International Youth Projects 101: Organising Youth Exchanges

Youth Projects 101 [Val Vesa via unsplash]
Image: Val Vesa via

Organising international youth projects is not a mission impossible. Bringing together your idea, some basic knowledge about project management and the regulations of a funding programme enables youth leaders, youth and social workers, teachers as well as young people to prepare for international youth exchanges, youth initiatives or seminar and training events.

MMany young people, teachers, youth and social workers, co-ordinators and leaders of youth organisations or just people who stand up for young people, often have very good and innovative ideas for intercultural youth projects. Unfortunately, some are hesitating to put these into practice, because they think they are lacking experience in the preparation and implementation of such projects and therefore fear, that the organization of international youth projects seems too demanding.

The truth is, it is not nearly as difficult as it seems at first glance.

If you consider a few things, you will be able to realise your idea.

You have to bring together three things: your idea for an international youth project or international youth exchange, organisational and pedagogical questions on planning an international youth project with the regulations and quality standards of a funding programme you would like to apply for financial support.

Youth Projects (youtube playlist): Good Practise. Erasmus+ Youth in Action

International Youth Projects – Step-by-step

The biography of a project mainly consists of four stages: Definition (Clarification), Preparation, Implementation and Evaluation. Corrections in-between these stages are necessary and useful moving towards the aim of the project.

Project Life Cycle
Project Life Cycle. Graphic: Image: Michael Kimmig

Defining the project

This stage is about the first steps of a project: you are defining, what is your project about and clarifying it’s main aspects. This includes the following tasks:

  • to develop an idea for a project,
  • to find an appropriate partner for it,
  • to clarify aims and a topic for your project,
  • to create a draft programme and and a financial plan,
  • to collect first ideas on how the project results could be used and spread afterwards,
  • to make a draft plan of action between the partners.

At the end of this stage stands the application.

Preparing the project

The second stage includes all things, that have to be prepared and organised before the intercultural youth project starts:

  • to search for co-fundings,
  • to mobilise resources (people you can involve, financial resources, materials, etc.),
  • to prepare the programme and activities, the youth leaders and participants,
  • to share tasks and responsibilities among partners and people involved in the project.

A very important aspect is to maintain communication among the partners. The result of this stage is a specific plan of action: What has to be done when by whom?

Carrying out the project

In this stage the focus lies on the intercultural youth project itself. Your project may consist of a single activity like a youth exchange or various activities like meetings and workshops of a youth initiative project. Specific task have to be carried out according to your programme and plan of action.

A key question is, how to monitor this process together with your partner. Regular reflections and process evaluations help to keep the project on the right track. Eventually the team of project co-ordinators and/or group leaders/facilitators together with the participants have to change their plan according to new circumstances.

The end of this stage is often marked by a final event of the youth project: a photo exhibition, a theatre performance, a music event, etc. or the good-bye party of participants, where the different results of the project are presented.

Evaluating the project

The last stage marks the end of the project life-cycle: finalising the results, evaluating the outcomes and the process as well as closing the project. Here, you have to think of the following tasks:

  • to evaluate the process and outcome of the project,
  • to carry out follow-up activities and/or to use and spread the project results (called: Dissemination and exploitation of results).
  • to write reports (content and financial report),
  • to publish the results (a documentation, a product, like pictures, video clips or music cd).

Of course don’t forget to appreciate and celebrate your success and thank everyone who contributed to it.

The dissemination and exploitation of results relates to the use and practical application of a project’s outcomes after finalising the project. This can be done throughout various follow-up activities aiming to increase the impact of the project by multiplying effects and to ensure the sustainability of achieved results. This can be achieved through using and spreading the educational concept and tools of your project. With the help of presentations, workshops, seminars, training courses, etc. other actors in the field of International Youth Work could be enabled to apply your knowledge to their context.

Organising International Youth Projects – Checklist of tasks
Preparation (12 to 9 months before the event)
Developing an idea (together with the young people if possible)
Looking for a partner
Preparation meeting with the partner (if possible)
Common planning of the project
– Topic/theme
– Aims
– Participants
– Time/Place
– Draft-Programme
– Budget
Writing the application (Check the deadline of the funding programme!)
Looking for co-fundings
Communicating between partners
Preparation (9 to 3 months before the event)
Booking the accommodation
Preparation meeting with the partner
Common detailed planning of the programme
– Topic/theme
– Aims
– Activities
– Methods
– Materials
Ensuring the qualification of the group leaders/facilitators
Looking for participants
Preparing (and active involvement) of participants
Making travel arrangements
Organising materials
Sending out info-sheet with last information and travel details
Preparing the place of the venue

Youth Projects: Programme Formats

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The roots of international youth meetings grow deep and go back to the end of II. World War. Reconciliation and international understanding were the main motivation to organise international meetings and exchanges. Objectives were therefore: reconciliation of formerly warring countries, international understanding between countries and breaking down prejudices.

Several organizations were founded, which organised youth exchange projects to reach these objectives, including the American Field Service (AFS), Youth for Understanding (YFU), the International Christian Youth Exchange (ICJA), the International Youth Community Services (IJGD). A lot of them work on an international level; others, like the German-French Youth Office or the Polish-German Youth Office focus on a bilateral exchange.

