What has happened since I wrote my latest report in November 2016? I greatly improved my level of French, took part in a dozen of forums (which basically helped me to break the language barrier), held lots of informational group and individual meetings devoted to EVS, acted as one of organizers and animators of the youth exchange, assembled my own bike, started to feel comfortable on the roads of Lyon, fabricated a shoe shelf, learnt to play ukulele, visited Bordeaux, sand dune de Pilat, Grenoble, Geneva, Annecy, Barcelona and Rome, fell in love with Lyon, made plans for summer… But everything in its time.
The French language: I can’t say I am completely satisfied (small talk and jokes are still the stumbling blocks for me), but at least I am no longer ashamed to reveal that I have studied French for 4 years at the university. Many former language students will see what I mean. The solution was given by the nature of my project: at the end of November Concordia trusted us, two volunteers, to represent association on the Forum of International Mobility in Chambery. It is a hugely popular event which resulted for us in speaking incessantly from 10 till 18 with dozens of people. We had no choice. No fears, no doubts. Only answers to numerous questions. After that I progressed, even when I thought that I didn't. Two-three months later telephone calls stopped to freak me out. Now I feel quite comfortable speaking French both face-to-face and at a distance.
Language is the skill that strikes me first when I think about what I have gained here, but not the only one. It is just because other skills are more difficult to analyze, their development is harder to notice.
Speaking in public is essential too, especially when you do it in a foreign language: you forget about being nervous in general, you only think about not searching for the words too long. We give a lot of presentations in NGOs, lyceums, associations about EVS, workcamps, etc. After a while speaking in front of 20-30 people becomes natural.
One of the most valuable experiences for me is organizing a youth exchange. I already played a small part in the exchange held in October. For the next one held in April I took much more responsibilities from writing the programme to leading non-formal workshops. This is a school of time management, logistics, team work, leadership, communication with partners. Each part of it is precious even if you do not realize it immediately. For example, for me it was a surprise to understand that I couldn’t work in a team, I could not trust my colleagues, I wanted to control everything. Sharing responsibility was a nightmare. But having analyzed the situation with my tutor, I saw how each of us can contribute our strengths to the project to counter-balance the weaknesses of other participants. As for all my professional life I have worked as a freelancer, a loner, team work in Concordia is a new step for me, and an important one!
We also participated in preparation for workcamp season. Thanks to our regional director Geraldine, we assisted to negotiations with local partners and translated workcamp descriptions from French into English. In summer each of us should lead at least one workcamp. Despite my experience of youth exchange, I am still thrilled thinking about this challenge.
Apart from work I learn a lot every day of my life in France. I realized that I love sharing an apartment. Before I was sure I wanted to live either with my family or alone. Now I think that collocation is the best decision. I like living with Azat (my best Turkish friend) and our third volunteer Ewa from Poland.
I get to know about local initiatives which seem to me essential, priceless, uniting the people. I do not know their analogues in Ukraine. For example, numerous non-for-profit associations organizing regular workshops so that more experienced people could share their skills and knowledge with those willing to learn – almost for free! I can’t tell you about all of them, but only about those which I found because I wanted to study some area and I couldn’t afford paying for courses. The first one was a bike workshop. In Lyon there are more than 10 biking workshops where you can learn how to repair your bike: you pay 15-20 euros per year which gives you a right to come to the workshop during opening hours and study bike’s mechanics under supervision of an expert. He will not do anything for you, he will teach you how to repair (clean, assemble/disassemble) it independently. Like that in 2 month I could assemble my own bike!
One month later I found a similar workshop but devoted to DIY (making furniture, performing simple repair works at home linked to electricity, plumbing, carpentry, etc.). The goal of it is to help disadvantaged people who can’t afford hiring technical specialists. But it became a place of meeting for all people passionate about doing something with their own hands. In this workshop I learned how to use electrical tools to dissemble an old palette and to make a shoe shelf for volunteer’s apartment. I dream to fabricate garden furniture for my association to make our empty courtyard cozier.
There is a lot of initiatives that make people communicate. A special web-site called “My petit voisinage” (my little neighborhood in English) connects neighbors by giving them chance to exchange services: for example, you have free time and could babysit your neighbor’s daughter in exchange for fixing a leaking tap in your apartment (neighbor’s husband is a plumber), but how much do we know about our neighbors? What are the chances that you both will find each other if you do not live at least on the same floor? This service was designed to help people to know more about their neighbors and to get in contact. Nice idea!
I have a lot of free time with my association, so I can study, read, attend workshops, walk a lot in my favorite city if Lyon, play music, meet people, and of course travel! Late autumn and winter were not the best time but I managed somehow to see new places. One of them was Rome where I spend almost three weeks in December 2016. It was a forced holiday which I didn’t want to spend in Lyon, so I did what I wanted to do long before – I found a place through workaway.info on a small horse farm in a pine forest 30 minutes from Rome and 4 km from the sea. 4 hours a day I worked with horses in the morning, for that I had a roof and food in a marvelous place with interesting people – an Italian guy, former volunteer in Cambodia, and two Liverpool girls travelling through Europe. I was invited at Christmas dinner in authentic Italian family organized by our sweet hostess Guenda. My Italian holidays are a separate world inside the world of EVS.
I also have huge plans for the rest of spring and summer: Paris, Rouen, Marseille, Mont-Saint-Michel, Avignon, Nice, Lille, Strasbourg, more Italy, may be Belgium or Portugal, mountain hikes around Mont-Blanc and canoeing in Gorge du Verdon.
The only negative thing about EVS is that time flies and your project ends while you still have so many things to do and to live in this city and in this country!
Nadia Savchenko, 29, Kramatorsk