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EVS volunteer 2017-18: Barbare’s story

Now that I already know, coming to Turku, Finland for 11-month EVS was like a skydiving. You are extremely excited that your dream is about to come true, but sometimes tons of doubts and fears keep you up all night. Although, as soon as you get out of your comfort zone and finally do it you don’t really feel a stomach drop sensation like on a roller coaster. On my way to the Georgian airport, I was feeling lots of different emotions at the same time, but when my plane took off, exactly like parachute opening, I mainly got a giant feeling of relief.

My EVS journey began when my sending Youth Association DRONI and a host organization Sondip (The United Multicultural Association of South-West Finland) selected me as their future volunteer for their ‘Migration & Integration’ EVS project. From the very first day of my arrival in Turku, I got all the important support from my always helpful co-workers and coordinator, who guided me and explained all the crucial information about my tasks and activities. Starting in October I participated in organizing and implementing of the Sondip events, including filming, taking and editing pictures and videos. Also, I volunteered in the weekly activities of MPKK (Multicultural Daycare, School and Home Association), where I had a possibility to physically help in organizing the meetings and chat with the women, from different countries that gave me a quick introduction to the immigrants’ life in Finland.

As I had not previously worked with immigrants and refugees, for me the project was a considerable and useful learning experience. Together with a Polish EVS, I planned and lead different classes for YHDESSÄ-yhdistys / TOGETHER association, such as English for kids, Handicraft for kids and English-speaking class for the adults, where we always needed to adapt and create new games and entertainment activities to fullfill the classes and interact with the students, therefore I upgraded the skills of leadership, communication, debriefing, planning and organizing, leading groups and discussions, expressing myself and a subject. By also leading a handicraft group at ‘Daisy ladies’ (association of immigrant women in Finland), I eventually got better in intercultural communication and understanding, learnt more about cultural aspects of communication and thereby improved my language proficiency. Furthermore, it was a real pleasure to take part in ‘mothers and children’ club, which enabled me to communicate not only with the kids, but also their mothers and to get a better understanding of Finnish lifestyle.

Through processing my time in the classes, friends and mentors as well as during the trainings I attended, I became readier to express and share my emotions, thoughts and experiences. I spent truly amazing, fun and inspiring 6 days on the On-arrival training in Kokkola, where we were given all the necessary knowledge about the EVS program, got introduced to some Finnish history, through a visit to the arctic museum, cultivated good friendships with volunteers from all over the world and even had an introduction to the Finnish Sauna and ice swimming. 4 months later we had 3-days Mid-term training in Soppuka, which also gave me the opportunity and skills to reflect upon the different stages of my time as a volunteer and what role they play for my future and life in general.

All my experiences with working in the different organizations, being friends with local people, and doing social work in the highly developed country as a volunteer in the social sphere, has given me a wide ranging and practical understanding of not only the Finnish but the many other countries history, culture, society, and reality. During the everyday life, both at work and during free time I learned to interact and cooperate with people who have very different backgrounds from my own. I was actively involved in Turku social life, by participating in the intercultural events, board games nights and expat meetings. Also, to take a closer look at Finnish education system I took an open university course in the Turku school of economics, related to my studies that gave me a better picture of students’ lifestyle and enlarged my social network. Besides, on my spare time, I participated in the ‘Idea Lab Turku’, which gave us a space and support to generate the new ideas and proposals that can help address the issues that young people face today. In May I volunteered in the Shift business festival, which enabled me to meet new people and observe how event management works in Finland.

Additionally, EVS helped me develop my own native language skills. During the process of voluntarily planning and delivering Georgian lessons to the local Finnish-Georgian family I improved the ability to express and interpret more abstract concepts. I became more aware of Georgian language’s characteristics by seeing the differences and similarities between Georgian, English and Finnish, and found several creative ways to explain them appropriately.

Throughout my time there here I’ve always remembered the quote ‘If you travel far enough, you’ll eventually meet yourself.’ Now when I look back, I better realize being away from home in new surroundings with new people and different cultures gave me a new perspective on life and allowed me to feel free to explore who I really am inside. Luckily for me, I managed to travel around Finland and to 7 different countries, with friends and alone, and the more I travelled not only the more I discovered about the world but also about myself. Moreover, I experienced lots of new things for the first time in my life, including Finnish sauna, ice-skating, ice-swimming, enjoying the Flowpark, going on the cruises, volunteering at the Ruisrock festival (where I listened to the hugely popular musicians), going on a road trip, and most importantly doing skydiving and seeing Northern lights, the two things I genuinely always dreamt about.

As an EVS volunteer I understood that Europe or even the world, is very small and there are hundreds of ways of learning, all we need is to be more open to them. From now on cooperation and solidarity between different nationalities seems to be the best way forward for the world, as unity. We all have so much to learn from each other, and for that reason I think this project gave me more than I contributed myself. I’m frankly happy I had the honour of taking these opportunities and working with a greatly talented and kind group of people who have made me feel at home here.