Pelle van Dam about our project “Open Your Mind”

Date Added: 06 April 2022 / 14:39

31 March, 2022 – BAKURIANI, GEORGIA

Spring is coming, the sun melts the snow outside as I write this blog. In Bakuriani, a Georgian winter town that lies dormant upon the end of the skiing season, 42 people have gathered to learn about themselves and their emotional intelligence (EQ) in a multicultural context. During this Erasmus+ project, we had some amazing workshops in which we introspected on our identity, culture, how we communicate with others, and how we can be more self-aware. In this blog I will share my main takeaways from this project


We learn by sharing perspectives

Our perception of the world is always subjective. Our cultural and personal glasses render the world simplified, but the world is so much more complex! One activity let us examine our own cultures and what was below the surface of general assumptions people have about it. Sharing these “deep” parts of our culture was refreshing. By sharing, we found more nuanced and less one-sided interpretations of each other’s cultures. We found out that even country mates can disagree a lot on what is part of their culture! And also during lunch or dinner, I learned so much by listening to stories of people from different social or cultural circumstances and backgrounds. Together, we can approach the world more inclusively and become aware of how we are so used to confirm to our pre-existing beliefs. 


Emotional intelligence is a skill, it takes practice

We all think we have it: the ability to manage and understand our own and other’s emotions. But when we sit and work on it, we realize that we can still learn in these domains. I enjoyed an activity where we had to introspect on what needs our feelings come from, how they appear, and what strategies we can use to fill those needs. It was an insight that sometimes I fulfil a need with an ineffective strategy, like watching Netflix when feeling lonely and have a need for emotional connection, while I might better visit a friend! Doing this often, listening to our feelings and the physical emotional reaction of our bodies, we learn to understand ourselves and deal with emotional challenges more effectively!

Additionally, by taking time to observe others carefully and practice effective interactions, we become smarter social beings. Through being within a culturally diverse group, you learn to take into account differences in understanding and perception of certain behaviours. During an activity with eye contact, we realized that in one culture this might be regarded as a sign of careful listening and attention, while in another a sign of disrespect or ‘staring’. 


LISTEN! (but like, really listen)

Active listening is not just an attitude, it’s a way of conversation. Look people in the eye, ask stimulating questions, repeat and clarify what the other person says, build a common understanding. I saw the level of conversation skyrocket when applying different strategies for active listening. When someone is talking, our minds try to find relatable stories of our own. As soon as it finds one, we await our opportunity to speak and share. Meanwhile, we have been distracted from everything the other is bringing to the conversation. We block our own learning and we do not care to build onto each other’s points. Having a conversation in which you truly listen and carefully respond and interact causes our conversations to be more fruitful and rewarding. I can learn a lot from a conversation in which we only said: “Why?”, “How?”, and “What about …?” 


Self-Awareness is everything

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — Carl Jung

Knowing ourselves is the key to managing, regulating, using, or understanding our own emotions, as well as for coming to terms with the world and interacting with it effectively. The first half of the exchange was all about understanding ourselves, our strengths and emotions, the ways our cultures affect us, and how our past experiences shape our current selves. We had an activity on anger management, learning about the signs of our own anger helps us recognize it. Then we could use the coping strategies we shared to manage this emotion! 


Yes, a week is enough to make life-long friends

All you need is intentionality and a framework to make people interact. The Dutch team consisted of 4 others whom I’d never met before, but through exploring Tbilisi together and working on this topic together, we became close and got to know each other well. When back in the Netherlands I will visit them in Maastricht where they study. The same for people of other teams, I might visit a friend in Croatia, Armenia, Georgia or Azerbaijan. I had never actually met people from these countries, and now I remember the ways they laugh, smile at me in the hallway, the jokes they make, their stories around highly emotional moments, and how they relate to their cultures. 


All in all, the exchange in Bakuriani was for sure a success. From the learning about emotional intelligence and self-awareness, to the sharing of food, culture, dance, and drinks. From the deep intellectual and introspective engagement during the sessions daily to the deep and thought-provoking conversations at night. I would advice anyone to step out of their comfort zone, out of their common social circle, meet people from all over, and expand their perspective on life!


open society georgia foundation