Today I was riding my bike at 7 am, going to work. To me, this is the most suitable time to reflect on my volunteering journey. Firstly, because I should think of something during these 40 minutes since I can’t shut down my brain. Secondly, the deadline for writing this report was a couple of days ago, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone – spend this time in a useful way by contemplating what to write. Frankly speaking though, I’ve been reflecting on my time in Germany for the past few months, and my mood has been changing drastically from day to day. While my first report was positive and the third will be positive as well, this one will be all about the downsides of volunteering. Volunteering abroad is not always as joyful as it seems. So let me present some drawbacks of being an ESC volunteer.
The most significant one is the project. To be honest, my expectations for the project were slightly different from what I am doing at my workplace right now. I work at a school, and the main objective for me to choose this workplace was to learn teaching techniques, assist teachers, maybe teach a bit as well. Overall, to participate in this teaching process and learn from it. However the school mainly wants me to spend 80% of my time in Hort (after-classes daycare for the elementary school kids) where there’re no classes, no teaching, no strict discipline. The kids just play with each other and wait for their parents to pick them up. I did not dream of doing this for a year, I wanted to improve my soft and hard skills but not to just go outside and do nothing but look after the kids that don’t need you. It was partly my fault for not asking enough questions during the selection process and not clarifying the tasks. I trusted the project description that looked nice and aligned with my wishes. However, the reality turned out to be different, sometimes with useless tasks, like helping the team clean the place (that’s needed obviously, but that’s not why I came to Germany; I can improve my cleaning skills at home as well). Just to let you know, it’s not all bad. And I’m working on turning this boredom at work into something inspiring, engaging and useful for me. But this is the matter of the third report :))
With all being said, I want to share my insight: interviews are a two-way street, as they say. Not only they choose you as a volunteer but also you choose them as your workplace. Therefore, if you don’t want to be frustrated during your project, ask more questions during the interview. Or if you’re already on the project, find a solution on how to turn the tables (like I’m doing right now).
Another problem I faced is living in a shared apartment with other volunteers. And this is knowing that I have already lived in a dormitory with three people in one room while here we all have private rooms. But as I said, life isn’t perfect, and so are neighbours (to all my neighbours but one particular, it was/still is a pleasure to live with you, we all know who I’m talking about, and that’s not you). And here I had two options: live with it or start acting trying to change something. Neither the living phase nor the action have helped so far but I’m working on it. From this problem I learned one thing: people tend to take advantage of you and your nice behaviour. Sometimes talking doesn’t help as well, and so there come times when instead of being nice you should start acting, defending yourself. Why am I writing this here? Firstly, this is one of the ways to deal with the problem. Secondly, this report is about drawbacks, and this has been a critical issue for almost my whole stay in Bremen.
TLTR: over these six months I had two major problems (there were others like bureaucracy or politics though you don’t have any choices but to adapt to these rules and follow them), and both I’m solving right now. Thanks to the midterm seminar I found some options on how to take the most out of my workplace and not be bored (aka what projects I may launch) and already started implementing them. The second one takes longer, but I’m committed to solving it soon.
To end this report on a positive note, let me tell you why I adore my workplace: school holidays (obviously not only for holidays, but I’ve recently had two and a half weeks off and these memories are still vivid in my mind). We have many school holidays, and this allows us to travel or do whatever we want. I’m taking the most out of this time off (and my visa) by travelling around Europe. The spring holidays I spent moving from Bremen to Denmark, then to Portugal, after to Germany and Alfeld in particular and to Amsterdam for the Easter holidays. Half of my stay in Portugal I spent in a surf camp and fell in love with surfing. So right now I already have some plans for the summer holidays (Portugal and its waves are waiting for me). This turned out to be a solo travelling, but ESC is also about group travels with other volunteers. Though sometimes it turns out to be a disaster with everyone having their own wishes for what to do, it still means lots of fun, meeting more people and lovely memories that you go back to once in a while. And this is valid not only for times we travel. It’s also a part of the daily life of volunteers: hangouts, lots of talking, loads of laughing, weird or funny photos and memories that will be with you forever.