Hello everybody! My name is Vlad and recently I finished my 10-months volunteering project in France. Here I will tell you how I got into this project, how it went, what I learned from this experience and share tips for future volunteers.
And the first piece of advice — if you are going for a long-term project, state what your purpose is.
Why did I want to do an EVS project? In Odessa I graduated with a bachelor's degree and during 2 years I was working organizing educational events and projects. At some point, I realized that I wanted to break out of my familiar environment and test myself in a new context. I was interested in experiencing life in Europe, getting to know people, learning new skills and traveling. Also, I wanted to become familiar with the educational system in Europe and get professional experience in this field, because this is what I am interested in future. EVS seemed like an ideal option.
The second tip is that when you apply for a project, reserve 3-6 months, formulate criteria and have patience.
My criteria were: a project in Western Europe related to education or youth. In March, I began to follow different pages in FB, telegram and apply for all projects that met these criteria. This took a long time because for each project I had to write a new motivation letter or fill in an application form. By the time I saw the post on the NGO Stella's page, I had submitted about 20 applications. Sometimes I was refused, sometimes they didn't answer. I was invited for an interview a couple of times, but there was no result. It was the same story with the project I ended up going for : I responded to a call from Stella's page, filled out their application form, and sent it along with my resume. Then, I was invited for an interview in late July and in the beginning of August, I was informed that I was accepted for the project.
Third tip — reserve about one and a half months for visa and cases' closure.
It depends on the country but obtaining a long-term visa to France required a lot of documents. I collected them all, received the original invitation from the host organization, applied for a visa and received a passport the day before departure to France. Also, within a month, I closed all work cases, hugged friends and relatives, arranged my bag-pack and morally prepared to leave for a year.
Some information about my project
My project started in October 2018 and ended in August 2019. I worked as an animator in a primary school leisure center. This is a center where parents bring their children after school. We had different activities for children: sports, music, English, drawing, hand-made, games. We usually worked in the morning, before school and in the evening, after school. We worked all day on Wednesdays (when the children were off) and on vacations (2 weeks every 2 months). Sometimes we went with children on excursions, on nature, organized competitions and quests.
What about accommodation and life conditions?
Together with other volunteers from Poland, Estonia, and Turkey, we lived in a house in the village of Saint-Capre-de-Bordeaux, 15 km from Bordeaux. We lived in the house of Concordia, which was our host organization. Although we lived together, our projects were different and we worked in different places. We cooked together and shared our lives. We did not become very close friends, but there were no problems between us. Sometimes we went somewhere together and constantly shared our impressions about the project and France.
How did the volunteering project go?
To make it simple, I will split my staying in France into 4 periods. I called them: wondering, realizing, enjoying and reflecting.
The first period — wondering — 2.5 months
Even though I was abroad before, the first feelings in France were not like the feeling of traveling. I came to the project on October 12 and was happy with everything: food, architecture, work, people, nature etc.. I got used to new conditions and I was really glad that I was on EVS after so many months of effort. I did not understand all details of my project, did not know the language, I just understood how everything was arranged. All these difficulties seemed like interesting and necessary challenges, and delicious cheese for 2 euros and vineyards around were gifts of life. In these conditions, I stayed up until the New Year.
The second period — realizing— 3 months
In January, I got used to all the pretty pictures in front of my eyes and generally to the fact that I was living in France. I started to realize that this is my life now and it will d be like that for the next 8-9 months. And besides tasty cheese for 2 euros in this life, there are difficulties that have become harder to live with. So the next 3 months of my volunteering I spent resolving or accepting these issues, and at some point internally evaluating my project. Here I would like to share the 2 biggest problems.
The first major problem was the language. When I applied for an EVS, I naively believed that I need only English to live and work on every EVS-project. But when I got to a French village, I found out that almost all of my work colleagues, including the coordinator, did not speak English. I started learning French from the early days, the first 4 months I practiced almost daily, but in the beginning of the New Year, my level was still not good enough to have normal communication. And this inability to communicate with people you spend a lot of time with was very uncomfortable.
The second major problem was the organization of the project itself. Let's say, my expectations about the level of the project organization and organizers' responsibility didn’t match the reality. At some point, the organizers even decided to change my workplace without discussing it with me. Probably this was the most difficult moment during the project. I was not ready for the fact that I would have to defend my interests and my experience on a volunteer project in another country. But in the end, I managed to negotiate that I would work at school the way I wanted, and this situation reminded me of my motivation to be on the project in the first place.
Third period — enjoying — 2 months
In the end of March, I visited Portugal, and when I returned back to France, I felt much better, and finally, it was the moment when I was truly enjoying my vounteering. Serious problems were behind, I already knew the language enough and got used to life in general. Colleagues and kids got used to me, I got used to them. My neighbors and I traveled a lot in our car, my family and friends came to visit me. But more importantly, I became familiar with my work and could offer ideas and do activities for children on my own.
Fourth period — reflecting — 2.5 months
In June, my work at school ended. And in July, I was a coordinator of an international workcamp. These 2 summer months were fun and easy on one hand. On the other hand, I missed my family and friends a lot. Also, I knew that the project was coming to an end, I was feeling uncertain, I was trying to reflect and understand what these 10 months were like. Plus, I was honestly bored with the slow way of life in the countryside, I wanted activities, projects, and a fast pace. Leaving France, I felt joy that I had received all this experience, but also joy that it was over and I was returning home.
After coming back home and analyzing everything, I found that these 10 months really gave me a lot. A new language, an experience of independent living abroad, reflection skills, traveling, friends in different places on the planet, experiences in rural life etc. Of course, experience in working with French education system. I had a lot of reflections and observations. These 10 months were like a separate life with many big and small events and memories.
Summarizing, I think that this project has completely fulfilled its mission. My internal goals are met. The experience I have gained, including facing and overcoming problems, is very valuable and unique. There are no other circumstances where I would be able to gain that experience. I am sure that all the experience, skills, and memories I gained from my EVS volunteering in France will stay with me for a long time.
Vladyslav Zymovets, 23, Odessa