The European Voluntary Service – now rebranded as the European Solidarity Corps – sends Europeans aged 18-30 to work or volunteer in their own country or abroad for a few weeks up to 12 months. After doing a short-term 5 weeks project in Cyprus I decided to apply for a long-term project in Wroclaw, Poland.
It has now been two months since I moved to Poland. This has been my experience.
I am a 25 year old Romanian woman. I’ve lived abroad before, specifically when I moved to Sweden to study Human Rights at Malmo University. Having lived with flatmates in an international context before, I felt pretty comfortable with my ability to adapt and flourish in a new, strange environment. I wasn’t entirely wrong.
Let’s start with the practical aspects: the ECS (European Solidarity Corps) will reinburse your travel expenses – from your home country to your project country and back), will provide food money and pocket money as well as a “student-type” accomodation. That practically means that you will not be living a lavish lifestyle unless you use your own savings or are good at budgeting – which, if you’re 18-30, is rather unlikely (sorry for generalizing). Onwards with practicalities, you WILL be sharing your flat and more than likely, your room. Now, this particular aspect can have its difficulties, depending on how well you get along with these people.
In my experience, both ESC projects have had “that” person. You know, the one who gets on your nerves and makes you re-evaluate this whole experience. The one who challenges your whole ability to control your emotions and reactions. The one who reminds you it’s illegal to hit another person, the one who makes you say things you’re not heard yourself say very often. This is one of the biggest challenges of an ESC project – and it can actually help both you and “that” person grow. Being self-aware means – in my understanding – looking at your reactions and emotions and trying to understand them and, perhaps, if necessary, tweak them a little bit to achieve better results. In such a project, you might be challenged to do just that every week.. Or every day.
From budgeting your income, learning how to cook, becoming responsible for the cleansiness of your WHOLE apartment, learning why you shouldn’t wash white clothes with colored clothes and also why you should ALWAYS lock your bathroom door, to budgeting your time, the ESC is full of new experiences. And not all of them are positive.
Sometimes you have to share your flat with a person who pushes your limits. Sometimes you hear the door open and you know it’s them and you internally cringe. Sometimes you don’t want to see anybody and sometimes you’re aching to see your friends back home – or your friends from around the world, if you’re a more international type of person. Sometimes you miss your mother’s cooking and sometimes you’re just not in the mood to clean the apartment. Sometimes you just wish you could speak your mother tongue – and you’re painfully reminded that you’re living in a country where they don’t speak your mother tongue.. Or English.
This is why the ESC offers language classes – mandatory classes. You can choose to treat this as an opportunity if there’s a particular language or culture you’ve been interested in exploring. In case you’ve been wondering, yes, Polish is terribly difficult. There’s so many dz, cz, sz, pr and w in EVERYTHING. Sometimes I look at a word and I wonder how the hell that’s a word and not something somebody uttered while having a seizure. However you can choose to see this as an inconvenience or as an opportunity to learn and expand your mind. Or as both 🙂
From expanding your mind to expanding your group of friends to expanding your list of visited countries and cities and expanding your set of experiences, the ESC is whatever you make of it. You can choose a project that advances your career, you can choose a project that is close to your heart although professionally irrelevant, you can try something new for a few weeks. You can fall in love with a culture, a country, a person. You can meet people who will be your friends forever, you can discover yourself in a new light. It’s all up to you.