Written by Willemijn
A year ago I went to my first Erasmus+ exchange for people who stutter. It was an eyeopening experience. For the first time, I felt what it was like to be completely free from stuttering. And I didn’t even have to be fluent to experience that! The only thing I needed was people who understood. Who knew exactly what I felt, who didn’t finish my sentences, who didn’t care about my stutter. I suddenly realized how negative my thoughts always were when interacting with people. I never noticed these thoughts, because they had always been there. It was normal to always think I was 0-1 behind in making a first impression. I was used to feeling less than others. It became clear to me how negative my thoughts always were, when they suddenly disappeared while being at this camp. It was an amazing experience, that made me rethink how my stutter was affecting my life. At this camp, I still stuttered, but I could still communicate and feel comfortable. It taught me that if I feel like my stutter holds me back, it’s not the stutter itself. It’s my negative thoughts surrounding it.
Last year’s camp gave me a boost, but as the year continued I felt more negative about my stutter again. I missed the freeing feeling of ‘comfortably stuttering’. So I signed up again, and was super happy to hear that I could come to the Erasmus+ exchange 2019 too.
At the start of the week I was a bit afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I didn’t feel the magic of last year, which was partly because of the environment. This camp was super close to my house, which made me feel like I was still close to my negative feelings I had left at home.
Luckily I quickly stopped comparing and having expectations. Whatever this camp was going to give me, I still had last year’s camp in my memory and nothing was going to change that. This new mindset allowed me to start fresh.
I tried talking to as many people as I could, even people I didn’t immediately feel a connection with. I’m glad I did, because it sparked a lot of great conversations. I loved seeing so many people who had never met people who stuttered before. It reminded me of how I felt last year, and how amazing that was. The growth I saw in people was beautiful. People stopped hiding their stutter, made more eye-contact and became more open about their feelings. I think everyone cried at one point, and I loved that. It allowed me to cry as well, and I did. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. This happened at the open mic, which was the highlight of the week. Everyone was super emotional, sharing their experiences and stories, while facing their biggest fear. I didn’t cry because of a particular speech, I was just so touched by being in this environment that contained so much unconditional love.
It was an amazing experience. For one week, I felt like I was in a completely different world. Most of the time I had no idea what day it was. I woke up happy and went to bed happy (and usually drunk). I’ve talked, laughed, cried and hugged more in this week than I did my entire life. When I told my mom about this, she said: ‘you’d almost want to stutter as well, just so you can go there too.’
I want to end this blog with what I wrote to all the participants on Instagram:
Having a ‘disability’ that is always on the back of your mind when you interact with people, and then going to a camp where everyone has that exact same ‘disability’. It’s the most amazing feeling ever, it connects everyone immediately even though we are from super different cultures. To me, this camp is a week of finally feeling normal. 100% myself, free, open, happy, confident, accepted, loving, supportive, positive and emotional as fuck. For many of us it’s the best week of our lives, and I’m so thankful for that. I hope to see you all soon, I need it. ❤️❤️