I am Karlina. For the last 10 months, I have been on an EVS placement in Finland working at EKOenergy, hosted by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC). This is where I write about my adventures in Helsinki and beyond.
Autumn for me was the time of Finnish adventures. October was off to a good start when I got to attend a seminar jointly organised by EKOenergy and FANC on fish passes. In case you didn’t know, hydropower dams and power plants can have disastrous impacts on local fish populations, so understanding how to minimise these (for example by building ‘fish-friendly’ dams or adding fish passes to already existing dams) is very important. Especially in a country like Finland that is rich in rivers, hydropower and critically endangered salmonid populations. The seminar was entirely in Finnish, but as I am a biology nerd and will grab any chance to surround myself with people who care about fish and river protection, I volunteered to help as EKOenergy's official photographer. Most of the presentations went over my head (lots of text based slides equal a very confused non-Finn), but it was nice to talk to everyone during the breaks, so overall, I'm happy I joined in. It helped that the location (an old hydropower plant, now part of the Museum of Technology in Viikki) was so cool!
October was also the time for a new EKOenergy campaign, this time targeting chocolate producers to switch to EKOenergy labelled renewable energy to power their production. As part of the campaign we interviewed current EKOenergy users – a lovely little chocolate factory in Porvoo, a scenic town (the oldest town in Finland according to trusty Wikipedia) not far from Helsinki. Laura (an EVS participant from Germany) and I were the lucky two of our team who got to visit the factory, try all their tasty chocolate-based treats, and, between mouthfuls of vegan chocolate cake, ask a few questions about the sustainability of cacao farming. So as far as random Wednesdays go, that was a good one. If you want to find out more about our big day out, Laura wrote a lovely blog about it on the EKOenergy website: http://www.ekoenergy.org/chocolate-made-with-ekoenergy/.
October also meant it was time for another EVS training event. I wrote about my wonderful experience of the on-arrival training week in Kokkola in my first blog post, so it was safe to say I had pretty high expectations for the mid-term training. This time we were in a youth centre in Sipoo, a town east from Helsinki, and it did not disappoint. I enjoyed three days of getting to know other EVS participants, learning about their experiences as well as reflecting on my own. The group leaders in charge of the event were so knowledgeable and full of recommendations, especially for those of us who are thinking of staying in Finland after our EVS is over. I also appreciated a less strict timetable, with lots of free time for walks, talks and sauna, of course. If there’s one thing I have learned in Finland, is that there is a special kind of friendship and closeness that can only evolve in the dark vulnerability of a Finnish sauna. It must be something to do with the heat making your brain a bit fuzzy and incapable of keeping all the usual filters and walls.
Outside of work, it has not been that much fun. It is dark and cold outside, with a distinct lack of snow this year. So, I have spent a lot of my time getting increasingly alarmed at the state of the world and trying to come up with ways to make it better. I have a scientific mind, so thinking of practical ways to save the world is my way of battling the winter blues. I gave up on specific new year’s resolutions a while back, but I am a firm believer in not being a shitty person, so each new year I aim to be a better human than I was the year before. ‘Better’ includes anything from being nicer to the people I love, to learning how to swim, to researching how to save the world from climate change. If you follow the news, care about the environment and are a little bit like me, you might find getting up in the morning some days a bit difficult. We all know we need to recycle, stop using plastic, cycle to work etc., but it can often feel simultaneously too much and not enough. But here's what I've learned in the past 10 months, from the people whose job it is to investigate climate change solutions. It all boils down to two simple things you can do to significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
Firstly, reduce your meat and dairy consumption. According to the UN, global animal agriculture makes a greater contribution to global warming than all transportation (including air-travel) in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change! By reducing your dairy consumption (or swapping to a plant-based alternative - oat milk in a brew tastes surprisingly ok), experimenting with beans or lentils in your favourite recipes, and maybe saving that steak and cheese for special occasions, you'll do the world a whole lot of good. Not to mention the fact that animal farming is cruel and beans and veg are so much cheaper than meat (and a whole lot better for you too).
