As I reflect on the week I spent in Denmark on the Erasmus+ course called Tools for cultural change, I feel grateful. This intensive program dived into the complexities of cultural transformation, offering both profound insights and amazing connections. GEN Finland was the partner in Finland for this course.
Trains & boats
It was suggested that of possible, arrival over land instead of flying was preferred. The Finnish team took up the challenge and so we took the trains to Turku and met each other in the Port of Turku, ready to take our LNG-powered cruise ship to Stockholm. From there we'd take the high-speed train to Copenhagen and finally to Lundby, the station closest to Avnø Oasis Ecovillage. The trip took me 23 hours, and some of the participants a bit longer as they lived farther from Turku, but all in all it was really amazing to travel somewhat slower.
The week began under the warm sun and a gentle sea breeze, with our teachers Jan and Ruben guiding us through the practicalities of the week and us taking the first steps as a group. We participated in exercises aimed at promoting unity through movement and sound. The focus of the day was on getting to know the course objectives, the place, each other and also have a think about what actually is culture and how it can be created consciously. The evening program of participant's project presentations was cut short as everyone was so horribly tired, and after a few presentations the group decided to postpone half of the presentations to another evening.
The second day was slightly less tired. We began the day in a circle, as we would everyday, moving our bodies a bit, listening to each other and seeing if everyone's needs were being met. Already by day two we were noticing that there were some differences in how people see needs - does one need coffee? Does one need a mold-free room? Does one need to go to Copenhagen to see the sights? Does one need to feel safe and listened? Some of the questions that didn't really get an answer on day two. I'll get back to this at the end.
Anyhow, the program was interesting as we learned the basics of permaculture, got some insights on different decision making methods, reflected on our limiting beliefs and started the three-step session based on the 4D framework of Gaia Education with the session "What is now", looking at how the world is today. Many of the discussed themes were not new to me, but I enjoyed finding new perspectives to them and also learning from Ruben and Jan on how to teach them in an active way.
Changes & experiences
On Day 3, the course curriculum continued with a peek into zones and sectors in the social realm as well as the second part of the 4D Gaia workshop "Where do we want to go". In the afternoon we dove into the topic of communication. The participants were getting to know each other better and the chatting was getting more relaxed - apart from the tense morning circles!
Midweek brought great information and practical use of Cultural emergence tools created by Looby Macnamara. Having read the book, I really enjoyed a deeper look into the phases of Cultural emergence: Challenge & Awaken, Move & Invigorate, Nourish & Empower. Before lunch we had an amazing reflective meditation session guided by Jan. Through guided visualizations, we projected ourselves into a future where we conversed with a hypothetical generation. This introspective exercise prompted us to consider our responsibilities in crafting a better world, and quite a few tears were shed in the process.
The afternoon was spent on the beach, looking at jellyfish and talking. Such a nice outing!
In the evening we had our daily "Integration time" in our country teams. By that time some tensions had really crept up and the integration time was not pleasent in any way, as many of us saw "our" team as a safe place to vent about the problems we were dealing with. Looking back, it was a necessary part of the experience and brought much learning to share and listen, but at the time it was far from easy. As the second afternoon session had been scrapped to accommodate people's needs and wants for rest & connection with each other, our integration/rant time just seemed to stretch and stretch, untill finally dinner put a stop to it.
By day five there were some really bad tensions due to a few clashes in expectations about the course between some of the people sharing this experience. By accident, I ended up sort of mediating between two people that had by that time really lost the conversation connection to each other. It was certainly more interesting than the lecture I missed (not that it would have been boring either), and I felt grateful to be able to help somewhat. It didn't solve any problems, but eased the situation slightly.
A highlight for that day was also the open space session where I gave an insight into Looby's Design Web for two very interested participants! Another thing where I could contribute and help a little. After finishing that rather quick, I joined the sign language workshop by Maurizio, a sign language teacher from Italy. It was amazing to learn some signs and take inspiration from the friendly, clear yet very lively teaching style of his!
The sixth day started with a more peaceful morning circle and continued in the auditorium. Guided by Ruben, we scrutinized global sustainability frameworks, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and got to know EU's Green Deal in more detail. Engaging in small group discussions, we contemplated how these objectives might evolve to encompass regenerative principles.
After finalizing the 4D Gaia workshops with "Where are you in it", the World cafe tool was introduced. People really enjoyed that! As I already know the tool, I volunteered to facilitate a table, which was very rewarding.
After the evening rants and dinner we finally did the second part of the participant's project presentations, which were so interesting! I also got the chance to present Beyond Buckthorns, Nordic Permaculture and European Permaculture Network.
The final day was all about feedback and gratitude (as the some of the sessions were scrapped, we didn't have anything to present, hence the extra time). We discussed, wrote down and shared our next steps and dreams, which was really powerful. Lots of hugs and some tears too. We then taped some paper on our backs and wrote our coursemates lovely things on their papers. This fun activity ended up in a wild dance party, which after dinner continued as an improvised musical jamming session. I loved it!
The trip home started on Saturday morning and went nicely in about 25 hours. Tired but happy, the first thing I did at home was take a nap in my own bed.
Complexities and learning
Like mentioned, this journey was not without its challenges. As diverse needs and cultures converged, moments of tension and clashes emerged. Yet, looking back, these instances were integral to the learning process. They underscored the intricacies of navigating people's different language skills, personalities, health issues and neurodivergence as well as just the good old (unspoken) expectations people carry. The conflicts highlighted the significance of open dialogue and understanding, but how it is also important not to get drawn into people's spirals of erosion. It is possible to understand something, but not agree with it simultaneously.
In addition to the intellectual growth, the culinary dimension led by Kristiane and the Avnø Oasis community significantly enriched our experience. The macrobiotic meals were interesting, and did contibute to a more mindful consumption and a connection to the environment.
If my time with the Tools for cultural change course was transformative, time will tell. It certainly had the potential. I had several great ideas and revelations there, plus I learned a lot by looking at our teachers Jan and Ruben, as well as many of the other teachers that were participating in the course. I learned many methods that will enrich my own trainer journey. This experience reinforced that change requires both collaboration and introspection, and it highlighted the importance of engaging with diverse perspectives on the path to cultural evolution.
And what would the course have been without the people. Lovely connections and discussions, and perhaps a few budding friendships even. Loads of inspiration and vision on how to do things and what matters to others. Living pretty secluded doesn't always give opportunities to encounter that many people, and especially to be able to share with them such deep thoughts and dreams as on this course. For that I am deeply grafetul.