This is it

My EVS officially ends on the 2nd of August, although I had already finished work and taken the last week off, since I still had some vacation days left.

So here I am, revisiting some of my favorite places in Bologna, eating and drinking at my favorite restaurants and pubs, walking the streets I walked for the past 10 months. It’s sad having to leave a place you’ve grown so close to. I spent here only 10 months, but it has become my home very fast, a place where I felt good and comfortable, where I was able to cultivate my deepest feelings, where I’ve grown and learned, where I met friends.

Bologna

But I’m not saying farewell to Bologna. I will come back and not once, of that I’m sure. And who knows what the future holds anyway?

Now I’m going for a week-long vacation in Ravenna, after which I’ll come back one last time this summer to Bologna to pack all my things and take the infamous bus connection of 17 hours back to Poland on 11th August.

The Hole in the Wall

Not so long ago, I’ve mentioned on Facebook, that a group of American film students accidentally discovered il b.u.c.o. (where I’m doing my EVS) and decided to create a short documentary about the place as their study project.

I have to say I was very surprised and obviously quite unprepared when they walked in asking if they can interview me about the place and the organisation, but I guess it didn’t go as bad as I could expect. Actually I’m pretty happy with how I did. Well, anyway, judge yourselves:

EVS crash test

As I’m starting to work on my YouthPass* my head fills up with thoughts and worries about the nearest future (brace yourself for this is NOT going to be a cheerful post).

One of the main goals of Erasmus+, and so also the EVS, is to give young people a chance to develop themselves in an international environment, to learn things they would probably never learn in their home countries, to give them something to add to their CVs that could encourage employers to recruit them. And while I’m describing all my experiences and the knowledge and skills I got from them, I can’t escape the thought that it’s all very nice and neat, but it’s probably not going to be of much help.

Yes, I did learn a new language to a point that I can have a decent conversation and I’m more or less able to use it also at work, where it’s all about complicated vocabulary and structures and yes, I have had many various experiences, work-related and not, that enriched me as a person and as a worker, but is it really going to be appreciated? In the end my Erasmus in Finland wasn’t as much of a “thrill” to my probable employers as I thought it would be.

Well, either way, it’s still a gamble. You go back to your home country from a year during which you didn’t have to worry about anything and you have no idea what to do with yourself. You got used so much to living among people who didn’t speak your language that when you finally hear it (your language) it sounds weird and completely out of place. You got used to a certain way of spending your days (and nights), you made friends, you’ve developed connections. And now you have to leave all of it, because there’s no other way. And on top of all this, you have no idea what’s out there waiting for you.

Some people might see it as a possibility, an adventure. I don’t, sorry. In the past two years I have traveled more than in my entire life before that, I got used to speaking languages other than my own, first English and Finnish, then English and Italian and for some reason, going back to Poland, speaking only Polish, interacting only with Polish people seems so incredibly dull and unexciting that I’m getting depressed by only thinking about it.

And then there’s your heart. Your heart that is no longer only yours and that got used to some things too. And there’s no way of telling it to suck it up and wait. Life lies ahead and you need to get hold of it.

– – –

*Youthpass — an official EVS document confirming you did a voluntary service and stating what skills an abilities you obtained during your project.

The soup infographic

So, in the last months I have been working on my own project within my EVS in Bologna. Every volunteer has the right (not the obligation though) to develop their own project as a part of the main one they are doing during their voluntary service.

Since I’m a graphic designer, I have decided to use my skills and prepare something I always wanted to do, but never had a good enough idea to create: an infographic.

To explain the thing shortly — it’s a visual representation of data revolving around a specific topic. It can be presented in various ways, starting from charts that you can create in Microsoft Excel and ending with complex graphic designs consisting of various information and containing a layout created specifically for this purpose.

My infographic is an attempt on reflecting the information about all the previous editions of Festival della Zuppa in Bologna. It has taken me a lot of time to gather all the data as I had to go through the archives (that were not always very well organised) and find all the numbers I needed. But it gave me also a lot of satisfaction as I was discovering how many soups were presented each year and finding out about the European projects that my association took part in along with organisations from Germany, France and Spain.

Finally I had everything I needed to present the development of the festival throughout the years. I added my own knowledge of the topic regarding this year’s edition, putting in also some interesting facts about how many litres of coffee we drunk during organisational meetings and so on.

Following all this, I can now present you with the fruit of my work (click to see the full size):

Click to see the full size

EVS ground rules

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.

Two months

OK guys, I have to confess something. Even though I’m living in Bologna already since 8 months, I still meet new people that ask me what I’m doing here, where I’m from and for how long I’m staying. And that last question has recently started to be an upsetting one, since it makes me realize, that my project ends in two months.

Yes, I have only two months left.

It’s difficult to think about it, because I have already sort of established a life here, I have found my nisch and friends, I have finally figured out the labyrinth of streets in Bologna’s city center, I started travelling around a bit. I know where to go to listen to a nice concert, where to find good ice cream, where to order best pizza from… Heck, I even have a fidelty card at the supermarket!

LIttle venice in Bologna
“Little Venice” in Bologna

How do you leave a place that has almost become your home? A place you already feel you belong to? A place where hairdressers are freaking expensive and where people have no idea what traffic rules are, but at the same time a place where your heart is, where ragu’ comes from and a place where you got so deep into the language of the locals that your own friends back home tell you that you speak your mother tongue with an Italian accent!

And last but not least: what do you do after you come back? You drown yourself in memories, in habits you can no longer practice, in depression because you’re once again in a situation of not knowing what to do next, how to proceed with your life.

But let’s not get too sad. In the end there are still two months ahead of me and I better use them well. So what there are 35 degrees in the shadow outside? I’m gonna go and play djembe in the park all day this Sunday! I’m gonna travel around Tuscany, I’m gonna eat more pizza and gain even more kilos (yeah, I already gained 4 since I arrived here…). And I’m going to feel wonderful doing all that.

And I’m also going to make you listen to this:

Da questa parte, prego!

The soup festival finished more than one month ago and I promised myself that after that I will take some days off in order to really enjoy the fact I’m in Italy. And so I did: I went first to Rome for 4 days and then to Sicily for a week (yes, I’m trying to excuse myself for not writing here for a month).

While I decided that I’m not a big fan of Rome (even though I enjoyed some of the sites I visited), I have discovered that I’m crazy about Sicily. Me and A., we went to visit one of my EVS friends, that is doing her project in Catania and while we were there, we also took time to travel around. In this way we were able to visit many places, among which Taormina, Aci Castello & Aci Trezza, Siracusa and Palermo.

A view to Etna an the eastern coast from Taormina
A view to Etna and the eastern coast of Sicily from Taormina

When I was walking around trying to understand and grasp the Sicilian accent (well, more like: trying to understand anything at all), A. was mostly struck by the low prices of basically everything. In fact, one of the highlights of our whole trip was the visit to a market (and later on also to a fish market), where basically a kilo of whatever fruit or vegetable costed 1€. And in the mornings we were always suprised when we were walking out of a bar with a pastry as big as my head, a coffee or a bottle of water, paying not more than 1,50€ for everything. So yes, when I’m rich and I can do whatever I want, I’m gonna buy myself a house somewhere in Sicily (preferably close to the sea) and I’m gonna spend every spring there (you heard me: spring).

And having that beautiful picture in mind, I leave you with a video I made at the market in Catania. They could sing opera with those voices!

Fun fact: in Palermo people thought I’m from Milan judging from my accent while speaking Italian. Ci sono quasi! ;)