“Wow, you have been in Skopje for seven months now”. Whenever I hear that phrase, I have to remind myself how quickly time passes. Especially the last four summer months have been a rush between work activities, traveling around the Balkans and enjoying capital life to its fullest.
Hi, I am Clarissa, I am 19 years old and I am a volunteer in Skopje, Macedonia for one year. I work for an NGO “Volunteers Centre Skopje” that hosts volunteers from many European countries. Since the loosening of the Covid restrictions in May, many in-person projects were finally possible.
My work highlight was an Erasmus+ project about active citizenship. For one week my workplace hosted young people from Spain, Romania, Macedonia and Denmark in a hotel in Skopje’s mountains. Me and the Portuguese volunteer lived and helped out at the hotel for one week. In there I was surrounded by actual change-makers. They were fighting food waste, cleaning the trash in their communities and raising suicide awareness. This week I left with an optimistic feeling about Europe’s future.
Also, I participated in a talk show in Macedonian live television. Out of nowhere the “Europe House Skopje” invited me to be a part of their show about the “Erasmus+” program. I was invited to share my experience as a volunteer here. Three minutes before the show was supposed to be broadcasted, all lights went off and we lost electricity. When we finally went live 15 minutes later, my translation was not working. So, for the first minutes I was sitting there, trying to understand Macedonian. Despite the chaos, it was amazing to leave my comfort zone and see a television studio for the first time ever.
Besides that, we started helping out in a Day Care Centre for Roma Street Children. A few times a week we go there to help out with the homework, to clean and to play with the children.
After half a year I also had my ON ARRIVAL (what an irony) training. For three days we were in a hostel and we had time to reflect on our experience. I was told that all volunteers in the country would be there so I was expecting quite many – yet there were only five people I didn’t know already. Finally, I realized why Macedonians are so excited about us: because there are basically no western European foreigners in their country.
Another highlight was exploring Macedonia and its neighboring countries. Me and my roommate had a VERY spontaneous trip to Kosovo. It went like: “Hey, would you like to explore places today?” – “Sure, let’s check what busses are driving today at the main station.” Kosovo’s capital Prishtina didn’t impress us too much but what stuck with me were the amount of coffee shops and Shisha bars.
Our craziest trip so far was to Albania. With my three German friends we traveled to the capital Tirana and to the beach in Serande. In Albania, there was seemingly no pandemic. I did not spark a single mask, not even in busses or shops.
What was even more crazy though, was when we decided to rent a car. Bad idea! An Albanian man overtook us in a curve and crashed our car. We were all well off, but only with the help of the German embassy we managed to get help from the police.
Back in Germany and cultural shocks
At the ending of August, I went back to Germany for a holiday. The experience was beautiful, yet weird to process. After my 36 hours bus ride back home, I had plenty of cultural shocks in my city at the Lake of Constance. “1. Why is everybody so quiet? Are they whispering? 2. Wow, it is so clean here! I don’t see any trash. 3. Everything works smoothly. The doctors are amazing and they actually manage to help me. 4. People are VERY busy and structured and they only have time if you plan the meeting in advance.”
Skopje as a city
Coming back to Skopje, I once again realized how exciting life in Skopje actually is. Skopje is the kind of city where you spontaneously participate in a street poetry slam event. The whole summer in Skopje was SUPER vibrant despite the hot temperatures that sometimes reached 40 degrees. Covid rules were basically non-existent and the clubs were full even on a Monday night.
While my ESC is going fantastically, I also had my down sides. My biggest struggle is saying goodbye all the time. Since we have plenty of short-term volunteers in our organization and Erasmus students in my friend circle, it is eifficult to say goodbye on such a frequent basis.
However, if saying goodbye is hard, it means that you have good people around you. What more could I ask for?
Clarissa is hosted by the Volunteers Center Skopje on the project “VOICES to be heard”, which is financed by the Europan Solidarity Corps and Jugend für Europa.