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Reflecting on our Role in the World – oikos Rite of Passage in retrospect

Throughout life we experience many changes, whether they’re big or small, we tend to gain awareness only after we’d go through one of them. Looking back at our own lives we can easily point out a moment, a thought, an action we took that had an effect on how our story would unravel later on.

On the other hand, many of us look forward and whether we have our goals set and futures planned out or not and despite our eagerness or ambition, it’s often hard to set the point at which we’ll be certain a big change would take place. However it is not impossible, undoubtedly some of us do have the capacity to reflect and act upon it on our own, but many of us need guidance, a helping hand to prepare us for this exact process.

In order to reach out a helping hand to guide young people through this transition, we have created a Rite of Passage program. These helping hands carry their own experience, along with wisdom once passed onto them by those before them, even going many generations back. Various rites of passages persist in cultures around the world, often differing from one another in certain aspects. What binds them together is an idea behind most of them of transitioning between stages of life, with gaining a sense of one’s own gifts and roles in the world.

Our own Rite of Passage likewise focuses on the transition, but one seemingly not honored as much, especially relevant for our community of students and that is the transition from studenthood to responsible adulthood. Maybe even often overlooked in the world where studying for exams and writing theses is almost instantly replaced with the demands and pressures of work life. It is what leaves many students asking themselves – ‘what next?’ and experiencing anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, before their student journeys even comes to an end.

Through this program we aim to support students in finding a sense of who they are and empower them in this very transition. Time this year, we organized a pilot version of the Rite of Passage – a five-day journey on which the oikos International team had joined in as participants. This meant that, on one hand we could embark on a ‘prototype’ journey with some experimentation and learnings to take from it, which could then be applied for such programs in the future. On the other hand, along with individual journeys of growing up, we could partly focus on the journey of oikos as a collective and an organization.

The pilot took place at the end of April in Biofalu – an eco village in rural Hungary. Starting off with the venue itself, calling it a perfect fit would be an understatement. A large patch of land which has been a reforestation site for over two decades provided the participants with a retreat far from the busy everyday lives of our cities and universities. Here we could connect with the nature, in awe of beauty surrounding us. From tranquil ponds, over gentle hills, down to windy meadows, in sun or rain, the land was there for taking it all in, calling out to be explored and enjoyed, alone or in the company of an occasional shy deer or a busy beetle.

Biofalu, Hungary

It was not only the land that called to be explored, but also each of us individually by none other than ourselves. That journey is not as easy on our own, which is why we had professional facilitators Chris and Julia to be the guiding light and prepare us to go through the transition. The two had supported many youth over the years in their own rites. Both with plenty of experience and stories to tell and yet, it was in many ways their own journey as much as it was ours.

Chris and Julia had done an amazing job in creating a sometimes intense, yet at all times fulfilling program which had a lasting impact on all the participants. Throughout the program, we enjoyed an atmosphere in which everyone could feel safe and without judgment, which created a circle of understanding and mutual support in which everyone could thrive. It was this sense of trust which helped form strong connections with both the facilitators and participants.

These connections were at the core of the Rite of Passage experience, and not only with each other, but also with our surroundings. From the moment each of us walked in, we were given the space to get to know the land which would be our home over the next few days, take it all in and feel connected with it. The ‘day 0’ was the day for arrival and the much needed landing, after our Team’s few intense and busy weeks on the road with the LEAP YOUth Kick-off Meeting and oikos ICC which happened just days prior.

Setting up the program’s framework, responsibilities and ground rules together as we gathered, we prepared to embark on our Rite of Passage over the course of the next five days. Each day was centered around a specific dimension or an element of the program: softening, revealing, challenging and committing. From adapting to the program’s pace and environment, through reflecting on and discovering the issues each of us faces, to challenging ourselves and ultimately setting up the next steps – each day represented, in a way, a stage of transition.

It’s important to note that when sharing with you a part of the Rite of Passage experience, we refrain from going into too many details and specific aspects of the program’s agenda. The reasoning behind it is simple – maybe one day you – the reader, may be the one to participate in the Rite of Passage, hence in order to make that future experience more authentic and ever more impactful, it’s best to approach it with the mind as a blank canvas.

The program agenda and activities were conscious of the differing needs and inclinations among the participants, hence it maintained the right balance, providing enough space and time for individual and group work, as well as between staying active and unwinding. Physical activity was an important part of our Rite of Passage, whether by discovering the green acres of land, helping our hosts with work or engaging in the expressive biodanza sessions. In contrast, sitting down on the sunny porch at day or on the cozy pile of pillows at night in the company of each other not only helped relax, but also connect on a deeper level, even in between the activities.

Working on the land

On the individual level, there was plenty of space for each of us to take a deep dive into our inner selves, reflecting and exploring where we are in life and where we would like it to take us. The journey was no doubt an emotional one, at times it may have been confusing or difficult to deal with, but it never lacked the support from the group when trying to find meaning in all of it. It allowed us and even encouraged us to challenge ourselves and learn from it, overcoming the obstacles that arise and become aware of what each of us is truly capable of. The balance between individual and group, as well as between moving our bodies and minds, helped relieve the pressure and made the journey feel not as overwhelming.

As a team, these five days shaped up and helped us grow. Even though we all had our individual journeys to take, we were in it all together and never really alone in it. The experience strengthened bonds within the team and helped us connect with each other on a deeper level, growing more aware of each others’ needs, but also capabilities and potentials. Through the program we collectively reflected on and questioned the meaning of oikos, where it is today and where it needs to be in the future, aligning different perspectives and learning from them.

Today, over half a year since we as a team had undergone the Rite of Passage, we often look back to it with fond memories and collective acknowledgement of how special and important it was for everyone who was a part of it. As a fully remote organization, whose team is scattered across multiple continents, this experience helped overcome the difficulties the distance between us creates. It changed the way we approach issues and challenges that may arise in our everyday work, nurturing the culture of openness and deeper understanding between us.

oikos team will continue to develop strategies for further growth of our network that is continuously creating meaningful contributions for a more sustainable world. Completing the pilot gave us new learnings and useful insights, not only in what direction we see our organization growing in the future, but also in terms of shaping it into a long-term program supporting our student community. We see the potential supportive role oikos can have a role for our students in the transition between ‘studenthood and adulthood’.

The Rite of Passage pilot was an innovative opportunity to explore a different approach to the topics that we as an organization focus on such as leadership, responsibility, mental health and personal development. Our Leadership Program LEAP tackles these topics as well, however from a different perspective and with a different purpose, hence why we see the Rite of Passage fitting right in with the rest of the programs oikos creates and offers students.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the generous donors who had supported our campaign raising funds for the Rite of Passage pilot. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Oasis Foundation for their support in the realization of this program.