Secondly, switch to renewable energy. We all use electricity and the easiest way to reduce your carbon emissions without any changes to your lifestyle is to choose green electricity. It really is that simple! You can call your electricity seller enquiring about the origin of your electricity. Ask if they offer any electricity from renewable sources (wind, solar, maybe hydro). If they don't, ask why not and consider switching to a seller that does. And do the same for the electricity provider at your parents’ house, student flat, work, university, business. More often than not green electricity will be cheaper, but this depends on your region and specific provider so shop around if you can, there are plenty of comparison websites available online. The more consumers put pressure on their electricity providers to offer green energy, the more they will have to listen.
My aim for 2018 is to try to do both. So, if you are looking for a way to make the world just a little bit better, join me!
I shall leave it at that. Hope you all have a lovely Christmas and I'll be back for my final blog in February.
Kiitos for reading and happy holidays!
To begin with, the European Voluntary Service (EVS) is a programme financed by the European Union through which young people, aged between 17-30 years, travel abroad to participate in volunteering projects. The living costs (accommodation and food), insurance, local travel are covered and some pocket money is provided. International travel is also reimbursed.
It is a great opportunity to live abroad, a chance to meet new people and gain experience that can be very useful in future, plus you get the taste of a new culture!
Since October 2017 I have been following such a volunteering project, in Sheffield, United Kingdom - by this way I want to give a massive shout-out to my sending organisation Synergy Romania for all the support and assistance they are and have been providing me with.
To this date, the first two and a half months of my 1 year long EVS, I feel, have past very, very fast. A lot of good and exciting things have happened since, with regards to the activities done and experiences gained, both within our receiving organizations, namely Youth Discovery Ventures (YDV) - our host organisation and the Regather Co-operative - the coordinating organisation, and outside of it, as well.
From the very beginning we - we meaning my EVS volunteer colleagues, Giorgia from Italy, Kristin from Estonia, and I, Sergiu from Romania - got to meet the people that we were to interact with the most, such as staff from the receiving organizations, our mentors and also former EVS-ers that have decided to stay in Sheffield. The event happened in a very pleasant and welcoming atmosphere, where we were introduced to the British style pub, thus a bit of the local culture, and also to the highly appreciated beer, which is well present in the archipelago’s history.
“Speaking” of beer, Regather has its own brewery - how exciting is that!? Over there we have learned how the stork brings the baby beer to the people (LOL). Brewing beer is a cool process, in which the malt drink flavoured with hops undergoes a yeast fermentation process. The thing I like the most about making beer is the physics and chemistry of it - how every ingredient is precisely measured, following the recipes, and calculating the exact moment in which the next step of brewing needs to happen. So, it’s pretty cool, the brewing process, and the end result is refreshing and tasty.
One day per week we are helping out with the Veg Box. The organic fruit and vegetables reach us in the morning and when we receive all the goods from the local farms and producers, we begin to weigh them and place them in the box, according to each customer's' preference and available produce. When packing the boxes, we put in a very good team effort, and every week, we listen to engaging music, while doing it. And this is when the future food has its best time... The veggies and fruits start busting some moves, change dance partners, while the box is passed from person to person when getting filled, and then go to have a rest in their actual place inside the veg boxes. I find it thrilling and inspiring to be part of the Veg Box scheme, because through it people are encouraged to eat food that is grown organically, whilst, at the same time, they are supporting local businesses to function and develop.
Regather is also an events venue. From gigs, film projections, comedy acts, private events, all of it happen here. I love that when an event takes place I can interact with people working in the creative world; it is a great networking and learning opportunity, since I get the chance to communicate with fellow artists and performers.
The sort of activities we do when events are on include setting up the place, stock management or bar support. At the bar, which is open only when events take place, you can try the earlier mentioned Regather beer, so come on by and have a taste!
Events is something we like to take part outside of Regather and YDV, as well, but not only... We like to have our fair share of fun also in our free time, so we go to parties, films, pubs, theatre, outdoors and nature, fairs and loads more, sometimes together sometimes individually, accordingly to our preferences. Below you can see an example of the three of us in our full splendor, entertained mode on, while attending a fancy dress party. A bunch of cheeky monkeys!
