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.

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

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.

Italian pride

There are some things you should never offend when it comes to the Italian culture and the first one of them is pizza. This is where McDonald’s fell. As you might know, this year’s EXPO is in Milan. It’s theme is Feeding the planet, Energy for Life. So, as it is somewhat related to food, McDonald’s has become one of it’s main sponsors. Recently it has come to my attention that the company released a TV commercial, that I think was not really thought through. Check it out yourselves:

An Italian kid that prefers Happy Meal over pizza? That’s a blasphemy (it’s already big coming from me, imagine the outrage of Italians). I mean, generally food at McDonald’s fa schifo, but even if it doesn’t, it could NEVER be better than a true Italian pizza. McDonald’s, what were you thinking? Of course, it was not necessary to wait long for a response:

It’s even more hilarious because of the language – the kid is speaking in the napoletano dilect (Napoli is of course the place where pizza was born). Dear McDonald’s, everyone makes mistakes, but this was just stupid…

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Thanks to Costruirecollego for the scoop!

Practical info (2)

Here we go with the second part of my very precious pieces of advice about life in Bologna (or Italy in general). Hope you find it useful and remember it’s my own opinion (as always)!

1. Be clever about shopping
Not only about how to spend as little as possible, but also how not to get pissed standing in the line in the supermarket. There is a simple solution: go to the supermarket during lunch time (which in Italy means around 12.30-14.00). I can guarantee you that there will basically be no one there. Just you and some other foreigners that are either as smart as you or they just have lunch at a different time of the day. This rule applies to the whole country, not only Bologna I guess. Just check first if the shop you want to go to is open during lunch time…

2. Carry a map of the city
You will always look like a tourist, but at least you won’t get lost. I have a good sense of direction and in most of the places I visited I could find my way around quite easily, but Italian cities are particular. Streets are narrow, rarely paralel to each other which would make it less difficult after taking a wrong turn and then it might be tricky to find the plates with their names (go to Salerno, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Believe me, it’s better to have a map, even after a couple of months when you think you don’t need it anymore.

3. Do your laundry in the evening and/or on the weekend
It’s something that I still don’t understand completely, but you need to know that using water and electricity in Italy is a bit like parking in the city center: cheaper in the evening (usually after 20.00) and on the weekends (ok, in Poland&Italy parking in those days/hours is completely free, but you know what I mean). For some reason you spend less, so it’s a good thing to schedule your laundry time cleverly. Of course it can happen that on the weekend your laundry machine is getting a hiccup from all the work (you, your flatmates, your flatmates girlfriends/boyfriends), but anyway, it’s cheaper. Keep that in mind.

Free haircut

Ok, I already mentioned that there are many hairdressers in Bologna (and probably in Italy in general) and as confusing as it may be (where to go, which one is the best, where do they serve you also coffee…), there are certain advantages of this excess.

I went to have a haircut today and it was free. Yes, you read that right, it was absolutely free, I paid nothing. Why? Because there is a promotion in February at this hairdresser’s school in Bologna where you can get a haircut/dye your hair free of charge. Where’s the catch? Well, it’s a school, so the people who actually work on you are students, not professionals.

I know what you think: it’s a risk. They are only learning how to be a hairdresser, they can f*ck up your hair and then you’ll have to shave your head or something. Well, I have short hair that don’t really require much work, so I thought I’ll take that risk. Also, when I went there I noticed that the students have a supervisor who helps them, teaches them and just generally supervises their work at all times. And they can’t do anything without his consent. Of course the downside here is that it all takes ages, cause they are around 10-12 people and the teacher is only one, but at least one can feel fairly safe.

Also, let’s remember that I don’t speak Italian at a level that would allow me to explain everything in detail, so it was twice as tricky with me. But the girl that cut my hair was very cautious and I think in the end she did a good job considering my indecision and a general lack of idea about what I want to do with my hair.

All in all, I had a fairly good haircut absolutely for free, so I can’t complain. And in case you are in Bologna this month and you’d like to cut or dye your hair, check out this Facebook event to get more info on how to take an appointment and reach the place.

How things are done around here

You all probably know at least a couple of stereotypes about Italy and Italians. We all do. Not all of them are true (as it often goes with stereotypes), but some definitely yes. Like for example the one about Italians being always late. I guess for them it’s fine as long as everyone else is late too. In this case even though you agree with other people to meet at, let’s say 20.00, no one will come earlier than 20.30-21.00 anyway, so you don’t have to either.

It's middle of December and they are sitting outside... Maybe they agreed to meet in November and they are late?
It’s middle of December and they are sitting outside… Maybe they agreed to meet in November and they are late?

But what is still a bit shocking and annoying (but you know, there’s this moment when something that pisses you off changes into something that makes you roll on the floor laughing) is that also institutions base on that stereotype. Simple example: the Italian National Erasmus+ Agency still hasn’t paid to my host organisation all the money for the project I’m doing here (I’d like to remind that everyone knew since July that this project will take place). So, as a result, my host organisation is paying from their own pocket, so that I have a roof over my head and food in my stomach.

And another hilarious example. The national agency writes on their own website:

Entro un mese dalla data di arrivo, il volontario ha il diritto e il dovere di partecipare alla formazione all’arrivo, che deve essere predisposta dall’Agenzia Nazionale.
(“Within one month from the date of arrival, the volunteer has the right and duty to participate in an on-arrival training which must be arranged by the National Agency.”)

Do you want to know when I’m going to this training? Next week. More than two months after my arrival. Seriously, what can they possibly teach me there right now? After all my adventures with dentists, hospitals, insurance companies and rather incompetent people of any kind, it’s probably me who should be teaching in this course. It’s very likely that I know more about how things are done around here than most of the volunteers who came to Italy in the same period as I did.

But let’s look on the bright side: the course lasts one week and it will take place in a hotel in Rimini, just next to the seaside.

And since I don’t drink coffee and eat rather heavy things for breakfast I just hope they won’t serve only Italian breakfast there…