YMCA Europe Fest Travel Journal

Firsthand Experiences From Our Travelers

YMCA Europe Festival

An Amazing Day

By Emily Figueiredo


Today was an amazing day because it started with us attending an exciting meeting of US CEOs, senior staff, YUSA International Staff and YUSA COO, Kent Johnson. We attended as "flies on the wall" so that San Diego's rather recent commitment to being a Global Center of Excellence might benefit from hearing this meeting of the minds. There are so many exciting takeaways - from bringing diversity learning into our communities, to relationship building and the underlying benefits of exchange programs and empowering youth - so all 9 of us were motivated to see how this can play out in our association back home. We have an amazing opportunity to bring our community along in the global Y Movement. We are so much more than an organization with programs - we are a Movement mobilizing people to change their lives for the better and fulfill their potential as a kid, a teen, an adult and hopefully as a Y advocate.

After picking up a couple of souvenirs (for your friends at home) on our last full day in Prague, we headed back to the festival for a final workshop session, trading t-shirts, watching talented youth perform songs and dances (I love San Francisco's teen rap group, Y Project! They rap about the Y being a positive influence on them), snapping final photos and saying goodbye to our new, very wide network of global contacts. These young people are so talented and excited to change the world, and we are so inspired by them! Thank you, YMCA Europe Festival 2013! We Love2Live!

Prague day

By Kyle Broderick

8/7/13Prague Day

Today we adventured into the city of Prague for the "we love 2 live in Prague Day". This was a day of adventuring throughout the city with certain destinations learning about the YMCA movement history throughout Europe and the world. The adventure was fun because not only did we get to check out a beautiful city, but we got to do it in a group of 8,000 people. Although we were not at each destination at the same time, it was easy to spot our YMCA friends from throughout the world on trains, sidewalks, and at locations.

We began the day a few hours early in order to add some bucket list items to our long day of adventuring, so we decided as a team to visit the Prague Castle that rested in the center of the city. It was quite interesting to see the old architecture and the history. The Prague Castle was most likely founded in around 880.

After the castle we visited the Petrin tower. This tower was actually inspired by the Eiffel tower, and looked quite similar. It is must smaller than the Eiffel tower, but because of its unique location, the lookout deck is actually higher than the Eiffel tower. It was located on top of a very sizable hill that is accessible via cable car. The hill was covered in lush gardens, greenery, and old architecture. From the park or tower you had beautiful vast views of the city, river, and beautiful scenery of the Czech Republic.

Next we ventured to the YMCA Dixie Club, and learned about the outdoor and social work of the YMCA located in Prague. There were many outdoors activities within the small garden of the YMCA. They had a lot of different activities set up that centered around engaging youth. There was a small ropes course, zip lines, trampolines, soccer balls, volleyballs, and of course an American football.

One of our last stops was to the Palac YMCA for a history lesson scavenger hunt throughout the offices and hallways of their downtown located YMCA. This YMCA had a swimming pool on the roof, gym, offices, and reminded me very much of the Downtown YMCA in San Diego. During this segment of our adventure they shared the YMCA movement in Europe, how it was started and who started it.

Finally we went to the Final Manifestation of our day in the city and went to the Palachovo Square. This last segment of our adventure was set up as a meeting point for all 8,000 people to show up at the same time. It was right next to the main square of the City of Prague, and was on the lawns of a government building. This was a time for us to show Prague and Europe how big our YMCA really was. As a group we rejoiced in music and prayer, and it was quite the scene in the middle of the city!

Monday from Prague

By Andrew Cuffel


Following a colorful and unanticipated kickoff to the festival yesterday, I hardly knew what to expect entering today. It's hard to follow up an act that includes lightning storms illuminating the night sky and monsoon-like conditions driving 5000 people into a dining hall like cattle being herded on a cattle drive.

Unfortunately the first half of the festival was cancelled as a result of all the damage the weather caused. Trees collapsed and tents were destroyed. The scene at the festival site that morning looked something from an apocalypse movie. Thankfully there is an extensive team of staff and volunteers who spent the day rebuilding that which was broken. For me, it was great imagery for what I do at the YMCA. Kids come to my programs broken or in need of some repairs. And with the help of an incredible team, we made them better than they were before.

