How to facilitate learning during youth exchanges

Designing and leading workshops

During the training course “Tools for Youth Exchanges” participants were asked to design and implement a workshop. They received a fictional scenario of a youth exchange and their task was to design a 60 minute workshop to address one of the topics relevant to scenario using participatory working methods. The workshop was then implemented with their peers. This aspect of the training is quite challenging for the participants, but it offers many learning opportunities – it gives the chance to try new methods, new ideas in a safe environment, it allows for direct feedback on the methods used and a debrief on the group dynamics within each team.

 The role of the youth worker in a youth exchange – supporting participation

This training supports the idea of participation: young people will be involved in all stages of the Youth Exchange.
There is so much more to a youth exchange than going on a trip abroad. A youth exchange is a learning experience, this learning can start from the moment the idea of the exchange is born. In this case, group learning starts well before the youth exchange happens and keeps returning. It is therefore clear that the role of the youth worker is mostly about supporting participation of young people, giving young people the opportunity to design, to plan and to lead.

So, how can we support young people implementing tools and methods? The training team is becoming more and more aware of the importance of the transferability of the learning in this training: creating the competences for implementing tools/methods, at the same time exploring how to support young people implementing these tools/methods.

For the young participants in a youth exchange there are very valuable competences to be developed when they take on facilitating workshops or parts of them. To do so, they need to have a basic understanding of how to run an activity. We envisage that youth workers, through understanding the wider frame of implementing activities, will be able to support their young people to take greater responsibility during the exchange.

To encourage young people to run an activity without helping them to understand what is involved could potentially be quite unhelpful and even have a negative impact on the young person involved. It requires the youth worker’s own ability to understand and know the tool/method, and matching this with their understanding of the young person’s readiness and abilities. This training aims to help youth workers in the first part of this process: having a deep understanding of tools and methods.

I will try even harder to make a real focus on youngsters, we work very closely with them, we know their skills, their needs, their passions, but we can try even harder to make them work as a group before the youth exchange. My problem is how to deal with the youngsters if the project is not approved, but after this training I feel that, yes, I can deal with that. (Diana from Portugal)

Specific areas of learning in a youth exchange

Group processes

A youth exchange is about learning to be in a group, a group of great diversities. Throughout the youth exchange we deal with groups on many levels, the national groups, the exchange as a group, cultural groups, but also the leaders as a group.

As a youth worker, it is important to understand how to support this process and how to actively encourage participants to go through the different stages.

Group building happens in all stages of a youth exchange:

  • Before: each national group comes with its own group dynamic, in the ideal scenario they will know each other well and have already walked through the different group processes.
  • During: during the exchange the different national groups will join each other and together form a new group. Ideally this group will go through the same process. At the end of the exchange this group will “unform” when each national group will return to their home country.
  • After: Back home, the national groups will either keep working together or also “unform” depending on how this group has been created.

For the exchange group to be able to become a group it is important that each national group has already created their own group dynamic and that they feel secure in their own group. If this is not the case they will first have to create their own national group dynamic before they are able to dive into the new group. This process could work against the overall quality of the exchange, as there will be less interaction between different national groups.

We start with group meetings from the beginning of the process. So, the group members can make friends with each other. We have meeting about once or twice in a month. We have sometimes overnight group meetings too, because our group members live in rural areas and they have difficulties with traveling. (Merja from Finland)


As mentioned before, a youth exchange is a learning experience, when young people take part in a Youth Exchange they could be involved in writing the application, preparing the programme, participate in the activities or lead them: they will take up certain responsibilities, they can learn so much from all these new experiences.

In order to support learning we need to understand learning processes. Therefore, during the training, we explored how we learn ourselves, what and how we (want to) learn during this training, how we can translate this learning to our own reality and how we can use this when we are supporting young people.

The question was posed of how we support this learning before, during and after the exchange, taking in account the difference between the hosting and the sending group.
The outcomes of this question were posted on the timeline, visualising the potential for learning in a youth exchange.
The importance of giving enough time for reflection was emphasised: by reflecting regularly on their personal learning, participants become more aware of their own learning and their learning potential.

With the population that I work with (children with disabilities), you have to be persistent and enthusiastic. If the activity in simple, so that they can understand the rules and instructions, if they are having fun with the activity, then this is a win situation. Who is leading the group, has to be able to improvise and be quite creative. Often theory doesn’t work. But if you try to understand them and accept them the way they are, everything is easier. (Petra from Slovenia)

Intercultural Learning

Intercultural learning is one of the main educational aspects within youth exchanges. However, we regularly notice, that “real” intercultural learning of young people is not supported and facilitated by group leaders, because of the lack of competences to do so. Intercultural learning is often limited by presentations of participating cultures to each other, tasting national foods, drinks, playing games, singing songs…. basically, everything what you can see on a holiday.

During the training, we allocated quite some time to go deeper into the question of intercultural learning. Participants experienced an intercultural learning activity and during the de-brief we explored how intercultural learning can be supported in a youth exchange.

The youth workers also need to be aware and explore Intercultural learning for their own benefit. Working in an intercultural team, while being responsible for young participants brings its own challenges and learning. There is a real need to recognise this and to have the competences to work in this environment.

Good debriefing for good learning

Debriefing or reviewing is a process that helps participants to make sense of an experience. Debriefing processes can include:

  • reflecting on experience
  • analysing experience
  • making sense of experience
  • communicating experience
  • reframing experience
  • learning from experience

Debriefing is one of the more challenging aspects of implementing tools/methods. Many participants either forget about it, avoid it or ask questions that already contain an answer. This was illustrated clearly by the observations of one participant.

After we implemented the intercultural learning exercise – which included a long debrief, one of the participants related to us that she had participated in the same exercise previously, but without debriefing. She was surprised how the debrief changed the exercise from a (quite negative) experience to a real learning experience, clarifying the importance of intercultural learning relating it to the reality of a youth exchange and learning how to support intercultural learning in a group.

After implementing the workshop, participants were asked to debrief their team work using the 3P’s: People – Process – Product. This model is very helpful in defining how the team worked and how to improve the way the team functions.

In our experience leading a youth exchange is as much a learning experience for the leaders as it is for the young people. Supporting the team work is an important aspect of a successful exchange, and taking the time to go through the different P’s while leading an exchange might help in preventing conflicts and misunderstanding. Finding the time to do so might be hard, but if the awareness of the importance is there, then this can be built into the programme of the exchange.

I am in the process of making learning part of all parts of the youth exchange, starting from the application. For example, yesterday I learned a lot about the debriefing and what impact it has on people. I need such tools, practical tools to use them in my next exchange, next year. (Michelle, Italy)


This is the 2nd part of the article “Tools for youth exchanges”. This article is an outcome of the international training course “Tools for Youth Exchanges”. The course was hosted 6 to 12 March 2017 in Virrat, Finland by the Finnish National Agency for Education. The article was written by Mieke McMahon Neven (facilitator) with contribution by Nerijus Kriauciunas (facilitator and member of “Nectarus” team).

Read the 1dt part part “How to choose effective tools for youth exchanges”.


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