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!