The day after I turned 30, I hopped on a train to London, made my way to St Pancras International station and boarded the Eurostar – destination, Le Mans! The reason for my journey was to attend a training course, funded by Erasmus+ (yes, the same people who run the university exchange) and open to participants from across Europe.
The topic of the week focused around the No Hate Speech Movement, set up by the Council of Europe, which aims to educate people on the forms of hate speech, where it is found and what actions you can take to combat it.
On a personal level, this training course woke me up to the reality of hate speech. As a white, British, straight female, I’ve not come across much hate speech directed at me personally. I glossed over what I saw online, inwardly condemning the people who wrote it, but not thinking about the causes or the effects that it can have on the victims. I wasn’t an ally, I was a bystander. I came away from this training much more aware of the damage that hate speech can cause, and the ways in which it has crept into our daily lives through social media, sensationalist tabloid headlines and online comments.
Considering the year we have had in the UK (*cough* Brexit *cough*) and the fact that the US elections happened during the week-long course, this training could not have come at a more relevant time. It’s no secret that there has been a rise in reports of hate crimes in the UK since June, and the US seems to be following the same trend since the election. But now, rather than sitting and feeling helpless about what I am witnessing online, this course has made me consider the actions that I can actually take to combat Hate Speech when I encounter it. From reporting hate speech online to running workshops on hate speech to the young people I work with, I now have practical actions which I can take to stem the tide of hate and anger which I see in our society.
But the week wasn’t all doom and gloom!
I don’t think I have ever been on a course or volunteering project where I felt so immediately at home and comfortable with the people I was sharing my time with. Participants from UK, France, Slovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia and Greece came together with one thing in common – huge hearts and a desire to be part of a happier, more inclusive world. We explored the beautiful city of Le Mans together, we exchanged our food and customs from across Europe, we shared the similarities and differences of language and had fun making fun of ourselves! Of course, being in France, I consumed much more bread, cheese and red wine than is required in one person’s diet, and had a lovely time doing it!
For anyone thinking of attending a training in Europe, I say do it. I have had great experiences, met wonderful people and had my eyes opened to new ideas and discussion which have benefited me both in my work and personal life. All this was provided for free, and even my travel costs were covered (well, most of it) Fingers crossed the next training course won’t be far away!