On a more serious note, I am very much appreciative for the opportunity given to take part in such an amazing project! I strongly believe that it is contributing to my development as an active and involved citizen in the community and it empowers me furthermore to pursue both my entrepreneurial goals and creative dreams, and make them come true.
More posts about our EVS project are to follow, so keep an eye on the blog here for updates!
I am Karlina. For the last 8 months I have been on an EVS placement in Finland working at EKOenergy, hosted by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC). This is where I write about my adventures in Helsinki and beyond.
If June and July were the months of departures and goodbyes, August and September were the months of holidays and visitors. It was kicked off by a visit from my dad who drove up from Latvia with a car full of Latvian treats (mainly beer and rye bread - I'm a simple girl with simple tastes). It was followed by a visit from my mum and one of my sisters and a few friends from the UK too, including YDVs very own Rachel - we are old uni friends and it was so lovely to have her around. It is always a bit nerve-wracking to show a new place you love to the people you love - what if they don't think it's that nice? What if they don't see what you see? Luckily, my worries were unnecessary - everyone loved Finland as much as I do.
I had also saved up enough holiday days (we get 2.5 days for every month we work, but this varies between hosting organisations and placement countries) so I went on a little trip to southern Italy with a couple of friends. We stayed with my friends’ family and it was the best mini break I could have asked for, full of sun, sea, mountains and gorgeous food. Not to mention all the warmth and hospitality Italian families are stereotypically known for. I returned to Helsinki a much warmer person and not just because of all that roasting in the sun.
Back in Helsinki, the rest of the August was spent pretending to be a Nordic wildling. All the Finnish forests were full of berries and mushrooms, and most of the locals have their own secret foraging spots outside of the city, so the woodland areas in the suburbs often remained untouched. It was great to explore my local and not so local areas (as if I needed an excuse to go on wilderness bike rides) and it is great to know that I have a few portions of wild blueberries waiting for me in the freezer – come at me Nordic winter, I am ready for you!
In other news, I have started learning Finnish. Unfortunately, I missed the sign up for official university language courses, so I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, with a book and a CD on my commute to and from the office. I am not very good at learning languages, but what I lack in skills I make up with sheer, puppy-like enthusiasm. And the Finnish language is so out of this world and like nothing I have ever read or heard before, it is a joy to learn. A biologist from FANC has just released a book on freshwater ecology (in Finnish, of course), and I have secured myself a copy. Every day my task is to translate a sentence of the book (either through google translate, or by pestering one of my Finnish speaking colleagues) and try to remember it. I don’t know if it’s the typical way of learning a language, and I’m not entirely convinced that any of it is sticking in my mind, but it’s a bit more fun than learning the days of the week. Plus, as a wannabe freshwater ecologist, if I don’t know what a lake or a river is in Finnish, then what do I know.
Think I will leave it at that for now. To summarise, the summer was full of friends and adventures. Next time, in my penultimate blog post, I will tell you what I have learned about the world and how we might be able to save it.
Kiitos for reading!
I am Karlina. Since the beginning of February, I have been on an EVS placement in Finland working at EKOenergy, hosted by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC). This is where I write about my adventures in Helsinki and beyond.
End of July was my 6-month mark - the half way point of my placement here in Finland. If I had to summarise my time at EKOenergy, I would say my first 6 months have been spent on developing contacts and learning everything I could about hydropower, energy markets and European ecolabels, and the next 6 months I will put everything I have learned into practice. EKOenergy is having a review of their hydropower criteria and my role now is to look at best practice options for Europe while Virpi, the Environmental Director of EKOenergy, is focusing on Finland (and of course overseeing everything I’m doing in Europe). Generally, for me this means lots of research into the environmental impacts of hydropower, interviewing experts and writing reports on hydropower plants that could be suitable for EKOenergy certification. It may not sound like a lot of fun, but renewable energy is such an interesting field and I love learning more about it. Also it is great to start seeing tangible results to the work I have put into this - coming from academia, where weeks or months of research can go by with no concrete results - I am still very much enjoying the contrast of working for an NGO.
