The story of how I finally got to Lorca, Spain for volunteering in Cazalla Intercultural is a long one. But what is important is that I arrived, a few days after taking my final exams at university. I decided to do a European Voluntary Service, or an EVS, as everyone calls it. My sending organization from Cluj-Napoca suggested me to apply for Spain. “You will like it”, they said, Spain is in the top choices for everyone who wants to volunteer abroad.
The truth is that I didn’t expect to find what I found here. Sure, I imagined how it is like to be a volunteer, but a lot of things I simply left out because I didn’t know about them. Here I will write about some of them, how were my first months, what I learned, with what I struggled and what hopes I have for the next part of my volunteering.
Was humble, but beautiful. In the first week I arrived in the organization I participated in the summer school organized by another EVS volunteer, as her personal project. I had the opportunity to help with different tasks, such as searching for activities to do with the children and preparing the materials for these activities. It was fun work and it was exactly what I needed for the start of my voluntary service. Each morning we woke up to meet with the team in M13, the youth centre from Lorca, in order to get ready for the kids and every afternoon we were preparing the activities for the next day. What I learned from all of this? Well…reacting to surprises from the kids, managing the sudden bursts of energy, the crazy questions, the unexpected hugs and kisses. Sometimes we dealt with grumpy faces and «no, no» attitudes. It happens (they also smell fear!). But when we were prepared to be all in for them, sparkles flew by and we felt the magic. Better than Disney movies and totally worth it.
After this summer school all four of us, the EVS volunteers, were working in the morning together with the employees of Cazalla who guess what, most of them were also EVS volunteers that decided to stay in the pretty city of the sun. I had mostly done the visuals for different projects and learned about the concept and purpose of each one of them. I discovered that youth exchanges, co-financed by Erasmus+, normally last between 5 and 21 days and need a lot of work. These projects are happening mostly in the summer, so the warm months were pretty busy for everyone working in Cazalla.
Now something about the team…
These people know that laughs are very important for teamwork. The first few days in the office I was wondering if they are this nice because I was a new volunteer, but that was not the case. I am now couple of months into my voluntary service and they are still like this and I am loving it. Being part of a team of people with different nationalities is certainly one of the most interesting working environments. They come from different backgrounds, but all are united by the passion of connecting young people from all over Europe and not only, through youth opportunities. A plus is that you can learn to count in every language, because of course counting is a thing we all do in our native language and sometimes aloud.
We don’t get bored easily because every week there is something to do. Especially after the summer is over, as we have the opportunity to work in a youth centre. This might be one of my favourite activity to do during the working hours, interacting with the young people that come to spend time with us, in different workshops that we facilitate. We brainstorm and implement activities that can help them with something, from improving a language skill to learning to cook a new international recipe. So, the volunteers usually organize the English, Spanish, drawing, cooking, playing the guitar and other workshops suggested by us and by the participants.
On the edge of something new
After watching and learning from the working team of Cazalla, I finally decided what will be my personal project. This kind of project is a tool you can use in your EVS to put to the test the knowledge you have accumulated. But also after choosing a topic that you are passionate about you can transform it in a learning opportunity for your professional and personal development – whether it is art, non-formal education, youth participation, politics, sports, community development or other topics that bring back something good for the society at a local or why not at a global level.
To choose a subject for the personal project is the easy part, I think. Then the questions pop up: Ok, but what do I want to reach or change, on what level and what will be the end result of this? Is it possible? What resources do I need, how much time will it take? Who I am going to involve in this? Yes, apparently there are a lot of questions. But you know what, if I haven’t had them I wouldn’t have discovered I have a kind, understanding and down to earth learning support. This is a person that guides your steps through the objectives you set for your EVS and if it’s someone you click with, it can be a very productive and fruitful experience in your learning process. But of course, this also depends on your implication and openness to the new and sometimes scary parts you can encounter during these 12 months of a long term EVS.
Tasting every opportunity
I understood that is important to not back down on the opportunities my journey has to offer. Sure, maybe some of them don’t fit me, but how can I know if I don’t try? I discovered that I am better at visuals than at translating from Spanish to English, at writing than at reciting poetry in front of an audience and at playing with the kids than at playing with numbers. But I tried all of them, and weirdly I found pleasure in each one because I learned something new. I know I still have time to take other learning opportunities, but like I talked with my learning support, it is better if I choose the most important skills for me and try to work at sharpening them up. In this way, I can see an evolution.
For example, for me it is love at first sight to see beautiful pictures, to draw and to work in image editing softwares, that’s why it was kind of natural to get enchanted by digital drawing. It was something that I thought about doing, but didn’t try it properly up until now.
Struggles and set-backs
Every experience has it’s struggles, especially when it comes up to living in another country. Things like communication in a different language can take its toll on your well disposition. Sometimes I felt and I still do feel frustrated because of the language barrier. Apart from my native language, English is my refuge when it comes to efficient communication. But guess what, in Spain this thing doesn’t matter that much. Spanish is a must for me now. I understand that and I try to not get frustrated that often and learn ‘poco a poco’ – as they say, and of course with help from my friends.
Other than this, I can say that at the beginning of my EVS, in the first month I felt I was struggling with the change of scenery, not being with my group, my friends and family from back home. Getting to know other people who at first they seem to be so different and learning to appreciate these differences and not get into conflicts, well that might be tough for everyone. We are living four people in the same apartment, each of us with our habits, good and bad. You can imagine that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong, as the Murphy’s law says. So as my flatmates and I have discovered, understanding and tolerance are pretty much the only things that save our good relationships. If you add to this a bit of sense of humour, it can be a really enjoyable experience to share a flat with four people.
Now these were just some of the things I had on my mind when thinking about my EVS experience up until now. Of course I have many more to say, especially after another day, another week, another month. After six months though, halfway through my EVS, I can tell you that I certainly enjoy it and I am glad I took this opportunity.