In 1988, the “first edition” of today’s Erasmus+ Youth in Action programme started. This programme addressed and addresses in particular young people, which couldn’t be reached by other programmes so far. Apart from European Programmes there exist various bilateral programmes for youth exchanges, e.g. the German-French Youth Office (since 1963), the German-Polish Youth Office (since 1991) or the Polish-Lithuanian Youth Exchange Fund (since 1st June 2007). Most of them support bilateral, but also trilateral school and youth exchanges between their countries.

During the years, the original objective of reconciliation changed into the aim of raising intercultural understanding and intercultural learning. Special attention is given to the educational framework and the various forms – so called programme formats – of international meetings and encounters.

Possible formats of international youth projects could be:

  • Exchange (visit and return visit), e.g. school exchange,
  • (“Classic” International) Youth exchange (or: youth encounter),
  • Youth meeting,
  • Workcamp,
  • Mid-term and long-term volunteer work,
  • Study visits,
  • Youth initiatives,
  • Learning partnerships,
  • Internships,
  • etc.

Starting to collect ideas for your intercultural youth project often shows, that certain ideas are already connected to a specific programme format of a project, e.g. a study-visit for teachers on multilingual school systems, a summer camp with youngsters on Visions for Europe, a renovation of a historical castle within an international workcamp, the encounter of two school classes working together on a Polish-Lithuanian cooking book.

Depending on the format you would like to realise your idea with, you will have to carefully choose a funding organisation and check with their philosophy and rules for organising international youth projects. Not all ideas can be realised with every funding organisation!

The most common programme formats for international youth projects are youth exchanges, youth initiatives and seminar and training courses.

Youth exchanges

Youth Exchanges are bilateral, trilateral or multilateral meetings/ encounters of young people or youth groups, working on a common topic and/or carry out a project together.

Youth exchanges are bilateral, trilateral or multilateral meetings/encounters of young people or youth groups who work on a common topic or carry out a project together.

Youth exchanges are neither exchange visits nor excursions. The joint programme of various activities provide an opportunity for a valuable non-formal and intercultural learning experience. They require active participation of young people, that enable them to discover, explore and compare different individual, social and cultural realities.

This gives young people not only a chance to go abroad and meet peers from other countries, but enables them to become aware of individual, social and cultural similarities and differences. They get to know at the same time their neighbouring and their own country and culture better, while learning actively from one another.

Watch more videos on youth exchanges: Erasmus+ Key-Action 1: Youth Exchanges

Youth Initiatives

Youth Initiatives are informal groups of young people, that develop and carry out their own idea for a project by themselves, aiming at a high level of self-direction and active involvement of young people in all stages of a project.

In youth initiatives young people play the main role: a project is initiated, set up and carried out by young people themselves, which gives them the opportunity to try out their own ideas. From the very beginning, young people are actively engaged in planning, preparing and implementing and evaluating their own project.

Youth initiatives affect various areas of young peoples life. They can lead to various activities: a street festival, a music event, a photo exhibition, a youth meeting, a debate, a research, etc.

Active participation in a youth initiative gives young people the opportunity to make an important non-formal learning experience. They have the chance to speak out on their needs and interests concerning their local community or regional environment, as well as on world-wide issues. They learn to develop their ideas, to involve and to motivate others, to initiate, to set up and to carry out their own project.

Seminar and training courses

Seminar and training courses: platforms to exchange and spread examples of good practise between Polish and Lithuanian organisations, aiming at a higher quality in youth work practise and youth work policy.

Seminars and training courses aim at achieving a higher quality in youth work practise and youth work policy. They provide a platform to exchange and spread examples of good practise between Polish and Lithuanian organisations.

Seminars give participants the opportunity to share experience, exchange and discuss good practise, get new theoretical knowledge on a chosen theme, that is relevant in the field of Polish-Lithuanian youth work.

Training courses are educational learning programmes on specific topics. They enable participants to develop and/or broaden specific competences (knowledge, skills and abilities).

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Designing a Programme for International Youth Projects

A good programme has to fulfil various criteria. It should…

  • be developed and designed together with the partner and – if possible – together with the young people,
  • respond to and include interests and expectations of all people involved,
  • follow the non-formal learning approach,
  • include methods of intercultural learning.

With this you ensure, that your projects fulfill the quality criteria of the Polish-Lithuanian Youth Exchange Fund: equal partnership, active involvement of youth (participation), non-formal learning and intercultural learning. In the following sub-chapters we present some ideas that help you to design a good programme.

The topic and content

Meeting young people from another culture – that’s it? – All international youth projects are about bringing young people with different individual and cultural backgrounds together. They differ very much in their topics chosen for the encounter. Whether young people discuss about and work on topics like youth subcultures, unemployment, dreams and future perspectives, ecological matters, historical issues, love, passion, etc. a common theme gives them the opportunity to exchange different individual and cultural point of views and therefore discover similarities and differences. Metaphorically, a common theme is like the roof of a house. Under this roof, your participants meet one another, get to know themselves better and share their views on this topic.