For each volume of electricity sold as EKOenergy, some money goes into the Climate Fund, used to fund projects tackling energy poverty in developing countries. If the electricity is produced through hydropower, additional funding goes to the Environmental Fund, used specifically to fund river restoration projects. In June, we had the chance to participate in one of these projects and spend a day in Vihtijoki, a river not far from Helsinki, restoring a trout spawning area and visiting a restored fish pass. The numbers of migratory fish in Finland (and most of Europe) have declined, largely due to loss of suitable habitat, so these types of restoration projects are very important. I used to spend my summers doing biodiversity surveys with the Ribble Rivers Trust in the North West of England, so it felt great to put the wellies on and get my feet wet again.
In addition, FANC and EKOenergy got invited to talk at a youth event at the US embassy in July. It was aimed at young people and I volunteered to represent the ‘youth’ side of EKOenergy and teamed up with Steven, the programme director of EKOenergy, for the presentation. We had a 45-min slot to talk about anything we wanted to as long as it was related to sustainability and renewable energy, so we took it upon ourselves to talk as much about climate change as we could. If you know me at all then you know that I am passionate about environmental education and science communication, so getting to chat to a room full of young Americans ("Future leaders" as they were described in the event brochure) was wonderful - they were bright and interested, it is just a shame that their current president is an idiot.
Outside of work, June and July were the months of non-existent summer, but I still tried to spend as much of my free time outdoors as I could. Weekends were spent on day trips and hikes around lakes, and I had a go at sea kayaking which was fantastic.
23rd of June is midsummer night (Juhannus) in Finland - a summer solstice celebration that traditionally involves outdoor drinking, BBQ and bonfires. Not wanting to miss out on this important holiday, we spent the day on an island not too far from Helsinki, drinking and listening to Finnish music, and attracting so many seagulls with our tofu hotdog BBQ that it was starting to look like some sort of Nordic re-enactment of Hitchcock’s “the Birds”. Luckily we stood our ground and stayed till the bonfire on the beach, which was beautiful!
Finally, June and July were also the months of goodbyes, as many of the EKOenergy team finished their placements. It always surprises me how quickly you become friends with people when you are in a new situation. I guess there's some familiarity and recognition - I am new, this could be scary, let's stick together. It also helps if they are into outdoor adventures, board games and drinking wine by the sea. As much as it is sad to see people move away, it is easy to stay in touch, and I know I will see them again soon. And we have new EVS participants starting in the office in September, so I am looking forward to that.
Till next time when I will tell you about visitors and my attempts at learning Finnish.
Kiitos for reading.
What did you expect the youth exchange to be like?
As this was my first project I had no real idea in terms of what to expect from it. Having received the schedule of workshops I was afraid that it would be very tiring – essentially a training programme abroad. I was looking forward to meeting new people from different cultures/countries.
Have you been on one before?
What did you do to prepare for the trip?
As this project was ‘Let’s solve Islamophobia’ I decided to go with a completely open mind and be ready to get involved in discussions but to avoid having too many preconceptions prior to the trip. Other than that, I packed and discussed the culture night and sessions we were facilitating with the other UK team members.
How was the travel?
Unfortunately, we had some delays which made us miss our initial connection – so all in all it was a very long journey and tiring. However, it was a good opportunity to meet and talk to the other UK team members through the journey.
What's the topic and what have you learnt so far?
‘Let’s solve Islamophobia’
Personally, I have learnt much about Islam – the most important being people’s individual experiences with Islam (there are 7 members of the UK team and 6 are Muslim) as well as gaining my own experiences with the religion.
The open, friendly and loving nature of the religion really rings true through hearing other people’s relationships with Allah. Furthermore, everyone is a fully integrated member of the group. There are no divisions. Everyone is their true self and accepted for this. I have learnt that there is a large spectrum to how a Muslim chose to express their faith to Allah and that there is no judgement on how you chose to manage this relationship.
I have also learnt how friendly the Turkish are and what a beautiful setting Trabzon is. The food is also fantastic.
What's the best bit so far?
The people. The volleyball. The culture nights. The laughter. The fortune telling.
What has surprised you?
The friendliness of the Islamic community – incredibly helpful, warm and welcoming.
