Swapping perspectives: An online youth exchange

Marie Hartlieb
Jul 22, 2020 · 4 min read
Gökçe Göbüt, Istanbul
Gökçe Göbüt, Istanbul

Creative Swap — that’s an eight day exchange program where young people in different countries meet online. They get to know each other, work in groups, take photographs and create an online exhibition on Instagram.

Creative Swap was developed for times like these — Corona times. Physical youth exchanges all over the world have been cancelled. The only way young people can experience different perspectives and cultures right now is through online programs. At Creative Swap fifteen young people from Germany and Turkey got together online in July 2020. Through workshops on photography and social media they acquired new skills on digital art and expression. At the same time they got together in three groups where they exchanged personal perspectives and their images on a daily basis. Independently they created topics that were important to their lives, such as “moment”, “left behind” or “vitality” that they discussed and created a series of images from. All the while they were staying in different places, from Berlin and Istanbul to Samsun, Didim, Lübeck, Görlitz and even the Võru Forest.

left: Photography by Pelin Çetin, Istanbul — right: Photography by Eve Hamann, Görlitz

When pictures become personal

Photography became a tool to connect and express perspectives. Even though the participants were not able to be physically together they could give each other insights into their very personal lives through the pictures they took. They discussed what the pictures meant to them and what they wanted to convey to the viewer. Quickly this structure created a very vivid exchange. “It was very inspiring to see how everyone approaches subjects and topics differently”, says Burak from Istanbul. For instance one group picked the theme “escape” and discussed how the current situation made them want to escape physically but also mentally and what strategies they used for their escape. In the end, the images the groups took did not stay within the frame of the exchange, but were exhibited online on Instagram.

Instagram: @creative_swap

Pushing the boundaries of Instagram art

Instagram was explored by the participants as a platform that does not only exhibit the lives we wish we’d have, but gives space to a whole different way of art and creativity. “I didn’t know social media could be that eye opening. We exchanged interesting accounts to follow in our groups. It really made me learn about other world views and makes me want to use my own Instagram differently from now on”, says Mathis from Lübeck. Other participants also mentioned they felt more encouraged to share their own works and communicate their perspectives on social media.

The exhibition of Creative Swap on Instagram shows very vividly the processes the participants went through and the perspectives they wanted to share. It gives insights into young people’s lives in this challenging time and is witness to the process of this online exchange. At the same time Creative Swap explores how the boundaries of social media can be pushed much further.

Online exchange and its very rewarding aspects

However, the actual outcome of the online exchange was not the exhibition, but the process and interaction behind it. Sharing thoughts and different life perspectives was impactful for the participants. “It was such a relief after the whole Corona anxieties we’ve gone through”, finds Gökçe from Istanbul. “I wish this would continue a bit longer, we have just started getting to know each other”, adds Ipek from Samsun.

Instagram: @creative_swap

The participants also emphasised on the positive aspects of the program being online. “I think some of us might not be able to participate if this exchange was offline”, says Eve from Görlitz. The threshold that a physical youth exchange brings, such as travel regulations, family concerns and duties with school and jobs, had diminished and this meant more diversity within the group, more differences in perspectives, more creative ideas and thought processes. At the same time the interaction within the groups became intense astonishingly quickly. “I feel like we shared some very personal stuff directly from the beginning”, says Hannah from Istanbul. “Maybe it was because we interacted from the safe and familiar space of our own homes. So we felt more comfortable to speak openly and share our thoughts honestly.” The participants have stayed in contact via social media and are already planning another meeting — somewhere between Turkey and Germany, or online again.

Creative Swap was developed by Friendzone.Studio together with Maviblau and Katadrom. The project was funded by the Deutsch-Türkische Jugendbrücke.