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!