What do you hope for the next half of the youth exchange?
To continue to be challenged so that I can gain a truly worthwhile experience. To spend time with friends. To live, learn and laugh.
Unlike in many other European countries, EVS appears to be not so well known in the UK. Compared to the most populated programme countries, the United Kingdom has a little number of accredited sending organisations, which may be one of the reason why the programme seems to be less advertised than elsewhere. In our fieldwork though, talking with young people about our international projects, we noticed that a lot of them showed interest in having an experience abroad and expressed curiosity about EVS. In order to reach more people and better promote Erasmus+ activities, we want to establish new connections with other local organisation that deals with youth and non formal education. With the aim to expand our local network and recruit new volunteers for our activities, the 7th of June we participate in the Volunteer Fair organised by VAS (Voluntary Action Sheffield). During the day we also made connections with 4 other not for profit Sheffield based organisations and spoke to around 15 young people about our local and international projects.
I am Karlina. Since the beginning of February, I have been on an EVS placement in Finland working at EKOenergy, hosted by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC). This is where I write about my adventures in Helsinki and beyond.
The main task of everyone working at EKOenergy (be it as a full-time employee, trainee, EVS volunteer or even as a partner organisation) is to promote the best sustainable energy available. Not all green energy is created equal, so a lot of daily tasks involve directing consumers towards the best green energy available to them. For example, in April we launched a campaign for the hospitality sector getting in touch with hotels, restaurants and theme parks in Europe and beyond encouraging them to switch to EKOenery certified renewable energy. On top of that, as EKOenergy is a not for profit network of environmental organisations, we get involved with a lot of other not for profit organisations and cooperate on a lot of their campaigns too. For example, we got to help the guys from “Protect our Winters” at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti earlier in March. I spent the day freezing my toes off talking about climate change and why winters need protection, and watching some bad ass ladies compete at the women's cross country relay race (Finland got bronze!).
EKOenergy also got invited to attend and present at the Sustainable Hydropower Development meeting in Prague at the beginning of April. I don’t really know how that conversation went, but I ended up attending with Virpi, the Environmental Director of EKOenergy and presenting a talk on the environmental sustainability of hydropower in Finland. I know EVS participants don't usually get to attend these kinds of conferences, let alone present a talk in one, so I am grateful for this opportunity (and trust!) to present our organisation to the industry. It was tiresome, but I learned a lot. And I love Prague so it was great to be back there, however briefly.
Outside of work, and now the weather has gotten a bit better, I am spending a lot more time outdoors. As I briefly mentioned in the last post, I like running. Calling it my ‘hobby’ doesn’t quite portray its significance for my wellbeing, yet calling it my ‘lifeline’ would be a touch too dramatic, so let’s just say I find the world slightly easier to cope with if I get to go for a run once in a while. And Helsinki is *perfect* for running. The whole city is a patchwork of buildings and green spaces effortlessly laced together by paths and secret trails. The FANC head office, where the EKOenergy team is based, is a 5-minute walk from the beach and 1 minute jog from the start of the most gorgeous coastal trail. As the office is on an island - Lautassari - if I'm feeling particularly adventurous (and speedy!) I can run around most of it during my lunch break.
Also, my sisters and I have this working hypothesis that all runners are awesome (as we’ve only met a handful of runners that were anything but lovely), and I can safely report that this theory holds true for the Finnish runners I've met so far. Granted there's a lot less chatting on the Finnish group runs than in my old running club Didsbury Runners, but I am learning to embrace the Finnish quiet time. And running is a great way to make new friends as you already know that you have something in common with the person next to you, and there is surprisingly a lot one can chat about best running routes, upcoming races and running injuries. It was largely due to these chats and recommendations that I signed up to do the Helsinki City Run half marathon in May, which was a great route and a lovely day out, even if it was not my best run.
