then focus on the solitary tasks; After doing one group task as a group, the group then divided and ignored the other group tasks; It proved to be the best solution; Having the entire group present while solving a group task (so let’s say that 20 people sit and have to fill-in a form as a group) is a much worse solution then one person going to each of the 20 persons and filling data individually; I must say that stating the rules of the game for the entire group would have been better; But the main point is – doing a collective task with the whole group would have taken too long it was best that my idea wasn’t followed;
– In primary school, I liked to tell to teachers what the others did wrong; To me there were two sides of the story – the wrongdoers and the teachers; Even though it got me into trouble, I was doing the „right” thing by telling on others; Time passed and by secondary school and finally college it wasn’t a clear line anymore – who was right? What was the truth? My colleagues? The teachers? I didn’t know anymore; At this training I got the insight that „the trainer is not always right”;
– I also got the insight that geopolitical issues don’t interest me (I didn’t even know where Transnistria was), not to mention the different translation in Slavic languages of a word; Yes, word origins and current interpretation of a word based on its original meaning is nice; On the other hand, saying [insert whatever word here] in any other language than English, Romanian and perhaps French is of little interest to me; Why it doesn’t interest me? First of all, it’s hard to remember, and second of all, I’ll barely ever use these words;
– I should learn French (after 16 years of learning French at school, I’m still a beginner – though an advanced one, whichever this may mean – in writing in French);
– More initiative from my part is needed; (what a passive way of saying things)
– (surprise?) I have a bad memory: I couldn’t immediately tell the second stanza of the national anthem of Romania; I remembered it soon afterward, but even then couldn’t tell if I was right or not; And the participant’s names … Oh, boy! To me, is hard enough remember familiar names in Romanian; Give me names in a different language and I’m in memory hell; In the last day of the training I couldn’t remember a participant’s name even after hard thinking;
– I should do some more sports to recover from the extra eating;
– I am pretty much insensible to cold or hot – sometimes I’m not cold when it’s cold and not hot when it’s hot;
– Whenever I hear about Serbia nowadays, I have a different referential system than a few weeks ago; „Serbia” means something new to me;
– Most of the languages the participants spoke shared some words due to Slavic background; So, to my surprise, people with languages with Slavic influence can learn each others’ language quite easily; When this very algorithm was applied to Latin languages, it was clear that I should focus on Latin languages (French, Spanish, Italian, are just examples);
– I found out about attempts (such as this) to create an unified Slavic language;
– Breda and Olivian, one of the trainers told me, are both common names in Portuguese; Surprising!
– To me jokes are just jokes; I’ve made a (very small) joke on a country’s language, it was considered as potentially offensive, since no participants of speakers of that language were present;
– The one information that stuck in my head was the difference between:

  • Stereotypes – just (negative) patterns we have about other people with similar characteristics (race, ethnicity, religion, skin color, etc.);
  • Prejudice – the patterns above + applying some emotions to them; So not only do we spot patterns, but we also have feelings on those patterns (usually negative ones);
  • Discrimination – patterns + emotions + acting on them; This means putting ideas + emotions into practice;

– Oh, it was also this one: present clients are more profitable than old ones;

How did the things around training reflect within me?

When someone asks me how the training was, my options are:
a. Explain in one sentence: „The training itself was fine, the trainers did a very good job, and I enjoyed the company of participants”;
b. Develop the sentence via some thinking explained above;
c. Put my soul on the table.

Yes, it’s that kind of a moment now – putting my soul on the table. You see, what you saw above is not actually my feelings on the training, it is actually what I think would interest others – so, if you’re interested in the event organization, the participants, and the trainers, you can get an answer from my part, I will detail anything. And in most cases, that’s enough.

But this is my blog and I want to put my soul right on the table. (a bad or not so much thing?) How did the events at the training reflect on me?

Well, I met these Polish persons … oh, but we’ll get there. First, some explanations.

I’m an Orthodox. My thinking and actions are based on three criteria:
a. Believe in God; To me, the word „believe” is much better replaced by „know as a fact, although I can’t demonstrate to others”; So, this is pretty much covered;
b. Do good deeds to others (and not sin);
c. (in order to improve on a. and b.) Do self-development; (which involves body, mind and feelings/emotions)

So, at this training, my purpose was mostly c. (develop my mind and be better at handling emotions), while also keeping an eye open for body (did some exercises and walking) and doing good deeds.

Regarding feelings & emotions, I prefer a quote from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines movie:

Terminator: „Desire is irrelevant. I am a machine!

For most things around me, I don’t have feelings, I think about them. If you ask me what impresses me in this life, it’s a list (in descending order of importance):
a. Extraordinary persons in my life;
b. Close relatives;
c. Close friends;

And from the list above, a. is most important to me. Let’s dissect (yeah!) a.:
a. First of all, there are two types of extraordinary persons in my life – one type which can also have the same effect on you (I call them business persons) and one type which I think only influenced me and is not a feeling as transmissible (I call them extraordinary everyday persons);
b. Second of all, there are extraordinary persons in my life (which are on the list) and some less-than-extraordinary (but still great) persons that impress me;

Can you see some of these persons? Sure you can! I made a list of most business persons that impressed me, be them extraordinary or less-than-extraordinary. You can find the list here.

