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!