Can travelling and studying increase tolerance?

An image of people's arms and hands meeting in the center

Whenever I hear the words tolerance and diversity, two episodes from my childhood come to mind. The first dates back to a vacation in Ireland with my parents, I was 3 years old. With our caravan, we stopped at a campsite, where I met a girl of my age, English, with whom I played nonstop for two days, each of us speaking our own language. She was my best friend for a few days, even if we couldn’t understand each other.

The second episode dates back to another holiday, this time in the Dominican Republic. I met a local girl on the beach, who spent the afternoon braiding me, intrigued by my white skin and my thin hair. Needless to say, communicating with words was impossible, but we did not care: we were friends.

These personal anecdotes of mine are nothing but the basis of my strong conviction: travelling teaches us that we are all the same, and makes us appreciate the differences.

I am lucky enough to have the possibility to travel. I started with my family, then to study, then to work. I have talked, laughed and cried with people of another culture, skin colour, religion, ethnicity and nationality. Some of them became little pieces of my heart.

Students sit in a classroom
Me and my classmates at EVS.

The majority of all of my experiences would have not been possible without the EU, especially without the European Voluntary Service (EVS) I am currently undergoing in Bulgaria. I am volunteering for an NGO which focuses on teaching tolerance among young people, and when I look back, I see the small realities that I have left for the life I have chosen, and I understand that I have never been so far from them: here in Sofia, even if I am only two hours away from home by plane, I learnt how to ask questions to get to know the other, I learnt how to help other people to get to know me, I learnt that we are all the same even when we are different.

I am also strongly convinced that studying helps increasing tolerance and respect for diversity. I have studied international relations, and what I found very helpful to increase tolerance and understanding are the definitions. Yes, the definitions, those that you find in the manual of international law or political science. The definition of refugee, for example, or migrant, two words that represent two very delicate issues, and that impact diversity and tolerance like no other, especially now. A refugee is not a person we should be afraid of, but someone seeking help to protect his/her life and the one of his/her family. Migrants are not stealing our jobs: on the contrary, the entry of migrants into local labor markets is actually increasing the wages of the native population.

I would like to see a Europe where people are more informed.

I would like to see a Europe where people are more informed, maybe through more seminars and conferences; in my opinion, making schools add international relations as a main subject could be a great improvement. I am convinced it would help understanding the political, historical and cultural reasons of the current crisis, and if youngsters grew up knowing what a migration is, where wars are, and why, I am sure the decisions made by governments in the future would be more oriented towards acceptance and tolerance, and the mistakes of the past would be avoided.

Let’s make mobility more affordable, let’s invest in those schools, universities, firms and companies where diversity is the norm. Let’s make sure that internships in Europe are paid enough for a student to move and survive abroad. I hear too many stories about crushed dreams of working in another country, in a challenging and diverse environment, because the internship is not paid, or the income is not enough to both pay the rent and buy food.

A lot has already been done, and I couldn’t be more thankful. But even if perfection doesn’t exist, why shouldn’t we try to achieve it anyway?

A text graphic saying: Be the best version of you
A good daily reminder I found in a school during my EVS.

About me: After graduating from a Master in International Relations in Italy, where I am from, I decided to move to Sofia, Bulgaria, for a European Voluntary Service project focused on tolerance among the youngsters. I love writing, traveling, and I am addicted to TV shows. My motto is: the world is too big to stay home.

Children and young people are one of Europe’s greatest assets. For the European Parliament elections in May, “Voices of Youth” is running a special blogging series to ensure that the opinions and voices of children and young people are heard during the elections and by incoming European politicians.