Since the start of the festival was delayed, we ceased the opportunity to explore the city and do a little site seeing. We gallivanted through what is considered the "old city" to the Charles Bridge, arguably Prague's most famous landmark. The bridge is lined with artists, vendors, and street performers, all biding for the attention of the thousands of tourists littering the cobblestone street. I've seen so many dramatic differences between San Diego and Prague. Prague wears many scars but it wears them well. San Diego, a mere teenager by comparison, lacks the rich cultural history simply for lack of opportunities in chronological terms. City planning is also another stark difference. The Czech Republic utilizes compact spaces well, when by comparison San Diego really enjoys it's elbow room so the speak, spreading its inhabitants out over a vast region.

As we came back to the old city, we came upon a Ten Sing choir from the YMCA of Finland, performing in front of the astrological clock for a crowd of over 100. We had taken over the city, and despite not knowing anyone I was watching, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride to be a part of this movement. It is amazing to me that these youth from around the world come from a background of unique and diverse experiences, and yet we all have a vision that is aligned and a shared set of goals: we want to make a difference in the lives of others and we are going to do that by sharing our time, energy, resources, and values with anyone in need of them.

We finally returned to the festival site around 5pm, and the energy was electric. It seemed as though the lighting from the night prior had transferred it's energy into the sea of now over 8000 people. Groups from around the world charged the audience with performances: songs, dances, and skits; all had clearly been practiced for several months now, and all completely unique. Conveniently we found the Brazilian delegates during the performances, and we danced with them, them teaching us some moves, and us teaching them. Although, I have to say, they did a lot more teaching than we did. They're phenomenal dancers!

We left at 9pm to join a congregation of general secretaries, Presidents, Vice Presidents, and CEOs from all over Europe. This was by far my favorite part of the day. Being someone who grew up with the YMCA and has been a part of the movement for 20 years now, these people are essentially movie stars to me. They are the ones responsible for creating the vision of this movement that has changed my life. The most fascinating part, is that they were really excited to hear about what I was doing! These are people who oversee operations for entire countries, even entire continents, and they are taking a genuine interest in what I'm doing! I felt like I was stuck in an alternate reality.

When I said that yesterday would be a hard act to follow, I wasn't exaggerating, and yet today somehow superseded my expectations. It just keeps getting better; this trip, this festival, my career with the Y, and my life.

Farewell Munich

By Heather Kunkel


This morning was our final morning in Munich as we headed to Prague via a 4 1/2 hour bus ride through the German countryside. We had a wonderful time in Germany and are grateful to have had the opportunity to meet such wonderful staff and volunteers at both the Munich and Ulm YMCAs. And to our wonderful Brazilian partners from the San Paulo YMCA, it was a true inspiration to meet them, see them perform and discuss each participants relationship with the YMCA and how the Ten Sing program has effected their lives. To Brazil, we look forward spending more time with you in Prague and seeing you perform at the Y Europe Festival - best of luck!

We arrived in Prague around 1:15pm local time and quickly met up with a few other YMCA Europe Festival attendees from Russia and Columbia, who like us were trying to decipher the Prague public transit system and determine what route to take to our hostels. We eventually made it the Sinkuleho Hostel in the Dejvicka area in northwest Prague (spelled Praha by the locals). Upon our arrival we were greeted by other US Y's from Tacoma, Atlanta and Austin. We quickly checked in, changed and headed to the festival site. The festival began at 4:00pm with enormous excitement from the waiting crowd. It was amazing to see the throng of spirited youth in their Y attire and ready to begin an experience that will change their lives forever.

Our group dispersed to explore the festival grounds which are filled with small tents to house workshops, athletic fields/courts for all sports and other structures that house booths for Y groups from all different countries. The grounds were humming with music, performances and the smell of lots of delicious cultural dishes from several countries. Unfortunately, at about 5:30pm a severe thunderstorm moved into the area and high winds and rain began to plummet the area. The festival and participants were not prepared to deal with this and many people panicked not knowing what to do. People (including five individuals from our San Diego group) were stranded in tents across the grounds and it quickly became unsafe to stay in the tents as the winds began to tear apart the tents and blow hazardous objects around the festival grounds. We were quickly evacuated to the large dinning hall where we were able to meet up with our other group members. Due to the severity of the storm and the damage to the festival grounds the festival was cancelled for the remainder of the evening. Once we were released, we as a group headed back to our hostel absolutely soaking wet a little frazzled from the chaos. We made it back safely, changed clothes and found some dinner close to our hostel once the storm calmed enough to venture out.

