For one year, Macedonia felt like a never-ending eternity, but now this eternity is actually over. It was over one month ago that I entered a taxi with happy tears in my eyes. I remember entering the taxi that would bring me to the airport and thinking: “What a beautiful life you have.”
So, let’s go right back to my beginning in Macedonia. First: Why did I even chose this tiny country with less than two million inhabitants? In one phrase: I was unhappy in Germany, and I had this hope that there is more out there. I found the European Solidarity Corps after one day of doing intensive research and Skopje sounded unusual but exciting. After a long period of waiting for my visa and quitting my job in Germany, I found myself in a plane ride that would take me to Macedonia.
It’s difficult to explain Macedonia to people that have never been there so here are three things you have to know:
- Macedonians are LOVELY! No matter where you go, Macedonians will try to be helpful and act as your friend. It is VERY easy to build up a social circle in Macedonia.
- Macedonia is random. The system doesn’t work well, so everything is a “little” chaotic. Nothing goes according to plan, so why bother and planning your weekend. Just leave your house and something will happen. We never planned a single trip, we just went to the bus station and then we were in Turkey, Kosovo, or Bulgaria.
- Macedonia is still a rather undiscovered traveling destination. At times people got really excited when I told them I am from Germany. All taxi drivers would tell me about their working time in Germany and generally speaking, a lot of people speak German or plan to work in Germany.
So, what exactly was I doing in Macedonia?
For twelve months I was working in Volunteers Centre Skopje, short “VCS”. VCS is an international NGO that sends and hosts volunteers. I would work from 9am to 4pm, however, “punctuality” was not the most-used vocabulary during that year. Every day I was in the office together with my co-volunteers from Germany, France, Poland, Finland, and Portugal. Also, I was lucky, and our apartment was in the same building as our office.
My main task was writing and designing articles for our magazine “VOICES”. Besides that, we started a Podcast, so I interviewed people about their time in Africa, sexual education and life in an eco-village. Also, I was an assistant at an Erasmus project about active citizenship.
I am happy that I had space to put my own ideas into action: I focused on social media, for example we started a TikTok account, from which I edited videos from our events. Talking about events, after a long and relaxed summer, us volunteers organized a bunch of events: Karaoke, Pub Quiz, Open Stage, Speedfriending, Human Library, German Conversation Classes, painting action, workshop about stress management.
But my biggest gain were probably my language skills. I improved the languages I already knew, and I managed to reach a communicative Macedonian level. Thanks to my friends, I also learned phrases in Polish, Albanian, Turkish and Finnish
Looking back, Macedonia helped me to mature. Here are my top five things I learned:
- FINALLY, I learned how to do my own household – a reason why parents should support their children to go abroad!
- I learned how to remain calm and friendly in challenging situations. Three times in quarantine, difficult roommates, a visit to the psychiatry or a car crash: I kept a clear head!
- I learned that life is not fair, passports are not fair and that the country you were born in says a lot about the opportunities you have. And being aware of your privileges means that you better appreciate them. I will keep complaining about German stiffness, but I will not complain about the German education system or German salary anymore.
- I learned that a stranger is a friend you have not yet met. There are people out there who have done insanely inspiring stuff. They really live their life the way it makes them happy and excited!
- I learned that high living standards are amazing, but that they are not the most important thing. I was happy to come back to my house in Germany, to sit in a garden, to visit a doctor and to be in a train. But even will a lower living standard in Macedonia, I still enjoyed my time.
Already in Macedonia I realized that this experience would have a life-long impact. So, what change do I see now that I am back?
Most importantly: I am happier. I am talking about sustainable happiness. My time in Macedonia made me realize what a beautiful life I was given. It made me realize that my future is in my own hands. I have a choice. I can choose myself what I want to study, where I want to live and who should be around me. That’s why right now I choose to continue traveling. As I am writing this, I am volunteering in a hostel in Prague.
People often ask me if I would recommend going abroad. Every time, I answer with an enthusiastic “YES!” I truly believe that going abroad widens your perspective, makes you happier and enrichens you with unforgettable experiences. In my opinion it is never too early nor too late to leave your comfort zone.
Do I miss Macedonia? Of course, I do! Sometimes I picture myself in the city park where we spent all summer. Or at Vodno, the local mountain where we went at day and night. I have flashbacks to our unusual travelling days around the Balkans– roadtrips, beaches or holiday houses. But mostly, I think about people. I immediately start smiling when I think about the profound friendships I have built.
I think I am still in the process of understanding how beautiful every single day was. I will say it again: Every single day was an adventure. Every single day made me excited to wake up.
No matter where I will be in my life, Macedonia stays in my heart. No matter where I go or who I will meet, the places in Skopje and the friends I made during that unique year will never be replaced.