Thinking about becoming an EVS volunteer?
Hello! If you are reading this, maybe you are interested in the experience of volunteers abroad. Or you are curious about what ‘Active Woman Association’ (or ‘AWA’) is about. Or you want to find out how young people are able to travel and have so much fun so easily. Whatever it is, maybe I can tell you something interesting.
My name is Gaby, I am 24 years old and I live in Spain. I had finished my teaching career and was searching for a job when I came across this volunteering offer: they were searching for a Spanish teacher in a little school in Poland. With nothing holding me back, I asked myself, “why not?”
When I told my parents, they were wary about it. “It can’t be true”, they said, “it’s too good of an offer”. It really was! The organization that coordinated the project (AWA) was going to provide me with housing and enough pocket money to be able to live comfortably. I would be able to explore a new country and its culture. If I was lucky, maybe I could even make some life-long friends.
Even if it looked good from the outside, I could have never imagined how -incredibly awesome- it was going to be. There is so much more to it than what I initially thought.
First, there was school. The school where I worked implemented an alternative educational method known as the “democratic model”, where children and adults alike talk and make the decisions related to their community. I cannot begin to describe how much I learned from everyone there- from children’s development and psychology to the social mechanisms that take part in a real democratic system. I was there as a responsible adult, but I felt like an excited child most of the time. The rest of the teaching team and parents were so nice, understanding and excited about the presence of volunteers. You truly feel like you are making a difference.
Then, you have the organization. AWA is an organization that is involved in Polish politics and calls for social justice and the implementation of European values (such as democracy, equality and human rights). Following this line, it is also involved in alternative and non-formal education, where the role of the volunteers takes place. A coordinator from AWA takes the mentorship of the volunteer or volunteers that come to the country and guides them through their time there. In this way, I have never felt lost: every time I felt insecure or had any difficulty, I could turn to my coordinator to ask for guidance or advice. Furthermore, AWA does not only provide the basics: they also make an effort to bring together other volunteers and richen our experience in Poland by involving us in cultural events or activities. For all this, I am very thankful to the organization.
Finally, the best thing I take out from the whole experience: the people I met. You might be a bit scared of going alone to somewhere new with no friendly faces… but then you find out that there are more people like you, with the same values and in the same conditions, who are dying to make new friends and have some fun. Suddenly you are traveling with people you met three days ago, and by a month later, you feel like they are family. You do not need to be too sociable for this, trust me. The community there will welcome you with open arms, and you will just naturally fall into place. With this “new family” we discussed about our worries, our jobs and our everyday problems; we traveled around and outside of Poland, we went to music festivals, to cultural events… We visited each other’s schools and shared ideas and activities. We watched movies together. We partied. We promised to visit all the countries we were from: Italy, Georgia, France, Turkey, Spain…
As time goes by, you become more extrovert, more outgoing, more confident… You develop skills and new interests. After eight months there, I came back to Spain and I feel like I have gained so much. So much knowledge, so many friends, so much experience. I have learned to play the guitar, I have started ice-skating, I cook pierogi sometimes. My recently adopted dog only understands polish, no joke. I talk to everyone about my anecdotes in the Wild School in Tychy, about our trips to the forest and to the lakes or our language lessons where we would make charts with vocabulary in at least four different languages- one for each nationality present at the school. I talk about the time I jumped into a freezing lake or I chickened out from bungee jumping. There is so much I could tell you about my experience in Poland, but… I personally think that you have to live it for yourself.
My advice? If you can do this, go for it. If you have questions, do not be afraid to ask them. In a society where everything feels incredibly impersonal and burocratic, where everything must have an academic or occupational purpose, this is the perfect way to take a break from that and find a more humanistic approach to life.