Although our day ended well before expected, we were very excited for the opportunity to meet so many new YMCA participants, volunteers and staff from a variety of countries. We were also grateful that all members of our group made it back safely and uninjured as there were a few non-life threatening injures that occurred.

We hope for a safe return of all other participants to their hostels and look forward to returning the festival tomorrow to continue to discover and develop relationships that we can bring back to our San Diego community.


by Kristen Vasquez


Ten Sing in UlmToday we traveled to Ulm, Germany to meet with the Sao Paulo, Brazil YMCA. We also learned something new today - sometimes trains in Germany split and go to two different places. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong half of the train and took the scenic route to Ulm. Fortunately our São Paulo partners were very understanding and once we arrived, we were greeted at the station by Tobias, a student in Germany and a participant of Ten Sing program, and Marcio, who oversees youth development with the São Paulo YMCA.

The youth group from Brazil is part of a YMCA program called Ten Sing. Ten Sing is a program for youth, generally ages 13 - 20 years old. The program primarily focuses on choir and band, but can also involve other performing arts. What is so interesting is that all of the teaching is done by the youth in the program. They are the ones who organize and lead their practices and performances, while also teaching each other how to play the different instruments and sing the songs. And let me tell you - they are really good!

We were pretty hungry when we arrived so three of the German students offered to take us to lunch. This was the first time since we've arrived in Germany that we actually knew what we were ordering thanks to the wonderful translating by our new friends. We each ordered a dish that was described as German "creeps". Each crepe was about the length of your arm and topped with all different kinds of meats, fruits, and sauces. It was absolutely delicious!

After lunch, the students took us to a beautiful and very tall church. We were told that we could climb to the very top of the church - a whopping 768 steps! A few of our staff decided they didn't want to get behind on their wellness challenges and they can now say they have been to the top of the tallest church in the world!

Right in front of the church, the Brazilian Ten Sing group was singing and playing instruments. We walked over to watch their performance and were so impressed. The leadership and spirit shown by the youth was inspiring. Each participant was very outgoing and did a great job of engaging the crowd by teaching them to play the instruments they were using, and even bringing two of our staff up to learn the Brazilian Samba! They had a true camaraderie with their whole group and were extremely open and welcoming.

After their performance we went back to the YMCA in Ulm. This is where the Brazilian Ten Sing group was staying. They also utilized the YMCA kitchen to cook everyone traditional Brazilian meals. We learned that the church provided the building for the YMCA to run their programs. They have summer youth camps at what they stressed were very affordable rates. In addition they have a student cafe for students to eat meals, their own Ten Sing program that operates very similarly to the Brazilian Ten Sing program, and a youth art gallery. The YMCA allows schools to use their art gallery to display children's art in a larger venue then what the schools have. The Ulm YMCA is largely run by volunteers with only six staff.

We had an amazing time in Ulm and also learned a lot about Ten Sing. We are looking forward to reconnecting with the Ten Sing group tomorrow in Prague at the YMCA Europe Festival!

Day at Dachau

By Breeanna White


At breakfast our delegation talked about how different the YMCAs in Germany are from a programming perspective, but also how alike they are in spirit. Their welcoming and helpful nature reminds me of our staff back home. One distinct difference I saw is that Germany intentionally wants to impact the world in a positive way and it is clear that this is a huge part of their mission. As we are prepped for the emotional day ahead of us at Dachau, I feel even more motivated to find ways we can impact our communities at home through global initiatives.

When our group finally got off the tram to start our day at Dachau concentration camp memorial site, I couldn't help but wonder what the prisoners might have felt like when they first set their eyes on their new home. "Albeit macht Freight" would have been the first thing they read when walking in which means " work will set you free". Did they truly believe that they would be released?