The list is not complete. There are some business persons not on the list (I couldn’t get approval to write on my blog about everyone), and, of course, there are the everyday persons (be them extraordinary or less-than-extraordinary).

The extraordinary persons in my life are one of the few things in this life to which the Terminator quote doesn’t apply.

I think my life is simple. Above you have found most of my life philosophy, explained in a few words.

Now let’s get back to the training course. You see, in there, I was (so incredibly) lucky to meet three persons at the training course:
a. If I were to summarize Person A‘s philosophy (as I perceived it), I would do it like this: „A quest for beauty”; Beauty in everything: photography, faces, animals, happiness, architecture, even a morale built up on beauty and joy;
b. Person B had a behavior similar with Don Quixote (of which Nicolae STEINHARDT thought so well); To summarize it in more comprehensible terms, I’d say: „Follow your thoughts/emotions/values, despite social norms”; It takes courage to do this;
c. Person C had actually two things: first of all a general knowledge of (right about) everything, doubled by a very down-to-earth common-sense; People tend to call this combination as wisdom (I remember you that the participants’ age at such a training course must be less than 30);

Now that you know this, I want to tell you two more things about getting on my list of extraordinary or less-than-extraordinary persons:
a.  It has nothing with the personal relation between me and the persons on the lists (I won’t detail anymore, but some persons on the extraordinary persons list would avoid me in a typical situation);
b. It has nothing to do with my set of values; My judgment (which is far from perfect, but it’s mine) is solely based on this criteria: personal success (despite some factors) within the persons’ value system; I’ll detail this aspect to all of the persons above:

  • Person A: My personal quest for beauty has ended; I have the list of extraordinary persons and, as I detailed on a previous post, I can’t see anything better than this; I’ve already seen beauty; In an atypical analogy, you can think of the situation just like in football championships; Sometimes, a few games between a championship ends, the winner of the championship is already known; How does the champion team plays? It has already won, every victory from now on is for the fun of it; You don’t actually need it, but you like to play the game; Another atypical analogy – it’s also like a game of gymnastics: when X gets a perfect 10 at one time, even if it repeats the same performance years after, it can only equal the past given grade; You can’t out-beat a perfect 10; This is me – I’ve already found perfect beauty (the list of extraordinary people), and every new sensation can (at most) reach the level of previous ones; Besides that list, most life is, to me, like one of a machine – no sensation;
  • Person B: There are three things to analyze:
    • The reasoning/values/emotions that drive a Quixotic behavior;
    • The act of just being Quixote in a typical world;
    • The acts that define one as Quixote;
    • (conclusions of the three points above – I am mostly impressed by the idea itself – being Quixote in a typical world; Other than that, this is not the subject of this analysis)
  • Person C: It’s hard for me to identify with a person with either very good knowledge of everything (due to some memory & attention problems) or with the common sense (common sense is, to my appreciation of the values of person C, the right way of doing things, but I much rather prefer the always-thinking-never-conforming method of person B, even if it can be interpreted most of the time as „wrong” – by the way, by which criteria? Who establishes the „right” way of deciding Quixote behaviors?); Also, to me personally the need to know more things is, as explained above, solely to be a better Christian; That’s it.

Two of the persons above made it to the less-than-extraordinary list (a longer list), while one person made it to the short list of extraordinary persons.

I tend to have a poor memory. It’s fine. But I think that maybe, just maybe, it would be very hard for me to ever forget a person who made it to the short list. I take this always with me and I’m always happy remembering past times. How do I interpret the actions? I like this funny saying: „Lying is not in Krystal’s vocabulary. Truth forms itself around whatever Krystal says.” (source) It can be adapted to the way I feel about the extraordinary persons – truth forms itself around what they say.

What do I do with the list? In most of the cases, the logic is clear: never discriminate anyone, I can’t offer anything more to any of these persons than to anyone else. But there is this parable – The Parable of the Talents. Interpreted, it says that I must invest my actions into profitable results. My actions must be efficient (a blog on this perhaps?), so I must pick wisely. To keep things simple, whenever volunteering, I tend to pick efficient results. And top persons on my list have favorable spots.

What’s next?

a. I’ve met all these three persons at an international training; I’m now very interested into seeing things like this again (and again); So, I’ll apply to more international trainings;
b. There were about 20 participants at the training, with 4 of them being from Poland; Since three of the Polish participants were so impressive (Persons A, B, C), I am highly biased via Polish people (in a good way); At international trainings I’ll (hopefully) get to see more Polish people and see if my bias is justified or not; Right now, using just the current data, I’m considering knowing more about Poland; If the bias proves to be true, I might even move to Poland;
c. Two of the persons (A, B or C) share an organization which organizes youth exchanges; I’m very interested in that;

If you ask me now, after reading all this, the question in the sub-chapter – „How did the things around training reflect within me?”, my simplified answer is this: I’ve met one extraordinary person and two less-than-extraordinary (but still great). Thus, a very productive training.

Conclusions, anyone?

I loved the training, met great people, the training was very properly organized, the trainers were as fine as expected and (now you know it) it made a big impact on me.

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