Once upon a time I decided to go to France. After some searching, I found a project in Strasbourg, it said I’d have to work with small children in the Strasbourg City Council, which promised some related to international relations events. I liked that it combined several things - learning French, being in the centre of human rights and work with children. I have always enjoyed being in camps and participating in educational programs and dreamed for once to be a teacher. I applied immediately. Here I want to share about the experience itself, my feelings of being in an international environment and how it influenced my plans for the future. Now I am at the end of the project and I can reflect on how I spent 9 months in France working with small children.
The accommodation that the project provided was a student accommodation. It’s never the same as you imagine it to be as it is a full-time commitment, but also it’s an adventure. I worked with really small kids as kindergartens in France are from 1,5 to 3 years. Of course, language is a part of everything you do, especially with kids. I was not nearly fluent in French. Although, if you’re going to the French-speaking environment, I would advise to take some basic classes beforehand, as there is a little chance anyone would speak English and it helps to know something before you get to the immersive environment. I can see how much I have improved, I can carry a conversation and sometimes make it look like I am a local. It certainly gave me more motivation to study further.
The work also included waking up every day early and being in the kindergarten by 8 o'clock. For someone who has trouble with early hours that could be problematic. Nevertheless, I learnt a lot about the value of being organised and how much one can do in a day for others, which kept me going. Over the time, it was so much easier to develop bonds with the kids, as they really do not care about your origin, they just want someone trustworthy, kind and interesting to be around them. That is why, I tried to be natural, honest and as entertaining as I could be. It was also important to establish relationships with coworkers, which is challenging when you can’t always explain yourself, but mine were really helpful.
Another thing is working in an international environment. I have been abroad for studies, so at first I was not afraid of changing the environment - for most I was excited. It turned out to be a different experience, when the things work differently in a foreign country. Especially in France there are many rules and bureaucratic traditions that are different from Ukraine, so it takes a lot of learning and adjusting. Once I managed to navigate it, I was proud and felt accomplished - there is confidence in learning how to present yourself abroad, going through routines and I wanted to be a human rights advocate even before this project although it might mean a lot of things. After finishing this project, I believe, I became more patient and flexible and realised the value of different details in the routine jobs.
I still want to work for human rights, but now that I know the practical side of education and working in the field of care, I’ll be more conscious and motivated regarding politics and non-formal education.
To sum up, working with little people is very entertaining, but mostly it’s hard work. It was challenging experience but it also gave me some learning experience and turned out to be rewarding. I will also miss my 19 little friends a lot as that was really the best group and support one could get.
Oleksandra Kovalenko, 24 years old, Zaporizhzhia