At this gate our tour guide started us on an amazing journey through the life of a prisoner at Dachau concentration camp during the years of 1932-1945. Dachau was the first concentration camp built during Hitler's reign and it would be the last camp liberated by the Americans. Some 60,000 people were kept here throughout its 13 years of operation and for many of them this would be their death site as well. Prisoners were not only stripped of their belongings but also their identities as soon as they entered. They were given little food and forced to work from sun up to sun down.

For me, the most impactful part of the tour was walking through the "X building" otherwise know as the gas chamber and incineration room. Dachau was not known to be a mass extermination camp but thousands of its prisoners were killed here. As I reflected on how much pain and suffering people went through in this building, I couldn't help but think of all the fighting and conflict that is still going on around the world. As YMCA leaders I think we are in a great position to promote tolerance and peace and I am hopeful that through global involvement in the YMCA movement that the San Diego county association will be able to impact our world in a positive way.

I am excited to see what the Youth festival in Prague will bring for our group but I'm sure we will build many more relationships with people from all over the world and continue to learn more about how we can become global citizens for our local YMCA's in San Diego.Following a colorful and unanticipated kickoff to the festival yesterday, I hardly knew what to expect entering today. It's hard to follow up an act that includes lightning storms illuminating the night sky and monsoon-like conditions driving 5000 people into a dining hall like cattle being herded on a cattle drive.


by Susan Alvarez


Munich YMCAAfter 15 hours of travel we finally made it to Munich! From the airport we took the train to downtown and checked into our hostel. We spent the afternoon at the Munich YMCA learning about their youth programs.

The Y that we visited was in walking distance of our hostel. On our way there we walked by a large cathedral- it's crazy seeing old buildings mixed with modern architecture. Upon arriving at the Y we were greeted by a friendly staff person (Thank goodness a lot of Germans know English!). We were given a tour of the Y by a few staff and then had a chance to sit down with Hans-Martin, the Vice President chairman of the board.

There are three types of work the YMCAs in Germany do:

  1. Provide Youth Programming: In partnership with Lutheran churches, Y staff and volunteers operate youth development programming such as recreational camps, bible studies and other youth programming such as sports. Most of this programming takes place at the church in rural areas.

  2. Inner-City Work: In an effort to help connect the Y to the community, there are inner-city YMCAs in Germany. These Ys have their own building, but they are not fitness and recreational facilities like we are used to in San Diego. They are hostels and also have meeting rooms where they can run activities/ programs. Some of them may have a fitness center, but that is not the primary focus of the Y here. The Y's typically rent government recreation centers for their sports league.

  3. Vocational Training and Education: Some YMCAs in Germany offer vocational and education for at risk youth.

What stood out to me the most was the ratio between staff and volunteers. The Munich Y has 35 paid staff and over 600 volunteers! That's about a 1:17 ratio of staff to volunteers! Volunteers take on many of the operations (camp counselors, housekeeping, cooking), whereas we utilize many of our volunteers in San Diego for fundraising during our Annual Giving Program. I was in awe of how the staff work closely hand in hand with all of the volunteers. However, one interesting fact I learned about Germany is that after high school a student must work one year in the military or one year as a civil servant. Many choose to do their civic duty at the Y.

We also learned about a basketball camp program the Y offers in partnership with Zack Jones basketball education. The Y provides low cost summer camps to teach kids not only about basketball, but to learn more about Christianity. Zach was an YMCA GummiesNBA player at one point in his life AND we also discovered he is a Mission Valley Y member! Small world! We are hoping to network with him more and see what kind of opportunities there may be out there for the Y and his organization to work together in San Diego.

When we asked Hans-Martin what the focus was for many German Ys he explained that the primary focus is outreach and fellowship. The Y is a place that (literally and figuratively) brings Christians together. I was impressed with Hans-Martin's dedication to the Y which reminded me of some of our board members. He was extremely kind and even had the hostel chef cook us a traditional German lunch! We sat down to eat with staff from the hostel and had the opportunity to share about our Y's and compare differences. Hans-Martin asked for our help in sharing some of our marketing resources (especially pictures) so we are going to do our best to help him when we get home. That's what this trip is all about - learning from each other! I'm off to add Hans-Martin on LinkedIn so we can stay in touch.

