In February 2018 I have finished my university in the Netherlands and moved back to my hometown in the Thuringian Forest after many years abroad. At that time, I was working a temporary – a rather soulless – job in the industry close to my hometown. End of April, I was contacted by via the platform with the offer to participate in an eight-month-long volunteering project in Toscana, Italy. To be honest, my first thought was: “Volunteering. Does that mean working for free?!”. Luckily this thought has passed rather quickly after I have read about the organization which can be considered as the Italian equivalent of German . Since I always wanted to work in environmental protection and conservation and on top of that, I always wanted to live in Italy, I immediately said – Yes.
The core values of this project were centered around activities such as environmental education, raising awareness for environmental problems and engaging in cultural activities. I decided to take the train to Florence and arrived there on the 9th of May. I was picked up by our supervisor Elisa at the train station and she dropped me off at the apartment I shared with three other volunteers – three girls; one from Portugal, one from Spain and one from Cyprus.
All of us with different backgrounds and stories. In the first days we were asked to introduce ourselves and our countries – Patrie Nostre. Starting from that, we took part in small activities, mainly at schools and some public clean-up-events in and around Florence to get used to our responsibilities and the Italian language. In our free time, we were hanging out, exploring the city and going to the Italian language course.
End of May we had our #EVS Arrival Training in Nola, close to Napoli. We met there other volunteers from other projects and countries. The social part was very interesting and fun, unfortunately, the training itself lacked a bit of content and – speaking for myself – I did not learn much there. Nonetheless, it has been a great week and it was interesting to hear about the other projects all around Italy.
Our next big milestone was Bioparco Frignoli. About two hours North from our home Florence. In this way, we replaced the urban lifestyle (and activities) with a HIGHLY rural one. We were working in a small park in the middle of the forest, with the closest supermarket half an hour away – by car. Personally, that was one of the best periods of the whole project. The Flora and Fauna there was so special, interesting and vivid. In Bioparco Frigoli we were helping the manager Stefano and his girlfriend to take care of the park. We were weeding the botanical garden filled with autochthonous plants, we improved the pathway through the park’s Seven Forests, worked together with Bulgarian children and worked and lived generally outside.
After spending three weeks in the forest, we came back to Florence and started preparing for our biggest and longest event (two months) in the regional park Maremma, two hours South of Florence. We were living directly in the heart of a very different park and biome, five minutes away from a beach.
We were stationed at the Info-Point Gazebo at the beach and helping out tourists if they had questions about the characteristics, activities or rules of the park. Through the constant contact with visitors and tourists, we had to talk Italian a lot and therefore could improve it quickly. In our free time, we were going on events in and around the park, chilled out at the beach and hiked frequently. In my holidays two close friends visited me for my birthday and we had a dreamlike experience for a whole week in this paradise called Maremma.
We learned a lot about the local/regional environment, as much as we did in Frignoli. It was a very unique experience for me, because I am from a low mountain range in Germany and therefore more familiar with forests than with the sea and the beach. Given that we have been living there for exactly two months, I was able to dive into (pun intended) the livelihoods and the nature around the sea.
The post-Maremma time was rather difficult for me, because we had to move back to the (nonetheless beautiful) Florence. We continued with our educational programs and helped our supervisor and other colleagues with environmental events. Many event managers and school employees appreciated our work and motivation so much that we were asked to come more often to teach kids about Reducing, Recycling and Reusing the produced waste, about the plastic islands in the oceans and related content.
In the midterm-training, we learned about the value of an EVS experience and how it can impact our future life. Talking about the end…this was kind of it! Seven-and-a-half months have passed in this beautiful country, with its world class food and absolutely lovely people. Overall, one of the best experiences I have made in my whole life and I can only recommend it to whoever is interested in increasing his/her horizon.
Additionally, here are 10 Things I have learned:
Italy has the most diverse Flora and Fauna in Europe
The stereotype of lazy Italians is absolutely wrong
You are able to live well-off with the subsistence money you receive, if you cook/shop together and split the costs
You have a decent amount of free-time, which you should use to explore the country (so bring some money/savings with you!)
Italy has an infinite amount of dialects, differing highly from each other
North Italy and South Italy seem like two different countries
You will work together with people from very different backgrounds and countries -> very interdisciplinary and inclusive, since it’s not just accessible for students (as the ERASMUS programme has been)
If you love arts, culture and environment: Florence / Tuscany is your city and region
Each EVS experience is different/unique, therefore lower your expectations and do not be dreamy
Try to be as active as possible and soak up as much information and knowledge as possible while you have the chance