PRAGUE – We are a group of 22 walking through the streets of Prague in these matching dark blue t-shirts.
Most of us are girls (almost) in their early adult years, but none of us look anything alike.
Sometimes I wondered what people would think when looking at this big group finding their way through the city.
A school trip is the most obvious answer to that question.
No one can know that in this group of very special people, more than a dozen countries are represented at Youth Journalism International’s 2023 Global Conference in Prague.
And these 13 countries means 13 different cultures, which makes comparing one thing to the other the most common topic of conversation. Questions go from, what do you normally eat for breakfast? to How do drivers licenses work in your country? And, How is public transport where you live?
We are exploring this new city with 20 different visions and all these different cultures to compare it to. It is traveling times a hundred.
I already spent a lot of time traveling through capital cities in Europe. But this dynamic makes it such another experience.
At left, Anne van Mill, left, and Holly Hostettler-Davies, right, show off henna designs that Arooj Khalid, center, drew on their hands. (YJI photo) At right, Regina López, Ana Fadul and Anne van Mill in Prague. (YJI photo)
It feels like I wasn’t only able to travel to the Czech Republic – a country I hadn’t been before – but I visited so many other places in that conference week.
That’s how I learned about the noise on the streets of Mexico City.
I learned that Cyprus is split into a Turkish part and a Greek part.
I learned about public transportation in Bangladesh.
I learned how Hong Kong is different from China.
I learned about climate change in California.
I learned a lot about the English language.
It’s hard not being able to express yourself with the words you have been using since you first started to speak. But when surrounded by the right people, you will be understood and you can make it work.
I learned about my own culture, because you only see the special things about your own country when you have something to compare it with.
But most of all, I learned that you can put 22 totally different people, visions and cultures in the same place, and experience the most respectful and loving environment I have ever been in.
Anne van Mill is a Senior Photographer and Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International from the Netherlands. She wrote this essay and made the cover photo.
Mary Majerus-Collins is an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International from the United States. She contributed the photo from Petřín Hill.