Going to IAYC 2022 was my first time being on a plane alone. I had never been away from home for that long by myself, let alone on another continent. When I arrived in Germany, my suitcase wasn’t there, it had been lost on the way. Another participant kindly offered to let me -stay at his house the night before camp because he lived close to the airport. So there I was, in a strange country, with no suitcase, going to stay with someone I didn’t know. Sounds scary, right? Well, it was. But as soon as I got there, I found a warm welcome hug and a helping hand. The IAYC spirit was already there, even before camp officially started. The next day, we left for the camp and already started meeting people at the train station. There were some faces I recognised from the Facebook group, and some new ones. Some were oldies with t-shirts from past camps, and some newbies as lost as me, but everyone was extremely excited about what was about to start. The camp started, and as the days went by, the IAYC atmosphere started to settle. Most of us didn’t know each other before, but in there it was as if we’d been friends for years. As soon as people found out I’d lost my things, everyone offered to lend me stuff. For a week I was using other people’s t-shirts and shampoo until my suitcase eventually arrived. Everyone was so kind to me that I didn’t even have time to worry about my luggage being lost. That’s how IAYC felt to me, it didn’t matter where you were from, what you did before or what you were going through, there was always someone there willing to help, or just give you a hug when you needed it.
The camp started rolling and we started working on our projects. I was in EXPANSE, a group focused on exploring the relationship between astronomy and culture, with emphasis on sustainability. My project was about the sky as a source of cultural preservation and transmission, and access to a dark night sky as a human right. Before camp, I thought an astronomy project could only be about observing, doing physics or coding, but there I discovered it can be so much more than that, and researching on my topic was super interesting. During working group, I had to learn to work in a different way. The leaders weren’t teachers, and they wouldn’t tell me what to do. It was tough at times (you can ask my leader Hannah how much I annoyed her with questions) but in the end, I learned a lot. I learned from my leader and the material I read, but also from my amazing partners, who were always there with snacks and hugs when my excel spreadsheets crashed.
But not everything was work at IAYC, there was also NAP (Non-Astronomical Programme) where I had so much fun playing games (and discovered a very competitive side of me for the working group competition), learned about other cultures, and shared nights of singing under the stars. Throughout the whole camp, there were parties, workshops, excursions, and tons of games and talks during free time. I realised there are many ways to enjoy camp. Some people were keen on observing and would take the telescopes out every night, some would spend hours with the camp guitars, and others would enjoy just laying down in their sleeping bags and having long talks under the stars. You don’t need to be a certain way to enjoy IAYC, you don’t need to know a lot about astronomy or have many titles, you just need to be yourself, and to be open to sharing that with others and listening to what they have to share with you.
I believe every experience at IAYC is unique. I can tell you mine, but it will probably be different from the other 59 participants that shared the camp with me. What I can tell you for sure is that you will learn a lot, about astronomy, about other cultures, and mostly, about yourself. You will do things you would have never imagined, from carrying out a research project by yourself to learning highland dancing or salsa. You will make friendships so strong that you won’t believe it’s only been three weeks. If you are wondering whether you should apply: I know it looks challenging and scary, especially if you come from far away like me, or if English is not your first language. But trust me, you won’t believe how after only three weeks you will have a new place, thousands of kilometres away, that you will be able to call home.