Elena blogs about her experience volunteering for the European Voluntary Service (EVS) in Poland. She says that she made friends from countries across the world and learned a lot about herself in the process.

If somebody were to ask me if I had any regrets about my one year of volunteering for EVS in Poland the answer would definitely be Never. I wouldn’t swap this experience for anything. It was one of the fullest years of my life, one year full of experience, full of memories, good and bad, but very important ones.

Ever since I remember I wanted to travel, to see how other people live, to understand, to taste other cultures, to try other meals, to breath new air if I can say it like this… But as often happens to people sometimes we have „more urgent” things to do, to study, to earn money, to have a family etc… I never thought I had enough time and enough money to travel and also there were many obstacles. The country I was born in is not an EU country so we Moldovan citizens need a visa and most of the time is quite hard to get it.

I just happened to be lucky enough… after I graduated from University, at that moment no suitable job appeared to me and I heard from AVI Moldova where I was volunteering, that there was an EVS project in the office of the Polish branch of SCI, OWA Poland, in Poznan.

So I applied, and how happy I was being accepted!!! It was so exciting, just the single thought that I’m going to Poland for one year! For all year!!!

When I arrived in Poland it was Saturday, late in the evening and some of OWA’s volunteers met me at the train station: it’s really nice to have a group of people welcoming you. Then I met my flatmates, Dominika (Domi) and her cousin Kasia. Domi showed me the flat that would be my home from then onwards.

First day in the office I got to know OWA’s busy workers (it was the time before Prokolors, a Youth Exchange organised around the International Day Against Racism) as well as some busy OWA volunteers running here and there. And the office itself impressed me a lot, it was quite huge with two working rooms and one big meeting room which hosted a library – with very interesting information about SCI history, refugees, human rights education, a lot of materials concerning non-formal education etc. as well as two small rooms used as archives. And everywhere were hanging many posters. I remember that day Milosz, OWA’s worker, took me sightseeing, he is really a very good guide and it gave me a lot of pleasure to hear him telling me about Poznan. It was the first time I saw the old market and it was enough to fall in love with it at first sight.

Even if everything went well and the people around me were very nice, open and friendly, all the time keen to help, I felt quite strange, even angry to find myself far away from my home, family, friends, unable to communicate, to express myself. I had some basic English words which weren’t enough even for a basic conversation as well as the Polish language sounding alien to me.

And to talk of communication, once coming back from the shops I dropped the keys from my flat under the lift. That day I was alone in the flat as my flatmates had gone home for the weekend. And I surprised by myself, somehow through gestures, body language I managed to cry for help and what do you think, it worked. In about an hour I got my keys from under the lift. This was quite enough to lift my doubts about surviving in a country where you don’t speak the language…

I can say that my EVS experience started with Prokolors, a Youth Exchange with participants from four different countries (Greece, Germany, Italy and Poland). This was my first time working in a group with people from different countries. I found it very useful as it made me more aware, concious of the topic, it broadened my mind somehow. I learned about non-formal education, how to prepare and to run workshops, and also during the cultural evenings I experienced a bit of the other participants’ culture and food.

In the office I got to know how the organisation worked, doing some administration work, coordinating the local magazine and weekly e-newsletter for Polish volunteers. I dealt with the placement of foreign volunteers for workcamps in Poland and I visited some Polish projects as well as participating in one, working with recovering drug addicts.

When I left, Poland was no longer a foreign country to me, and also the language no longer sounded so strange. It was amazing! I felt like I had been living there for ages and that for whatever reason I had to leave the country I had been born in. I love this country. Country of angels, churches, of rivers and lakes. Where I had a great opportunity to taste it’s traditions, to be part of everyday life, where I visited many cities and got to know a lot of people and finally here I tried travelling by hitch – hiking. Here I gained new friends, met a lot of interesting, different people from different countries and here I discovered a lot about myself.