International exchange and encounter: the case of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council

Authors: Jacob Fairless Nicholson*, King's College London - London
Topics: Historical Geography
Keywords: Informal education, decolonisation, young people, international exchange
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper takes as its focus the experiences of young people of colour from London taking part in international exchanges to post-colonial countries in the Caribbean, South America and eastern Africa in the 1980s. The exchanges, which lasted several weeks and consisted of sight-seeing, educational excursions and participation in community projects, were funded by the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council (CYEC), an educational charity founded in 1970 with close ties to the British establishment. CYEC’s aims, practised through the exchanges, were an attempt to plaster over the cracks that decolonisation wrought on British colonialism and included the promotion of peace, community values and a shared sense of identity between Commonwealth nations. In this sense, CYEC was a mechanism through which the impact of decolonisation on the quotidian lives of British people could be mitigated and controlled. For the few Black and mixed groups the council supported however, the exchanges provided an opportunity for young people of colour to contest this notion of decolonisation by exploring pan-African heritage and Black consciousness, culture and history. For these groups, the exchanges constituted decolonial spaces in which, for example, the representation of black people at all levels of society could be experienced, and through which Eurocentric attitudes could be problematised. Through analysis of newly deposited archival records of the exchanges in London, and original oral history interviews with exchange participants, the paper provides an opening for looking back at young people's experiences of transnational friendship, encounter and solidarity from a historical-geographical perspective.

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