By the way, they sell YMCA gummy candy here and yes, in the shape of the Y logo. We also ate pig's knuckle. Oh, and the giant pretzels are delicious. Extra workouts when I get back!


YMCA of San Diego County Europe Festival Delegates


We wish safe travels to our staff delegation who are on their way to Europe today! They will first meet up with our Brazilian partners in Germany and then head to Prague for the YMCA Europe Festival. This trip marks the beginning of the YMCA of San Diego County’s International Exchange Program.YMCA Europe Festival Logo


Heather Kunkel

Heather Kunkel
Director of Administration
La Jolla YMCA

I am most looking forward to the opportunity to gain a better insight of how the YMCA impacts individuals in other countries and to connect with YMCA professionals and other global leaders from around the world while spreading the Y’s mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. I hope to come back to San Diego with a better understanding of how other cultures view the Y as a global service organization. My intentions are to be able to incorporate these values and understanding into the San Diego community and our organization in order to further develop our global initiatives and International Exchange Program.

Through this experience, I know I will be able to develop as a cause-driven leader and become more knowledgeable and gain a greater understanding of other cultures and their values. I look forward to developing and assisting in the piloting of the YMCA of San Diego County’s International Exchange Program and continuing to develop myself, my staff and colleagues to better understand the importance and value in having a diverse staff and volunteer team to better serve our community.

To help send Heather and our staff delegation to the YMCA Europe Festival event, please make your donation here.

enjoy the work you do

Kyle Broderick

Kyle Broderick
Aquatics Director
Mission Valley YMCA, Toby Wells YMCA location

A wise man once told me that if you enjoy the work you do, then everything else in life will just fall in the right place. My experience working at the YMCA of San Diego County as an Aquatics Director has definitely proven to be the right place for me. I grew up in San Diego County in Poway, CA. Growing up I was very active in swimming and hockey, and I did them both at the Palomar Family YMCA and the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA. I continued to swim on my college swim team, and actively coached swimming as a job through college. After graduating from college I realized my love of Aquatics, and developing people through swimming became a passion of mine. I found a calling to coach for the Mission Valley YMCA in 2009.

Soon after beginning my career as a coach at the YMCA, I realized what a great decision it was to follow this passion. The Mission Valley YMCA helped develop my passion for coaching others, and helped me deliver this passion to not only swimmers, but also a great staff team in the Aquatics Department at the YMCA.

When I learned I was selected to participate in the International Pilot Program, and represent the YMCA of San Diego County, I felt blessed. What an amazing opportunity to not only travel, but also network and share my passion with YMCA professionals from around the world! I look forward to bringing the vision and goals of our YMCA to a worldwide spectrum, and also to bringing home some parallel visions that can help our YMCA function even better for our community. I am currently researching YMCA’s with International Programs from Pittsburgh and Boston. This research has opened a door for me to meet with the leaders of these two programs while in Prague. I look forward to networking with them, and helping generate new ideas for our Pilot Program.

I also look forward to our adventure, and want to thank the YMCA for granting the delegates this opportunity, as well as supporters of the YMCA for helping keep our vision intact and moving forward.

To help send Kyle and our staff delegation to the YMCA Europe Festival event, please make your donation here.


Kristen Vasquez

Kristen Vasquez
Membership and Customer Service Director
East County Family YMCA, McGrath Family YMCA location

I am most excited for the connections I will build through meeting YMCA professionals and volunteers from around the world at the YMCA Europe Festival. This trip will give me opportunities, both personally and professionally, that I otherwise would not have had.

Personally, I am looking forward to expanding my understanding of other cultures and ways of doing things; while gaining a sense of greater self-confidence in areas where I may have personal weakness. Upon my return to San Diego, I hope to inspire and influence others to have a genuine interest in learning about other people.

Professionally, I believe this trip will be transformational in furthering my growth of becoming a cause-driven leader with a global mindset. I would like to be a leader in developing and sustaining a culture that appreciates the benefits of having a diverse staff and volunteer team, while serving a diverse community.

I am currently researching international programming within the YMCA of San Francisco, which has been recognized as a Global Center of Excellence. I am looking forward to the knowledge and experience they can provide in further developing global initiatives within the YMCA of San Diego County.

