Melanie’s EVS Story

Melanie is from Belgium and is doing her EVS in Romania. Read her story about her EVS experience and check out the gallery below. 🙂

The day I arrived in Romania, my new home for the following 6 months, was a particularly sunny and warm one. I remember stepping off the plane and immediately taking off my big coat, which I still wore back from Belgium. Only a few hours ago, I had still been in this cloudy, rainy country, which I knew so well, saying my goodbyes to my family, which I had never left for such a long time before. Now, walking into the crowds of the terminal, seeing all those unfamiliar faces and signs in an unknown language was a strange, nerve-wrecking feeling. I was in a place I knew virtually nothing about and had never been to before and very soon I was going to meet the people with whom I was going to spend the following 6 months of my life with. My heart was racing, my palms were sweating and my emotions were driving on a rollercoaster – but even if I didn’t know it then, these moments at Bucharest – Otopeni airport were in fact only the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime.

During the first few days of my EVS, technically I was not even a real “adult”. I was seventeen years old, freshly graduated from high school and hopeful of seeing what this experience would make of me. During school time, I had not really had any clue of what I wanted to study, or do – I was swaying between different things but couldn’t really make up my mind. Also, the idea of simply continuing to sit, listen, write and learn at this point didn’t seem right for me. I did want to study in the future, learn new things and follow my passions, but if I didn’t exactly know what they were now, it seemed senseless to get into something that I might regret later.

So I decided to go for it, an EVS. Looking back at it now, it probably is the best decision I have made in my life. It gave me a way to dedicate time to myself and thought to my future. The opportunity of living in this country which at the beginning had seemed so different and now so close. The gift of meeting some of the most wonderful people I have ever known – simply the adventure of for the first time living my own life. And all this obviously could not have happened anywhere. I was probably just very lucky that my way brought me here, into this small Romanian village, Izvoarele. I guess the warmth of the people and the place must’ve somehow shined through to me, through the “Open Call” in which one of the advantages stated was that the volunteer would receive “many hugs”. Or the lovingly crafted videos I saw on Curba de Cultura’s, (the organisation’s) page, where the calm, peaceful atmosphere is nearly palpable.

As I mentioned before, the organisation where I’m working in is called “Curba de Cultura”. In total we are 9 EVS volunteers here, of whom 5 of us work in schools and 4 do an anthropology project where they document the life of people in the village. I am part of the group who works with the youth, which means that we are going to primary and high schools where we encourage non – formal learning. This means that we go into music, English or French classes and do games and activities with the students that give them the opportunity to be interactive, which during ‘formal’ education usually isn’t the case. We try to give them a fun and interesting time for learning languages, about music, environment or things like interculturality. At the same time, as we don’t really speak Romanian, they try and make an effort to use English or French. And also by us simply being there they become more aware of the possibility of volunteering.

What we do during our days here can vary, as we have a pretty diverse timetable. On some days we wake up around 8-9, eat our breakfast, take our lunch and then have lessons in the schools. We go to the classes usually in pairs, and prepare what we will do in that lesson the day before. After school we pretty much always drive to Curba. If it is the beginning of the week, we usually have a meeting with our coordinators, where we discuss our activities for the coming week, and reflect on how the previous one went. Apart from that we also have Romanian lessons there, taught to us also by one of our coordinators. Sometimes, in the afternoon smaller children pop by if they are bored, to play some board games with us. They come so often now, that we even have a schedule for who is taking care of them that day. A lot of the time when we’re in Curba, we also spend on writing all kinds of reports or articles, preparing lessons and doing our general paperwork. As it is always cozy and warm in the office this is actually a pleasure, especially when everyone is gathered around and is joking and laughing with each other while working. Unless there is something special planned, like a boardgame session we occasionally have with the local volunteers for example, my 3 housemates and me leave at around 5. Sometimes, instead of going straight home, we go to “Lidl” which has become our attraction, especially since they built the biggest one in Romania in the town near us 😉
When we get home, usually the first thing we do is go to our bedrooms, we share in pairs, to relax and chill a bit. We have bunk beds and I’m the one sleeping on the top. Before I can get comfortable tough, I often make a fire in our fire place as now during winter it gets pretty cold. Before I came to Romania, actually I had never made one in my life, but our coordinator showed us in the beginning and now I’m so used to doing it, it actually became a pleasure. A bit later in the evening we eat dinner all together (which the one who’s on the cooking schedule has prepared) but for that we always have to cross to the other building where the kitchen and bathroom is located. The house we live in indeed is traditionally Romanian, and that is just the way these houses are built – kitchen and bathroom separate from bedrooms. At the beginning this was quite new, because every time you want to use the bathroom you have to cross to the other house, but it’s something you get accustomed to pretty quickly. Another bathroom related thing by the way was that actually you can’t throw your toilet paper into the toilet – you throw it into the bin as it can get stuck in the pipes. At the beginning it took a while to get used to it but now it also got very normal. Anyway, after dinner sometimes we like to watch some series or movies together, which is always really nice, to sit in a warm room, hear the fire and enjoy the film together. We go to sleep pretty early and we already started joking about Romania making us grandmas but it’s true, the days are often so intense that we simply can’t help feeling sleepy at 10 in the evening.