The topic you choose should be interesting, inspiring and/or challenging. The better it meets the interests and needs of the young people, the easier it is to find participants for your project and to put it into reality. To ensure this, you should involve young people as early as possible in developing and formulating a suitable theme.

After choosing and formulating a common theme (and an attractive title!), you can think of different activities, that you can use to address your topic with: discussions, small group activities, excursions, presentations, practical workshops, creative arts, etc. A lot of organisers choose for their international youth projects a practical project related to the main topic, e.g. a graffiti project, a theatre performance, a photo exhibition, a music event, a video presentation, a street festival. Usually these activities are also carried out under a certain headline, e.g. a theatre play on stereotypes, a photo exhibition on cultural identity, a music event on youth subcultures.

Developing a „blueprint” of the project

A blueprint links all your different activities together. It helps you to avoid, that your programme falls apart in different bits and pieces, that don’t have anything in common. A blueprint gives you a focus, a story-line and helps you to design your programme in a more holistic way.

A blueprint can be developed with the help of thematic links (using “the topic as a roof”). Another way of linking different activities lies in the style of working and the methods used.

Blueprints based on thematic links

  • A topic could be split into daily-/weekly slogans: a project on water could face on several days different aspects, e.g. water as a natural environment, water as energy source, water used/wasted in our everyday life, etc.
  • The principle of water circuities is about exploring first the closer aspects and later the further or more general aspects of a topic. For example a project on ecological lifestyle could start with the participants point of view, introduce the work of the hosting organisation, visits of some initiatives who promote different aspects of ecology in the local surroundings of the hosting organisation and end in a discussion on global implications.
  • An approach from political education follows usually three steps: First, you clarify your idea and gather as many information about one topic. Second, you analyse and evaluate this information. And third, on the base of this, you plan an action. A youth initiatives on ways out of unemployment could start with a research on the situation of unemployed young people, lead into creating ideas for ways out of this, which will be presented in a theatre play in a local youth centre.

Blueprints based on methodology and/or methods used

  • Every project based work implies to split the overall project into smaller pieces, the so called milestones, that lead into an end product. Most of them are at the same time linked to certain media or creative methods.
  • Working with media, e.g. film, video, photography also suggest a certain procedure. Choosing a topic and places to take pictures, taking pictures, developing them, choosing pictures for an exhibition, creating headlines and/or descriptions, publishing flyers and opening the exhibition at the end.
  • Working with creative methods like various forms of theatre, dance or making music also gives your project a structure: developing a street theatre play on social exclusion could for example mean to train improvisation, to develop a script, to learn and perform roles, to develop clothes and equipment for the play and choose a time and place for the performance. The performance and involvement of participants in the streets into discussions would mark the final step of the event.

Developing a ”plot”

Like in a movie, a “plot” gives some drive to your project and keeps the curiosity and motivation up. You can reach this with the following ideas:

  • You can design your programme like a treasure hunt or a set of riddles. Everyday participants discover part of the treasure or solve a part of the riddle. At the end of the event, they get the whole picture or solution.
  • A similar idea are discoveries or research on traces, e.g. to track with pictures various traces of History, Jewish influences, different cultural roots, etc.
  • Another way is linking different activities with a story or fairy tale. Games, especially team development exercises, are linked with a story, that challenge the team spirit. Or you organise a chain of games.

As mentioned above, project work with its milestones and its end product could also serve as a plot. A lot of organisers give their participants the opportunities to work parallelly with different media. Different working groups deal with the same topic, but work on this topic with different methods, e.g. theatre, dance, music. A common presentation at the end could be the highlight of the event.

Obvious and self-evident things

Last, but not least, a few smaller things should be mentioned. They are self-evident. Nevertheless, they should not be neglected in planning the programme:

  • to prepare participants before the activity,
  • to give short introductions into the day to give everyone orientation,
  • to encourage daily reflections to give participants and team a chance to review what happened and – if necessary – adopt the programme,
  • to change and balance ways of working, e.g. working forms and methods, action and relaxation, national and international mixed groups, …,
  • to bring together experience and results at the end, e.g. in a thematic meal, a quiz show, a photo-exhibition, a theatre/film-/music-performance in order to exchange, what had been realised and celebrate the success,
  • to ensure mid-term and final evaluation to better monitor the process and change course, but also to be able,
  • to improve your next youth project to plan follow-up activities that make your project results available for other people interested.

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Useful links

Online Course (Canvas) Erasmus+ Funding Opportunities for Youth
Youth Exchanges (youtube playlist) Erasmus+ Key-Action 1: Youth Exchanges

You may also read…

BlogPost Initiating and Facilitating Intercultural Learning in Youth Exchanges and Workcamps
BlogPost Interkulturelles Lernen in Jugendbegegnungen und Workcamps initiieren und begleiten
BlogPost Spiele und Übungen für internationale Begegnungen, Seminare und Trainings


Publication (ebook): Games and Exercises for International Workcamps and Seminars
Publication (ebook): Przygotowanie polsko-litewskich projektów młodziezowych

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Youth Projects 101 [Gianandrea Villa via unsplash]
Youth Projects 101 [James Baldwin via unsplash]