E+ partner project “Pathways to Wellbeing” through the eyes of one of the Croatian participants

Ocean Znanja was one of the partners in the Erasmus+ training course “Pathways to Wellbeing” which took place in Italy from the 28th of June to the 4th of July. 3 people from Croatia participated in the training, Magdalena, Roma and Ines.

Ines decided to summarize her experience in this article. Read how she experienced this course and what they learned by participating.

Step by step to mental wellbeing.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir

From the 28th of June until 4th of July 2022 I was a part of the Croatian team, that had an opportunity to learn about mental health and its connection with nature. The team consisted of  Magdalena, Roma and I – three young women, involved in youth work and prepared by the sending organization Ocean Znanja. We participated in a training course ‘Pathways to wellbeing’ coordinated by the Salvaj association and the Anatta Foundation with co-funding by Erasmus+ program.

Activities were held in a small town Cortemila in the northwestern Italian region Piemont, around seventy kilometers from Turin. We were accommodated in a host venue; Cascina di Monteoliveto. For the whole week, we had enjoyed traditional Italian specialties including homemade pasta and fresh vegetables. Our trainers were experienced educators, Mr. Thomas Albers, Mrs. Oda Salomons and Mr. Sebastian Weesjes.

On the first day, we played GTKEO (get to know each other) games and discussed our expectations. According to our habits and needs, we agreed on the rules for the whole group.  Working with many people in this situation requires open communication, respecting boundaries, having understanding for others and being inclusive. Speaking through the medium of English is important so that everyone can understand each other.

As the topic of a training course was wellbeing, we shared our ideas of what can mental health refer to and how important it is in our daily life. Also, we realized how nature can be useful in improving our mindset. To make it more interesting, we divided ourselves into groups and each group made a mind map about their perceptions regarding mental health. Groups also discussed a mental stability awareness in different cultures. That helped us to realize that countries have different approaches when it comes to mental issues. Mr. Albers explained that The World Health Organization (WHO) conceptualizes mental health as a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Although, there is no definition that can cover everything that this term includes.

For our personal development, we have to set some aims and fulfill them. Mrs. Salomons explained that every day we can ask ourselves these questions: What learning tasks do you set for yourself today?, What am I already doing?, What do I want to do more?. After some „me time“, we learned about the types of educators. Friendly educators are open and curious, in comparison with critical educators, that are judging and tending to reject. Besides that, we learned about self-determination theory. It consists of three psychological needs: autonomy, competence and relatedness. When these are fulfilled, people are able to become self-determined.

Since we already discussed the values regarding personality on our second day, the third day we were more focused on the qualities.  A suggestion for the definition of quality was „something we love to do and are good at it“, but we realized that the explanation depends on the understanding of a quality. Some of the qualities that were mentioned are creativity, politeness, determination, braveness, honesty and compassion. A game in groups, where we had to give each other cards with qualities that define us, helped me to understand the strength of the words.

One of the most significant lessons was the concept of a comfort zone, learning zone and panic zone. Comfort zone refers to a situation, where we feel calm and confident and work on things we know. When we step out of our comfort zone, we find ourselves in a learning zone. Facing new challenges in that zone can be a bit uncomfortable and risk-taking. It is desirable to ask ourselves: What is my need? and Who can I ask for help? In a panic zone, we feel overwhelmed and stressed due to unpredictable situations and fears. Depending on our reaction, a response can be a fight, a flight or a freeze. Besides the three zones, we learned about the three systems: soothing system, drive system and threat system. In the first system, we slow down, take some rest and feel safe. In the drive system, we achieve goals and accomplish tasks. The threat system exposes us to fear, aggression and disgust.

Since the aim of the project was to teach participants how to facilitate a workshop about mental health, we set up working groups and started preparing resources. On the last day, participants held workshops about the power of words, camping, first aid, fear and social media among teenagers. I plan to adjust some of these workshops and implement them in secondary schools. My main focus is on a workshop about social media, which would last for 45 minutes and my target group would be teenagers between the age of fifteen and seventeen. The title would be „SocialMe“ because the topic is about the influence of social media on mental health and socialization. After the introduction, I would use an energizer and an oral poll to see how social media affects students. The next activity would be a discussion about some statements regarding YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The main activity would be a group work, where students would have to think of a replacement for the time they spend on social media. To conclude, I would conduct a reflection based on the workshop.

One of the traditions of Erasmus+ programmes is to host an intercultural evening. We decided to make it special and that’s why we organized a dance night. I enjoyed learning Irish and Macedonian traditional dances. During the week, we agreed that forest walks, spending time with animals and being alone for some time can help us to reduce stress. Italian lifestyle helped us to relax and enjoy every moment, make new friendships and business connections. We already started planning how to implement this experience in our youth work and help young generations to acquire a knowledge of mental health.