An experienced volunteer speaking here (8 months and still going strong):
1. Don’t expect anything
Whatever you might be expecting from your EVS, it’s gonna be totally different: people, places, work — you name it. Believe me.
2. Be ready for everything
Judging from my experience it’s better to prepare yourself for the bad stuff. It’s gonna come. I’ve met many volunteers doing their EVS in Italy and learned about all kinds of problems. Of course it doesn’t concern only Italy. No matter where you go, you’re going to face some obstacles and it’s better to be ready. Then of course it’s nice to have also the positive suprises and I had those too. They fortunately make a healthy balance with the bad stuff which makes it all worthwhile.
3. Count only (or mostly) on yourself
There are volunteers working within organisations doing EVS since many years and there are those (like me) that work withing organisations that are still a bit “virgin”. Everything has it good and bad sides. The EVS programme in general is not perfect (and in my opinion is still quite far from it). Sometimes you will encounter grave problems and you will find out that the people who are supposed to be there for you, are not able (or are unwilling) to help you. In that case it’s important to have support from people who are close to you and not give up. It’s difficult, I know. In the end you are in a foreign country, you don’t know how things work, where to go, how to deal with things. I would really like to say that you’re not alone, but sometimes you are and you have to make things work anyway. Contact your relatives back home, your sending organisation, the national agency if you must. You have rights, remember about it.
4. Don’t let yourself be a slave
As a volunteer you will be bound to do all sorts of things. Things that maybe were not written in your contract and yet your organisation makes you do them (if that happens, report it!). It’s important though to know your own rights and know that you’re there mostly to learn and to develop your own skills, not to do jobs of other people for them. You are also not being paid crazy amounts of money (which anyway depends on the country you’re in) and you are not supposed to be held responsible for any projects just by yourself. In any case, you have your contract behind you and you are protected by it. And that leads me to the last thing:
5. Respect yourself
Don’t let yourself be used (or even abused) at work. Depending on what your project is about you will have to do all sorts of things — also things like cleaning, washing, dealing with peaople difficult to deal with (in my case it’s usually drunk people…). But it’s important to not force yourself to do things you don’t feel okay with or that you despise. Forcing yourself to do them is going to reflect not only on you, but also on the people around you. Remember, you’re there to challenge yourself, yes, but also to have a positive experience and to learn.