To help send Kristen and our staff delegation to the YMCA Europe Festival event, please make your donation here.

the Y is truly “for everybody”

Emily FigueiredoEmily Figueiredo
Financial Development & Events Director
Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA

I’m super excited about the opportunity because this is an international festival held every 4 years and will have over 10,000 participants from all over the world in attendance. I will meet people within the YMCA organization that are accomplishing very unique things within their communities, serving their constituents in special ways, navigating different cultures of philanthropy and spreading the Y’s mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. I’ll learn what the Y looks like in other cultures as well as link up with our YMCA of San Diego County established partners from the Sao Paulo, Brazil YMCA organization. Through this experience, I know I will grow as a global leader personally and professionally which will energize others to become involved with the international Y Movement and resonate with our community. Experiencing other cultures within the scope of the Y demonstrates that the Y is truly “for everybody” and that is something I’m very passionate about and love about our organization! I can imagine very exciting program, leadership, social service and cultural developments to come out of this opportunity – not just for myself but for other Y employees, our members, our supporters, our youth and volunteers.

Last but not least, I’m also excited for this trip because my maternal lineage is of Czech heritage. My 97 year old grandmother is cheering me on for the opportunity to connect with my roots!

To help send Emily and our staff delegation to the YMCA Europe Festival event, please make your donation here.


Susan AlvarezSusan Alvarez
Membership and Customer Service Director
East County Family YMCA, Cameron Family YMCA location

Growing up I was never much of an adventurer. I grew up in Oceanside and when it came to choosing a college I decided to go to University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - a grand total of 29 miles away from home. When I was 18, I applied for a Membership Counselor position at the Joe and Mary Mottino Family YMCA - a lofty 1 mile away from my home. When it came to choosing a place to live I decided to save money and stay at home with my parents, so I could continue to work at the Y. While my sorority sisters struggled to narrow down locations for their study abroad programs that were offered by the university, I steered clear. When asked why I wasn't considering a study abroad program, I told them I didn't want to take the risk of leaving the Y for fear of not being able to return. I loved the stability the Y offered me, the friendly environment and the team that I worked as they were encouraging and supportive. At the time I didn't feel like it was the right time for me to travel internationally because I was flourishing in my position at the Y.

I thought the Y was a safe choice, than my other proposed career of becoming a journalist, but ironically as every year went by I found myself being challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone as I climbed the Y career ladder. From making attempts to retain members during the economic downturn that began in 2008, to speaking Spanish daily at the Palomar Family YMCA, to helping to open the McGrath Family YMCA in 2010, and most recently becoming a trainer for the YMCA of the USA - there hasn't been a dull moment. With every experience, I have become more confident not only in the realm of the Y world, but in my personal life.

When I found out I was chosen to participate in the International Exchange Pilot Program to represent the YMCA of San Diego County at the YMCA Europe Festival, I was floored. As someone who hasn't done much traveling due to the fear of the unknown, I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel to Prague or Munich or meet people who share the same passion as myself from around the world. However, after the initial shock, I realized this was perfect timing. This was my second chance to travel internationally in my 20s with a purpose of learning more about myself and different cultures. What better way to do that than to know the Y would welcome me back with open arms?

I'm happy with what I have accomplished as a young Director within the Y thus far; yet I know there is much more that I can do. I am so excited to learn more about the international community of Y’s and to bring a global perspective back to my branch - especially as we begin tackling diversity initiatives. I am currently researching the YMCA of Capital District's and YMCA of Greater Houston's international exchange program with the YMCA of Vietnam. The partnership was originally developed so these Y's could learn more about the rapidly growing Vietnamese culture in Houston. At the East County Family YMCA, we are working to engage with our Hispanic community which makes up 32% of our demographic. By meeting with leaders involved in the those YMCAs at the festival, I will bring back knowledge of how we can involve our global initiatives with our local community.

As the daughter of parents who were born in Cuba and lived in Spain, Puerto Rico, and finally the United States, I know that travel changes people. This trip will undoubtedly change me and the way I see the world. It will help me to think BIG. I will be sharing my experience of this trip with my community for the rest of my life - where the Y cultivated me into a confident, fearless adventurer.

To help send Susan and our staff delegation to the YMCA Europe Festival event, please make your donation here.