Irina Muntean – #ExSportUs Experience in Amarante, Portugal

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             Here we share with you the testimonial of Irina Muntean, who will tell us a bit more about her one-week experience in Amarante, Portugal, within the dynamics of the “ExSport Us” project, dedicated to develop non formal education activities against bullying. 

              August 2021. Thirty people (myself included) from different corners of Europe met on the banks of the Tamega River in Portugal. We were bringing with us our customs and traditions, our traditional food and native languages. At the same time, we were also sharing the same joy, hope and enthusiasm to find out and learn new things. Yet, what we didn’t know was that a whole astonishing colourful fairytale was waiting for us to start. The town of Amarante was lying mysteriously in front, full of green shades and light. With its cobbled streets, winding river and imposing bridge, it spread itself rich in history and culture, whispering a warm “welcome”.  

               The first day started shyly with “warm up” activities meant to make us feel at ease and share with the other project participants different bits about ourselves and the countries we were representing. As things progressed, we got to know each other better, understand what our role in the training course was and what our common objectives were. The second day we did some activities in pairs. My pair was a Portuguese young man. Our task was to write down some adjectives describing ourselves and then to justify our choices while speaking about our personalities. After doing that, the young man asked me: “Where are you from?” When I told him the name of my country his face became bright with joy. He confessed that he had done volunteering for a year in my country and for him it was the best year of his life. From then on, things flowed smoothly and easily. We talked about our favourite food and places to visit in my country. 

                For me, I think, that was the turning point. All of a sudden, I started feeling like home. Day by day passed bringing us joy and new information to learn and digest. One day we were in the conference room with the amazing organizers discussing about the topic of bullying and possible methods and procedures to fight against it while working with kids and young people. The other day we were in the park, on the sports field or in the inner yard of Casa da Juventude de Amarante doing practical sports activities and games meant to help us as youth workers while doing our profession. Some of the evenings we shared our traditional food brought from home, we sang in different European languages, danced on traditional folk music, participated in different contests or quizzes or even cooked. Some others we visited the town in groups trying to find out as much as we could about the history of Amarante. About the two devils, the flood and the bridge. About the story of the Portuguese traditional cake whose shape was amusing, but intriguing at the same time. We spent a day in Porto, which seemed to me like a crazy, multi-coloured city. 

            Unfortunately, maybe even due to the fact that the activities were so rich and varied, the week passed in the blink of an eye. The last evening we ate “bachalau”, which is an ambassador of the Portuguese cuisine and drank “vinho verde” – a wonderful, refreshing sparkling wine. We listened to “fado” music and felt a bit sad while speaking in an “international” language using a mixture of English, Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Portuguese words, sharing impressions and future plans. Speaking about our early flights to our home countries the next day. 

              All good things must come to an end, too. I returned home a week ago feeling like a much richer person and carrying in my soul the simple, astonishing, breath-taking beauty of Portugal. I feel like I had been in a fairytale. At the same time, I feel grateful that I was offered this amazing opportunity to meet new beautiful people of different nationalities, visit wonderful places and learn so many interesting things. I am looking forward to the start of a new school year in order to share my impressions and newly acquired knowledge and information with my students and teacher colleagues. What else can be said? A big, big thank you, L’Orma, Champions Factory and Casa da Juventude de Amarante! Muita obrigada, Portugal! I won’t forget you all!