Eva, EVS in Varese, Italy
Country of origins: Belgium
Country of destination: Italy
City of destination: Varese
Date of arrival: 06/10/2010 (for 9 months until 05/07/2011)
Age: then: 22, now: 23
Profession/studies: MA Western Literature/ Postgraduate Language Teacher
Where do you come from and where did you go?
I’m from Belgium (Leuven) and I did my EVS experience in Italy (Varese).
What was the topic of your project?
My project’s title was “Volunteers working for volunteers” . I worked at “Centro di Servizi per il Volontariato” which can be translated as a support centre for volunteers. More specifically, I worked in the promotional and communication area, where I contributed in different kind of projects to promote and raise awareness about volunteering as an expression of active citizenship.
Why did you apply for the European Voluntary Service?
I wanted to get involved in an EVS project because I wanted badly to do something useful, something active, something that wasn’t studying, but wasn’t a real job yet either, and I wanted to do it in another country. After having done an Erasmus exchange in England I felt the need to spend time abroad again, to explore another country, to meet new people and to travel. The European Voluntary Service seemed to respond to all the things that I wanted at that point.
Were you already participating to some volunteer activities in your country before your EVS? If so, did it have any influence on your choice (place to go, type of project) of project?
I had been involved in different kinds of volunteering activities ever since high school, and maybe those past positive experiences unconsciously influenced my decision to do EVS – but it didn’t influence my decision directly. First of all, while looking for an EVS project, I focused myself on the kind of project I was interested in. I wanted to carry out communication/promotional/information activities in a nonprofit organization, and preferably in an organization that was also involved in European projects. I wanted to promote European citizenship as it’s a concept I myself firmly believe in. Of course I was happy that my eventual project was situated in Italy – as I was very intrigued by Italy – but I applied for projects many other countries as well, so for me the country was not a decisive factor.
What do you think about the EVS program?
On your point of view, why is it of importance nowadays to develop that kind of programs? It’s difficult to say what I think of the EVS program in only a few words. I think it’s a very valuable program which benefits both the volunteer (inevitably the volunteer becomes a richer person thanks to an EVS experience, both on a professional as well as on a personal level) as well as the society in the host and sending country. A European volunteer can be an important resource for an organization: he/she can offer new perspectives on long-running projects and can contribute by working out new ideas. Moreover the host country will become a little bit more ‘European’ as the volunteer will get integrated into a local society. The diversity that a European volunteer can throw in will “Europeanize” a local community or work place that otherwise would not have had that opportunity. On the other hand, after an EVS experience, a volunteer returns to his sending country with a different mind and by sharing his experiences, also the sending country can benefit from a EVS experience. I can give a very explicit example: after my return in Belgium I’ve had numerous people e-mailing me and simply asking me in person what I did, how it was, what I got out of it and eventually how they could possibly start their own EVS project. This is exactly the reason why EVS is very valuable: it creates a sense of solidarity across European boundaries which is exactly what Europe needs in order to continue building a Europe based on mutual understanding and solidarity.
Could you explain us about the trainings your received during your stay?
Also, on which way did it help to integrate you within the local culture? Before my EVS I did a pre-departure training which was very important as a preparation for my project. It made me think in a better way about my own expectations, about how I would have to deal with difficult situation and how it could be difficult to integrate in a new culture. Once in Italy, I had an on-arrival seminar (one week) and a mid-term training (4 days). Especially the on-arrival seminar was important to me as it allowed me to share experiences, sensations and difficulties with other volunteers that had only recently arrived. We also had some very specific workshops about culture shocks and Italian society which helped me on some levels to better understand certain situations, like for instance why and how the Lega Nord was/is so powerful in the North of Italy.
Do you remember your first impressions being in a foreign country, surprising things and people you encountered?
I remember feeling confused, excited and scared at the same time. The first two weeks I met sooo many different people that I could not remember all the names. It was also difficult to not speak the language well, to not be able to communicate without any hassle. Luckily these are all things you overcome after a few weeks.
Could you explain us how did you proceed to apply for an EVS? Was it tough? Was it easy?
How long did last the application? What are the advices you could give to the people who would like to apply for a project? Applying for EVS certainly asks for a lot of will-power and motivation. But I think that’s just part of the deal, you need to get through it – if you are really motivated you’ll find a project and It will be really rewarding to be able to finally start your project afterwards. I sent applications to about 50 different organizations, and I would recommend anyone who’s interested to become a volunteer to make a list of at least 20-30 projects that you would like to carry out, because 1) the database won’t tell you whether the organization is looking for a volunteer at that moment and 2) because there are many people wanting to do an project, so it is best to have several preferences instead of focusing on only one project.
Did you know the language before arriving? What was your level? Furthermore, tell us about the adaptation once on site to the local culture, lifestyle? Did you see any big differences between your country of origin and your hosting country?
I knew a bit of Italian before arriving, so I was able to understand some basic conversations and do some basic talking myself. As being able to speak the language helps you a great deal integrating into society I was very motivated to learn Italy and I studied a lot in the beginning. There are many differences between Italy and Belgium but I think those differences– besides the obvious ones like the weather, the nature and the language– are rather subtle in their appearance. I’m thinking about how people greet each other, how they use their hands while they talk, how much Italians can talk about food, how people are used to taking their car for everything, how even Italians can be distant at the beginning but will open up after you’ve made an effort to get to know them, how you take a train, … to only name a few differences I can think of right now.
Did you organize your life as well as you wanted to (including flat, community life, money, rent, shopping, hobbies, extra work activities)? What are the tips you could give to the next volunteers going to the place where you were living?
I lived in a small house with 3 other European volunteers in a village a couple of kilometers away from the town I was working in. It has not always been easy living in a smaller village because I was used to city life, and in Italy it was difficult to go out and meet people in the beginning. I think it also taught me a lot in the end though – it taught me to see the positive side in the things I was missing from home and it made me realize that every change of environment creates new possibilities. In addition, the small house in the small village became my home, the other girls became my family and I lived a life there that resembled much of a family life. So, if I could give future volunteers advice I’d say to be flexible, pro-active, optimistic and to see the possibilities of a small village.
What kind of skills do you think the EVS program could bring you? On the other hand, what kind of things do you think you brought to the others in general thanks to you project? (Including the people who benefits directly from your project, but also your association, the local community or any other person if you had impact on anybody else).
EVS taught me to take initiative, to be more relaxed and it stimulated me even more to share my passions in life. Thanks to my project I also got an amazing insight into the world of nonprofit organization on both local, national and European level and I was able to work in a professional environment. I feel more secure in everything I do, and I feel more secure with every decision I take.
I think I was able to contribute a little bit (my own little share) to many different activities in my project. The most important impact is probably the fact that I, as a foreign volunteer, was present and shared my opinion and passion for the things I was doing in a place that otherwise would not benefit from a “European” presence. I hope I made some people think (at least a bit) about what it is to be a European citizen.
Do you remember which was your best experience during your project?
Whatever it is about! The little things, yes, the little things were definitely the best part of my project! The moments shared with my housemates, the laughter in the office, the endless conversations, the smiles from people I met in the village on my way to the railway station,…those were all moments in which I felt happy, I felt content with my life in Italy. And those are the moments that now, 5 months later still make me smile.