Our volunteer Arthur spent nine months in Russia on an EVS placement.
EVS On-Arrival Training in Vladimir
An important part of every long-term EVS project is the on-arrival training. Ten days after arriving in Krasnoyarsk, it was already time to head off again (but not for too long!). I took the two-day train ride to Vladimir, a historical town near Moscow. The train there was good fun, there weren’t many people for once, so despite being top bunk, I had access to a table most of the time. I read Vladimir Sorokin’s new book “Manaraga”, a dystopian novel where books are only used as fuel for cooking high-end, black market, gastronomy. In one passage that I particularly enjoyed, one of the characters asks why Japanese food is loved all over the world but Russian food isn’t. The answer is that Japanese food is open, you can see exactly what sushi is made of. Fish, and rice. You can trust it. But who can tell what is hiding inside a bowl of borsch, a plate of pelmeni or a pirozhki? Russian food is closed, and you have to be on your guards. Of course, I don’t subscribe to this, I love Russian food. Sometimes it’s probably even for the best that I can’t tell what’s inside.
After my two days on the train, I missed my first bus in Vladimir, so I called myself a Yandex taxi like a boss and was driven to hotel ‘Kliazma’. The name is not Russian, it has its root in the Finnish dialects that were spoken in this part of Russia around the 9th and 10th centuries AD. I met the other EVS volunteers who are working in Russia at the moment. We were from Germany, Italy (these countries made up over half our group of fifteen), Slovakia, Estonia, Belgium, France, Serbia, Austria, and I was the sole Brit currently benefiting from the brilliant EU-funded EVS programme (now called European Solidarity Corps, it includes volunteering opportunities, internships and jobs) in Russia. It’s a shame that such initiatives are not advertised more, but maybe I can change that. It was interesting to find out how everyone had ended up in Russia, the reasons varied in focus from the completely random to the somewhat specific. Some volunteers had just finished school (mostly Germans), and others were already planning for a P.h.D. They were doing their EVS in various Russian cities, Nizhniy Novgorod, Yoshkar-Ola, Tomsk, Perm, and for some reason there are many projects going on in Samara.
We spent five days in Vladimir and quickly became good friends, both with the other volunteers and with the seminar coordinators. During the day, we went through various activities, connected to cultural adaptation, self-reflection, conflict management and so on. I was particularly interested in techniques for nonviolent communication, elaborated by the psychologist Marshall Rosenberg. His ideas might seem self-evident or even pedantic at first glance, but his is a very sensible and helpful method of dealing with both everyday problems and more serious conflict, which I hope I will be able to put to good use. Even if you aren’t convinced by his method, it’s worth watching videos of him, he has a very soothing voice and an entertaining presentation style, that includes music and puppets.
I enjoyed the fact that we tackled complicated concepts such as cultural difference and conflict resolution through non-formal education techniques, including role-play, games, drama and drawing. It may seem silly and childish, but it’s a very effective way of introducing complex ideas and inducing self-reflection. I certainly found it beneficial, but I do have the mind of a child. I agree with what one volunteer brought up, that it will never be as rigorous as formal learning. However, I think it is the best way of making education appealing to all, and prompting further individual interest in more formal education, building on what has been achieved through non-formal learning. If you are interested in methods of non-formal education on serious topics, the European Council has compiled an excellent list of activities, related to all sorts of human rights themes from disability and disablism to the environment.
And, as well as all the education we did, the training was really fun, we went into the town several times, for a historical walking tour and a traditional Russian meal one day, and for the bars on most evenings. On the first night, we found an open-air concert. They played “Ustroi, Destroi” (set up, destroy), a Noize MC song I didn’t know. Yes, I was as shocked as you are. And one evening we stayed in, and played Werewolf for four hours, with various rules. I was, in an unheard-of piece of trickery, killed by my fellow Werewolf by democratic vote. I guess I am just not made for the life of a cursed beast!
You can stay up-to-date with the volunteers at Interra in Krasnoyarsk by visiting their blog here.