Prologue– Hong Kong-Hungary Youth Exchange Program

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”

Conan O’Brien

At a time when I hit the rock bottom, trapped by a myriad of emotions and negativity, the decision to join a youth exchange program in Hungary rescued me from the point of no return.

It was, the first time in what seemed forever, that I could leave Hong Kong without worrying about grades and schoolwork. Having finished the semester a week ago, me and 3 of my best friends have little expectations but to enjoy ourselves in this graduation trip 2.0. Well, I couldn’t have made a larger mistake.

The organizers of the whole program, Bird and Debbie, ensured we brought everything with us. The 13-hour flight recharged our physiques tattered by all the recent exams and troubles. As the coach deported us from the busy Budapest, we waved goodbye to Budapest. Outside, buildings and modern houses made way for trees and… well, more trees. The town of Hollókő, a renowned town being  one of UNESCO’s heritage sites around the world, was nowhere near the most populated area of Hungary. The Creative Space, the residence to Egyesek, sits atop of the mountainous zone the town is located. We had the honor of residing there alongside volunteers across Europe: Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Finland, who chose to spend 10-12 months in another EU country and committing to their community under the EVS (European Volunteer Scheme).

Before departure, we received training from Dream Impact in Cheung Sha Wan on design thinking, an innovative way of thinking with a huge potential of changing the world. We did not hesitate to put what we’ve learnt in practice in Szecseny, the city center of the area where Hollókő was located in. Just like Hollókő, the charisma of the town had little trouble  mesmerizing us. The classically-constructed building erected everywhere in the town permeate with gravitas simply unparalleled anywhere else.

In midst of such elegant constructions, we conducted a number of site visits and shadowing, especially at the local children centers and schools. Making a lot of keen observations, we tried our best to gain information from different stakeholders. Then, after analyzing their interests and pain points, we had to come up with plans to change the situation for the better. Ensuring we don’t throw every bits of what we’ve learnt outside the windows like we did in high school, Yuen, the consultant for this journey, gave us regular revisions of this important idea.

As we prayed for the idea to arrive, the aha-moment hit us all of a sudden on the fourth day, we were pleasant to work with some local Hungary students who have to satisfy their volunteering demands by working with us. That, however, wasn’t a perfect experience, as we relied on a local to help us translate our messages to each other. On top of that, having heard students have a large anger towards their education system, they personally verified this hearsay by saying how they thought education at school did nothing o prepare them for future work.

Therefore, we wanted to make sure they get to pick up something useful from the volunteering prerequisite. In response to that, we referenced the Taiwanese “City Wanderer” system, where individuals form teams and produce videos of them performing particular tasks, and pitched an idea that the Egyesek volunteers could train the local students to do the same. Our intention was for local students to produce videos on their own which promotes the culture of rural Hungary to the world. I was incredibly glad we worked with them to make their volunteering demands much more an enjoyment, and much less a torment.

So, why was the experience so special? Personally, it was truly one of the most enlightening time of my life. Each day, immersed by people from different communities: from college students volunteering because of her own kindness, to long-term volunteers of Egyesek, knowing that plenty of people are willing to contribute and make it a better place to be in is indeed inspiring.

If I were to choose a highlight, the cultural evening on the fifth night would be my pick. Bar the surprising food allergy incident, it was daunting yet satisfying to feed 40 people of different nationalities with Hong Kong food we cook ourselves. Starting from scratch, my teammates utilized their cooking skills to the fullest and filled all the volunteers up with the exquisite dishes we’ve prepared. Afterwards, we also introduced them to different aspects of Hong Kong. Not only did we had a lot of interactions with other volunteers all across the world, by preparing the whole session, I realized there are many sides of Hong Kong I practically ignored. By speaking to them about Hong Kong, I myself know a bit more about this place where I come from.

The fun did not stop when I landed back in Hong Kong. I soon realizd it was only a precursor to what is to come, a prologue to the new me: the autopilot leadership lap, the multiple nights hanging out with staff and foreigners at the VolTra office, different visits to local spots… if not for signing up for this exchange program, there is not a bit of chance I could escape my negativity and self-delusion, both which plauged me for well over a year. No doubt meeting inspiring people like Bird, Yuen and the rest of the team got me back on track– back on becoming the myself that I always envisioned.

People become awe-inspired hearing me speak of how much two weeks changed. My dear, ain’t that the magic of travelling?

If only everyone can find their prologue.

P.S.: Hungary is perhaps the most beautiful nation I’ve been to thus far. There was hardly any picture taken that wasn’t spectacular. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Credits to Vincent and VolTra for the provision of the photos above.

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