When I was in Kokkola for my on-arrival training in February they introduced us to the concept of the '3 month blues' - apparently many participants get a bit homesick around the 3 month mark so one of the activities we had to do was write a post card for our 'future self' and leave it with the organisers. If you're rolling your eyes at the thought of ever having to do something like this - I'm with you! But this was a few days into our training where we already had done a lot of ice breakers, outdoor games and team building exercises so I was well warmed up for cringe worthy personal reflections. So I drew a rather pathetic little post card, wrote a little message and totally forgot about it. Until it appeared through my letter box a few weeks ago…
I don't really get homesick, I have moved too many times for too huge a proportion of my adult life to get 'home' sick. But I sometimes miss specific places, people and events, and now and again I have an off day. If you've ever had mental health problems you might know what I mean by that. On the outside, nothing's different - you wake up, go to work, do your thing and go home at the end of the day. On the inside however, everything is just a little bit slower, tasks at work take a bit more effort, emails need to be reread a few times before they make sense and food doesn't taste as nice as it did the day before. My post card arrived on a day just like that, on a week when horrible things happened in my adopted hometown of Manchester, and it was like a hug from an old friend.
So, to summarise, the honeymoon phase might be over, but Helsinki is still gorgeous and the summer is finally here. I still love what I do here, but I am also learning the importance of staying in touch, friendship and the art of self-love. Hope you are all looking after yourselves too.
Till next time when I'll tell you about fish and hydropower.
Kiitos for reading!
I am Karlina. I am currently on a 12 month EVS placement in Finland working at EKOenergy, hosted by the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC). This is where I will write about my adventures in Helsinki and beyond.
FANC (or Suomen luonnonsuojeluliitto in Finnish. No, I’m not sure how to pronounce that either!) is the biggest nature conservation NGO in Finland, and the host of the international EKOenergy network and ecolabel for renewable energy. Within EKOenergy I work on sustainable, “fish friendly” hydropower and promote our ecolabel for sustainable energy to producers, consumers and environmental NGOs in Latvia and the UK. Also, as I’m the only “native” English speaker on the team, I help with some of the proofreading and editing of newsletters, blog posts and general web content. No two working weeks are the same, so it is a great environment to work in if you’re flexible and willing to learn new things.
As far as leaving your life behind and moving away goes (however temporary), European Volunteer Service is the way to do it. After a Skype interview, a few emails and a bit of paperwork, all I had to do was buy a one-way ticket to Helsinki and hope for the best - accommodation and the rest was all taken care of by FANC. In addition, within my first 2 weeks of being here I got sent on a week long on arrival training to Kokkola (a gorgeous town on the north-western coast of Finland). It was organised to the hour and covered everything from our rights and responsibilities to how to register at the immigration office, to basic Finnish language (and waltz!) lessons. It was also a great opportunity to meet other EVS participants working on various projects across Finland. I imagine having this network of people going through a similar experience will only become more valuable as the time goes by.
I’m at the top end of the 18-30 range that qualifies for Erasmus+ Youth in Action scheme, and when I think of “youths” a 28-year-old postgraduate zoologists in the middle of an existential crisis isn’t what springs to my mind. It is safe to say I was a bit apprehensive about what working with the other EVS participants would be like. As it turns out my anxiety was entirely unnecessary - our EKOenergy team consists of a wide array of ages and nationalities and they're all wonderful! I've never had an office job so I have nothing to compare this experience with, but you would struggle to find a more helpful, engaging and passionate working group. Also, Finland is GORGEOUS so it’s really hard not to swoon about my life here.
Don't get me wrong, some of this has been tough. Uprooting my life and plonking it in a country that I’ve never even visited was always going to be a bit difficult, and I definitely had to learn to love my own company when I first got here, as it gets dark really early here and people tend to hide indoors for most of February and March. But I came prepared! The plan as soon as I got here was to surround myself with things and people I knew made me happy. So I found a running group and a climbing buddy to keep me busy outside of work, and got involved with as many projects as I could at work. And now the sea ice has melted and the days are getting longer, it almost feels like spring here so you know what - it might be fine. And yes, I am aware it is practically summer back in the UK! Nevertheless, I would take a cold sunny day in Helsinki over the mild rainy greyness of Manchester any day!
Think I'll leave it at that for now. Next time I'll tell you a bit more about my work and making friends.
Kiitos for reading!
