ESC is a journey. And not just from one point on the map to another. It’s a journey within yourself that teaches you and changes you in countless ways!
Living in another country and being a part of an interesting project sounds tempting, and thanks to the European Solidarity Corps, it is more possible than ever. It means new people, a new country, new experiences. A new world. No doubt about it. But anyone who chooses to take on this challenge should bear in mind that, with all the euphoria, there are plenty of things to do – you often have to react quickly and independently.
First of all, be careful with the luggage! Think about the important things and minimize the weight. Also, make no compromise with the suitcase and wrap it well before the flight (I didn’t do that and got it back broken at the airport, which cost me wounds on my hands for the next month). In general, during the project you will be travelling a lot, so it is a good idea to learn how to pack lightly – many times it is necessary to fit everything necessary for the next few days in a small backpack.
Fatigue will be something you have to get used to, as well as finding your own way to deal with it (in the beginning , around noon I felt as tired as after an 8-hour workday). The thing is that no one is waiting for you to adapt and sleep for a few days. The huge difference with your previous trips abroad is that in this case you do not go on a holiday and do not organize your own stay, but you start living and working in a completely different place immediately. So the sooner you accept the new city like home, the faster you will feel better. Of course, the constant emotions, the initial stress and the nostalgia hinder you a lot, but do not forget your motivation to make that choice in the first place.
The cultural shock will not be small unless you choose a country close in history, mentality and economic status to your own. And even if you do that, the people you would interact with and live with will probably come from many different places. Here comes one of the most important lessons – learning to live with strangers and people so different from you. To make compromises and, at the same time, not to allow certain borders to be crossed is a delicate balance. To forget your prejudices and to see the value in every new person you meet is absolutely essential. To allow the people you begin to communicate with in your life so intensely that you make some of your strongest and most meaningful friendships. Such friendships are built by shared moments of laughter, tears, hugs, support and affection, and that later even thousands of miles away, they might never fall apart.
Life abroad teaches you to live bravely. You have to harness your full potential in all aspects of your existence and all the knowledge you have acquired along the way. From elementary math through culinary skills and good memory to advanced ingenuity, you’ll need all this to survive without any major crashes.
Be prepared to change your plans at any time, especially when you are traveling long distance in an unfamiliar country. And this includes: sleeping outdoors or sleepless nights; using in couchsurfing and other community platforms, hitchhiking (never do it alone!), checking absolutely all bus / train ticket prices all along the route, regardless of your final destination (for example, when I was traveling from Matera to Salerno – about 2:30 h. from Matera – the ticket was 11E, and to the final destination Naples – 4:30 h. from Matera – the price was 4E 🙂 I bought a ticket to Naples and then I went to Salerno just to save money).
And since 7E is nothing, you may be wondering why go through all this to save so little. We come to the question about money which is quite important to the person who has chosen to volunteer. The money you get is carefully calculated to allow you to survive (incl. your food for the month, public transportation tickets, your household needs + a few beers). If you want to travel on your days off during the project, you must learn to save. And since your biggest monthly expense is food, it is a good idea to visit the markets and get informed about the prices during the first days after your arrival, because they may be very different from the ones in your country. You should also consider the products on offer, because they will probably also save you a lot.
Medicines are another thing that can empty your pocket, so get your essentials from home and take care of your health. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to count on having a flatmate who treats you with a Turkish (or other kind of) broth :).
After drawing the line, my ESC experience has given me courage, a broader outlook on life, more patience, new ideas, invaluable experiences, warmer smiles, a calmer heart, which today is richer with a few new friendships (or just my new sisters :). It gave me an even stronger love for Bulgaria, it helped me to feel at ease back home. I hope my new knowledge will help for its better future.
My advice to all young people who have not yet gone through “ESC School” is to do it – wherever their heart wants. And when you arrive, open it for everything new that lies ahead. Travel, experience, be helpful!