... through the power of informal learning. The 26th Summer Universiade in Belgrade (Serbia) proved that it is possible! 10,000 student athletes from some 150 countries around the world saw another side of Serbia, different from the one commonly represented by the media over the past two decades and originating in times of war, autocratic regimes and crises...
InfoNet - Katarina Popovic
The "bad guys, the butchers of the Balkans, the born criminals", turned out to be "friendly, great hosts, open-minded, cordial, creative...". The impressions are overwhelming: "I am having a great time and feel right at home here," said Anna Bessonova from Ukraine. "I love everything. I feel as if I were home. The hosts are punctual and precise, which is a virtue," said Ribeiro Jr. Francisco from Brazil. Many other young, intelligent and active people will convey their impressions of Serbia to the world. Is this due to marketing, tourism, PR, and propaganda? No, it's about informal learning, the power we are aware of, but seldom exploit the potential of.
We put people behind school desks or, if we use advanced methods, on chairs in a circle, and we teach them intercultural understanding. We prepare dynamic, colourful Power Point presentations, hoping that this will increase tolerance and open-mindedness. We organise workshops on cultural exchange and dialogue, develop clever and attractive manuals on peace education and introduce new subjects and methods into the educational institutions, hoping that the world will become at least a little bit of a better place.
Though it might be helpful, the world does not look as though it has been very profoundly affected by our efforts. It is hard to open the hearts and minds of people simply by providing information, explaining theories, discussing, and offering insight; this in the face of all the subjectivity of personal views, which forms the essence of a person, as nothing has the intensity of a personal experience, and nothing leaves such a lasting impression. Life can only be understood backwards, said the philosopher, when we have experienced it ourselves.
Students from all over the world, with different backgrounds, religions, languages and skin colours, gathered together at the Universiade, with the same dream of making a contribution to the promotion of cultural exchange and integration among various nations in order to promote world peace, harmony and development, according to Rong Wang, a representative of the Chinese city of Shenzhen, host of the next Universiade.
Eric Saintrond, Secretary General of FISU, perceived the Universiade even more through the lenses of "adult learning", pointing out that, if we want to have a future, we need to be aware of tradition, improve ourselves throughout our lives, broaden our knowledge and insist upon values such as fair play, exceptional results, respect for oneself and others. The Belgrade Games confirmed that.
However, it wasn´t just about sports. During the Friendship Festival (Meet me, be my friend - daily programme presenting participating continents and countries), which was held during the Universiade, wonderful folk dances were preformed, colourful ensembles with amazing singing and catchy rhythms presented their countries, crazy parties in the summer nights brought people together, and living under the same roof for two weeks brought a lot of knowledge about other cultures, languages, habits, rituals, beliefs and most of all, increased the appetite for learning more!
For Serbia this was an event of special importance. After so many years of isolation, young people, members of a generation that grew up without normal contact with the world, now have a unique opportunity to present themselves as an integral part of the world, to try to show that Belgrade is a cosmopolitan city, and not merely a dark spot on the map. For some people, who still view it as somehow being behind the "iron curtain," Belgrade offered not only nightlife, but museums (34 remarkable archaeological, numismatic, artistic and historical collections), its musical heritage and, most importantly, its people. As Voja Nedeljkovi, a TV author from Belgrade, said, "Universiade is also an opportunity for our youth to learn something about different cultures and customs, and to break the taboos imposed upon them, whether intentionally or not, in previous years.
There are no distance learning programmes that can achieve the same in such a short time. There are no online courses that can banish prejudice, xenophobia and discrimination. There are no learning technologies that surpass informal (lifelong, accidental, en passant) learning, at least not in terms of intercultural, tolerance and peace education.
The lesson is not about sports, it is about using non-formal and informal learning as much as possible in different areas. It is also about the future of Europe. The road to its true integration is not passable without mobility and exchange programmes.