As Theresa May signed the document triggering Article 50, beginning the UK’s formal withdrawal from the European Union, I reached the halfway point of my ‘last hurrah’ as a European citizen, my European Voluntary Service in Pula, Croatia. Although my service is relatively short (4 months), it is impossible to summarise the last 8 weeks of new experiences, people and adventures in a few paragraphs, with no signs of the pace slowing down over the following months!
I work for cultural centre in the centre of Pula called Rojc (pronounced Roytz,). The building is a former military barracks, which became a squat when the Yugoslavian army abandoned it in the early 1990s and forgot to turn off the water and electricity and has since be reclaimed by over 100 not-for-profit community associations who call it their home. My organisation acts as a co-ordinating body for the building and the associations, as well as putting on regular cultural events in the ‘Living Room’, a common space for all associations and the wider community of Pula. As well day-to-day support, I am predominantly working on the organisation of a week-long conference of the TEH Network of independent cultural centres all across Europe, which will have 250+ international attendees.
While it has not always been easy to adapt to the Croatian work style (they are a lot more relaxed when it comes to forward planning), the process of organising the conference has been one of the most valuable parts of my EVS. It has brought me into contact with all sorts of individuals, organisations and projects that have helped shaped my previously rather vague career aspirations! As part of our volunteer service, we also get weekly Croatian lessons and the chance to carry out a ‘personal project’ of our choosing. Although I fear 4 months is not long enough to conquer the notoriously difficult Croatian language (there are 7 cases), it feels good to be gradually grasping the basics.
Of course, my stay in Croatia is not all work and no play. A standard EVS contract is around 30 hours per week, leaving plenty of free time to explore my new host city, and further afield. A 3pm finish is especially sweet when work is only a 20 minute walk from the beach! Volunteers are also entitled to 2 additional days off per month. From travelling through Slovenia and Bosnia, rock-climbing, hitch-hiking, attempting to do yoga, watching dolphins in the sunset, cooking pizzas in a centuries-old stone bake oven, exploring abandoned fortresses, going to galleries, film screenings and of course, bars, I have found plenty of new experiences to fill my time in these two short months
I would highly recommend EVS to anyone looking for a truly international experience. As well as local Croatians, I can now count volunteers and ‘internationals’ in Croatia from Poland, Spain, Italy, Serbia, Macedonia, Portugal, Ukraine, Latvia, Palestine, France, Bosnia and the US as friends. For me, EVS has been a refreshing antidote to growing nationalist and isolationist political sentiment in Europe and I believe that projects such as EVS are fundamental in fostering international cooperation. Without resorting to clichés, I can’t think of many other opportunities that provide the same balance of travel, professional development and active citizenship, all at no financial cost to the volunteer. With the future of Erasmus + programmes in the UK looking uncertain post-Brexit, I would urge anyone considering EVS to apply as soon as possible!
I can't recommend EVS enough, I feel so blessed that I have been given this opportunity!
I work in a social centre with people with mental health problems in a stable condition. I work 3 hours, 5 days a week, running groups like yoga, art, running, cineclub and music. Every Friday we go to see a new exhibition around the city and I also teach two classes of English. The people are incredibly supportive and the foundation are even paying for me to do a language course 4 mornings a week at the university.
It was hard at first, because I've never studied Spanish. I arrived and couldn't understand a word anyone said. They expected this and helped me slowly build up to running groups. Its a great way to learn a language because you are fully immersed with Spanish people. Its even easier in care work, because the users are always keen to talk to you. My top tip would be to try to make only Spanish friends even if you can only talk together in English at first. There are lot a of locals keen to practice their English. You end up talking more and more in Spanish. I spent 8 hours with a friend last Saturday talking only in Spanish, with some hilarious results! Its also the best way to learn about the local culture &often gives you some great links for visiting other cities.
The money varies from project to project. The EU cover basic costs like accomodations, utility bills and a food allowance, but some projects provide a little more money from other sources. How much you need to save depends alot on how you live. For example, I receive £315 spending allowance every month & my housemate lives with in tis budget. I spend £100 of my own savings, so I can go out for tapas a lot with friends but don't splurge unnecessarily.