IYC 2019 Czech Republic – by Betty Bartoňová

Two years ago I was scrolling down this website that I came across by chance, and I remember hesitating whether or not to participate in this friendly looking camp. At the time I had no idea how much it was going to change me, enrich my life and bring so many amazing people on my pathway.

For my second year, when I first heard that IYC would take place in the Czech Republic, I wasn’t that excited, I wasn’t even sure whether to come. (I am from Czech Republic). But I couldn’t be more wrong. As soon as I saw the people I knew from the previous year, I realized that even if the camp took place in an unwelcoming desert, it would still be a highlight of the year.

My camp started a day in advance, when 8 other people and I were squeezing in my brother’s tiny flat in the center of Prague, so we could easily pick up the bus the next day. It’s funny how close you can get to people in one night, people that you almost don’t know. No matter how much stress I felt before, it was suddenly all gone.

The bus we took was full of other IYC participants, which already felt just great, as the camp was really beginning. One more thing I remember from the drive was the moment when I had to buy about 30 bus tickets, because I was the only one who understood the bus driver.

When we finally made it to the camp, we were welcomed by staff members and other participants, giving us warm hugs. The place was stunning – a dense field surrounded by forest and a nearby river swashing amongst the trees. The staff already built the kitchen, the white marquee (huge white tent) and the coolest hand-made toilets I ever used (on the first day it smelled like freshly chopped wood!) We were driven into the life of the camp, not knowing what it was going to bring.

The next day we could choose an activity to help refine the campsite and make it our own ‘home’. I was in the kitchen, preparing lunch for about 90 people. The cooking itself was fun and I was impressed how precisely made the kitchen was, built in such a short time. The meals on the camp are generally a real bliss – I always want to get the recipes.

The next morning we were divided into groups of 9, our four day hike was about to start. We were given a map, some food and set free to our destinies. We were discovering the beauty of the Czech nature and building trust amongst each other. Walking in the daylight is so much fun, but the dark might be scary. Although our group wasn’t very lucky about the sleeping place, we ended up sleeping in the playground, huddling in the cold night breeze. I can’t say it was the most comfortable night, but would I remember it so well if it was? And waking up next to slides and monkey bars gave our adventure the right hint.

The second day into the hike, we met all the other groups in the evening on the second campsite, sharing our stories and experiences from the hike. The strongest of us set up for another hike on the third day, but I stayed on the campsite with the majority, relaxing and enjoying the company of others. When we all got back to the first campsite on the fourth day, it felt almost as if we were a different group. Slowly we were creating a community and as we started getting closer to each other, the atmosphere of the camp changed. I forgot my phone, I forgot the time and I felt alive more than ever, present in each moment. The days went fast, all in the same pattern, yet each unique. I find it hard to pick my favorite part, because all of them took their place at the right time (although I was almost always late).

Eating porridge in the circle in the morning. Singing and bursting into laughter when nobody sang it right. Singing again and being carried away by astonishing music. Building an escape room with my marvelous workshop. Jumping into the freezing water. Visiting the wonderful farm of Joachim who let us stay on his property. Walking barefoot. Breathing the fresh air. Doing stupid crazy things. Having eye-opening conversations. And simply living where we were.

Although the camp is filled with excitement, sometimes I really need to calm down and just sit quietly with my own thoughts. The closing of the day was perfect for this, hearing nothing but the nature falling asleep. However the camp isn’t falling asleep when it gets dark. Grab your cosy sweater and don’t forget the cup – it’s time for hot chocolate by the campfire (and if you’re lucky, you might get some cookies too)! The stars, the fire and amazing people around. What more to ask?

It was the moment I found myself sitting alone in a familiar bus taking me back to my hometown when I realized the camp was over. There was a sudden emptiness, as I was left alone with my memories, but I felt so rich and grateful for all I was given during the past two weeks. IYC is a place where I can be myself, without the fear of not being accepted. It’s a place where different cultures meet, each person with their unique story and background, yet we all create one beautiful community.

•  Betty Bartoňová, participant of IYC 2019  •

If you enjoyed bettys story you can read more articles here