Apart from the bathroom things I didn’t really experience any “cultural shocks” if you can even call it like that. Actually I have mostly discovered many beautiful things about Romania. First of all, I saw that the people in general are very kind. Whether you go to the schools, to the shop, or see your neighbours on the street – most of the time you are greeted in a very friendly and warm – hearted way. One day for example, our neighbour came to our house and brought us a tablet full of traditional Romanian food and she explained to us that this is something you traditionally do in Romania to remember the dead.

Things like this are part of the reason why I like this country so much, at least the place where I’m living in. The kindness of the people is still genuine, they hold on to their traditions, their food, their dances and music and are proud of their heritage. For me this is very important as I have the impression the more you go into the west, the less such things are paid attention to. Here you have festivals where teenagers and children dress up into their traditional clothing, sing and dance, where traditional food is served and the people can simply enjoy the riches of their culture.

The more you get into the cities, the less of course traditional it gets, but they still have their charm. My housemates and I until now have travelled to Bucharest, Brasov and Sibiu. All the three cities are pretty different from each other, but each of them has showed us a wider and wider perspective of the country. In Bucharest we visited the Old town and impressive monuments and could feel a bit the “capital” life. In Sibiu we saw the specific and colourful architecture and felt like in a town from a fairytale. And in Brasov, apart from going to the Oktoberfest, we could also see some of the other German influences that were present in this beautiful city. Mostly though, it was nice to discover all of these places together with my housemates, to go on roadtrips, listen to music and simply spend time together.

So whether we are at home in our village or travelling around, I feel like I am constantly learning – about Romania, everything that is happening around me and also a lot about myself. For me it is the first time living apart from my family and being truly responsible for myself. Through this alone I learned a lot of basic domestic things which may not seem that important but are actually really useful. Apart from that I have the impression that already now, after two months I have learned to have more faith in myself by doing the activities in class – for me hosting them at the beginning did require some courage, and now the more I’m doing it, the stronger and confident I feel in doing them. Also simply preparing the lessons, imagining games, activities and trying to find a way to put something meaningful into all the fun is also something I have never done before and is a skill that I’m in the process of acquiring. Another new thing like this would also be time & financial management as we have deadlines and a limited amount of money per month, which we have try to use responsibly. And finally there is also the language. As I mentioned before, we have Romanian lessons and also pick up quite a few things from just the life around us – going to the shop, communicating with the children, trying to understand the signs. But Romanian isn’t even the only language that I have the chance to learn. Because we speak English 24/7 hours of the day, automatically, without even realising it my English also seems to have improved a lot. Now when for example I speak German with the volunteers from Liechtenstein and Croatia who also speak German, it seems weird and unnatural so without realising it we also automatically switch back to English because we simply became so used to it.

So all in all, by doing all those activities what I discovered about myself is simply that I am in fact able to manage all of these responsibilities, this more or less independent life. Before I came I really had doubts, I thought that I would be too shy, not assertive enough and too home – bound. But now being two months here I have the feeling that I am doing fine – I can manage the cooking, cleaning, fire – making, living apart from home and also teaching the activities in school. Of course I also have some bad days, especially when a lesson doesn’t work out so well, but all in all I really have the feeling that I actually like doing this, going to schools and doing activities with the children. I remember once I had a lesson together with another volunteer in a primary school. It was sunny and we did the activities outside. The children in this class were so incredibly sweet and genuinely happy of us being there it warmed my heart so much that after the lesson I had to cry from emotion. This was really one of the moments where I really had the impression that I love what I’m doing here.

As you see, the rollercoaster of emotions which I had at the beginning, at the airport is still on its way – I have days where I’m overwhelmed by how great the children are, but of course also other ones where I feel like I failed them. Mostly though, I feel comfortable and simply at home, especially when I’m with the other volunteers and coordinators. The country which at the beginning had seemed quite different and far from what I knew now seems incredibly familiar. And the people which before were strangers are now simply friends to me.

So in conclusion, all I can do is to repeat once again that doing the EVS was really such a good decision, especially at this moment of my life. So from my point of view, if you are also in a phase where you are not completely sure of what to do and you need a change of what you are used to, doing an EVS is really an incredible option. It allows you to discover so much, about the country you are going to, it opens your horizons more and and can give you ideas about what you want to do. But most of all it gives you the opportunity to get to know great people and finally also yourself in a way that you have never before.

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