It’s not a happy post*

Honestly I thought I’m not going to write anything more on this blog after my sort-of-final post just before my departure from Bologna. But now I feel that I really need to communicate something connected to the EVS experience and this is the right place to do so.

So, I have already mentioned that no one can prepare you for your EVS. Everywhere it’s different and you’ll get a different experience depending on the country you go to, the culture, the people you’ll work and go out with. This is obvious. Every EVS volunteer will tell you that and you’ll find this observation on their blogs. But what no one says out loud is that what you REALLY don’t expect is the PTSD (or should I rather say TSD, since the trauma is happening now and not before) you’ll get after coming back from an EVS.

Now, I don’t want to speak generally, because everyone is different and we all came from various backgrounds, had various reasons for doing the EVS, so I’ll just tell you how I feel now, after being back since already a month. It’s awful and terrifying, that’s how it is for me now. I feel terribly confused and lost, I have no idea what to do with myself. Like a fish out of water I have been deprived of an environment and life I need, of a place where I felt happy and fulfilled. Now I just simply don’t know how to go on. I don’t know how to find myself in the new-old reality which is my hometown, where I no longer belong.

I have moments in which I truly HATE relating to my countrymen and speaking in my mothertongue. And then I hate myself for this.

These are all things you will never be prepared for. This feeling of being empty inside, cause all your “contents” have been left somewhere else. This consciousness that you’re no longer a citizen of just one country.

The EVS has been such a great experience for me and Bologna has become my city just as much as the one I have been raised up in. Some of my fellow volunteers have found (or are still trying to find) a way to stay in Italy after their projects. I now deeply regret I haven’t tried harder to do the same.

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*You have been warned.

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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.

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.

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.

Volunteer’s money

One of the main things I was worried about before starting my EVS in Italy was whether the money I’m going to receive from the project is going to be sufficient. ‘Will I have to save on food?’, ‘Will I be able to buy meat only from time to time?’, ‘Will there be any chance of travelling?’ — those were some of the questions I was asking myself.

Eventually I also found some people online, ex-volunteers who did their EVS in Italy. I was mainly looking for Poles, cause in this way the information they would provide would be more adequate for me. One of the people I contacted told me, that I would probably have to save some money and be careful with it, that I won’t probably be able to eat meat every day (laugh all you want, but for a Polish person, meat is essential). Fortunately it’s not THAT important for me to eat meat each day for lunch (we don’t have evening dinner in Poland).

Anyway, to keep it short: a lot depends on your own needs, because I for example am not a person that goes out so much, so I don’t spend money on drinks, eating out etc. That makes it easier for me to save for other things and small joys, like nicer food from time to time. Also, you have to remember that not every volunteer receives the same amount of money each month. First of all it depends on the country you do your EVS in and then you have to also remember that different organisations handle money differently. Some will provide you accomodation that is already paid for, some will give you money and make you manage it yourself. Some will give you the full amount of money for the month, some will give you less, because for example you’re having lunches and dinners at your organisation every day (happens mostly when you work in retirement homes, refugee houses and so on).

If you want to know more about the amounts of money for each country you can do an EVS in, you will find it in the official Erasmus+ guide (available in various languages). And if you have more specific questions about how it really is for a volunteer in Italy (or in Bologna, more specific), you can write me in the comments or contact me via the Facebook page.

#comebacks

pierogi
Traditional Polish pierogi with sauerkraut&mushroom filling / photo courtesy of AMS

Once again I have been silent for a while (blog-wise), but I have good reasons for it. As the photos from the last post suggest, I’ve been travelling a bit. First I went to an EVS volunteer training in Rimini, then there was Christmas and New Year’s that I spent in Ravenna and after that I went back to Bologna for a couple of days before leaving for Poland for 10 days. Throughout this time I’ve been posting a bit to Facebook which is so much easier to update, since (as can be seen on multiple examples) it doesn’t require much thinking.

So, if you have been there (to this blog’s Facebook page), you might have figured out that I’ve been forced invited to cook some traditional Polish dishes served on a Christmas table. I teamed up with basically the whole family of my girlfriend and together we prepared barszcz czerwony z uszkamipierogi and makówka for Christmas Eve’s dinner. The next day I could enjoy a true Italian Christmas Day’s lunch with such delicacies as cappelletti, lasagne, stracotto and more. All of this was followed by torrone and pan d’oro as dessert.

Long story short, I’ve gained two kilos over the Christmas period. And then I went to Poland where nothing worth sharing happened.

A lot of surprising news were waiting for me after my return. Firstly, we are no longer two volunteers in the project. Due to series of events the other volunteer left and I’m now the only volunteer in the organization. Following this a decision has been made to change my mentor in the project. Now the situation is a bit hectic as we are reorganizing our works.

I got back directly into the middle of preparations for one of the next parties we’re going to host at il b.u.c.o.: Be Your Style. I have designed a poster for it and got in contact with our co-hosts from Stile Libero football team. It’s going to be a second party I’m responsible for since October (the first one being I Love Touch). After it I should maybe add another area of expertise to my resume: women’s sports party management.

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…