People walking through the streets with a smile on their face- that’s so strange.
These were my thoughts back in Germany but meanwhile I am one of those people dancing through the city with a big smile.
Hey, my name is Antonia and I am an 18 years old volunteer here in Skopje, Macedonia. In the morning I work in a school called “Dr Zlatan Sremec” or in the day-care center “Lastovica association for the rights of children and youth with special needs” where I help teaching children with disabilities. But it is so much more than that. I learn to see the world through the eyes of children again and gain so many new perspectives about life and how it can be seen and lived.
The first time I walked through the school I already thought that this place might become my “happy place”. Four months later this theory still turns out to be true. But in school as well as in my daily life here I have been confronted with difficulties and plenty of new challenges. To mention some examples: I was in quarantine for 32 days, flatmates were coming and going, language barriers caused communication difficulties and the health system is barely existent.
In retrospect I can say that these times were the ones teaching me the most about myself, other people and about life. To get out of your comfort zone is the biggest challenge and can be very scary but in the end it helps you to grow, to develop and to flower out. For me it was the best decision to overcome my fear of getting into a plane and coming to this country I never really heard of before. People always talk about becoming a different or even better person by doing volunteer work in another country and that those times were one of the best and formative times in their entire previous life but for me it was always hard to imagine that.
Now, after spending 4 months in Macedonia I can say for sure that there is so much truth in those words. When I say that, I’m not only talking about the work experience I gain here, the lessons I learn through the difficulties or the self-confidence that I gain. It’s also about this crazy and random country itself. People here appreciate you and time is something that is apparently not existing or just endless.
Because no matter where you go, people ask you out for a coffee or invite you for a meal. Just to spend time together and enjoy life. Another thing that really fascinates me in here is that people remember you.
For example there is this beautiful place called “Old Bazaar” where you can find a lot of restaurants, coffee shops, narrow alleys and everything is covered in color and decoration. Every time I pass by the ice cream booth in Old Bazaar I get a warm smile and a genuine “Hello”. The waiters of some coffee shops know me and my flatmate already and approach us like old friends.
Besides that there is this Albanian friend group. No matter where they are, you just need to call them and they will join you a few minutes later. That’s also a typical Macedonian thing: spontaneity. Better don’t make plans because they will never become reality or at least they will not end up in they way you have imagined. Every single day something unexpected is happening and seriously I can’t remember one single day in here that was boring.
I want to conclude with a quote from “Pirates of the Caribbean” that says:
“Not all treasure is silver an gold, mate”.
Antonia is hosted on the project See the human behind – volunteering as a tool to support inclusion, financed by the European Solidarity Corps and the National Agency for European Educational Programs and Mobility of North Macedonia.