Before coming to Lecce, I was either a student who learned in preparation for exams and had knowledge about things which have little meaning for the future, or I was a cashier who smalltalked with customers and learned how to handle those who are ignorant and unfriendly.
Being a volunteer, however, is a different experience.
For me, being a volunteer does not only mean helping the VulcanicaMente team with their duties, it also means settling in a new foreign country, finding friends, conquering challenges and making this place my home, even if it’s only temporary.
I am Michelle, a volunteer in the long-term project “Rise Together.” Although my time is mostly dedicated to VulcanicaMente and fulfilling the tasks I need to accomplish, I have a good amount of spare time as well; this way it doesn’t really feel like “working.” I like to compare it to short homework tasks or small assignments that are due on a specific day, but still being flexible with my own time management. This spare time gives me the possibility to reflect on myself and this way I learned that, at times, I am my own worst enemy and put too much pressure on myself. On the other hand, I see that I manage to live alone and not feel homesick. I learned that there is a creative side in me that wants to be (re)discovered and expressed and I figured out the best way for me is through singing and dancing, two of my passions that I have neglected.
When it comes down to “Rise Together” and the work we are doing, I learned that I like to create templates for VulcanicaMente’s social media as it is the best way for me to express my creativity; but I also struggled from time to time to find a balance between creative freedom and the needs of VulcanicaMente.
I learned that I am good at presenting, especially when we did our webinar “Gender Equality In Action – Fighting Violence Together”; I enjoyed practicing my parts and thinking about transitions to go from one topic to another. When I think back on it, I am proud of the way we built the webinar in a short period of time and could still base it on our thorough research. It was exciting to see how many people registered for our webinar and how engaged they were when we discussed with them the topic of gender violence.
I am still fascinated by how vast the topic of gender equality actually is, and how many people come together who have a different perspective and experience on it as everyone is affected by this topic, both women and men.
Discovering all this about myself did not come without challenges. I am still learning to not take everything personally when it comes to the things I’ve created and let go of my own expectation to do things perfectly when I do them for the first time. My mom once gave me the advice to not make life more difficult than it already is and I’m trying to stick to it since.
It is also hard to combine the ideas and visions we have in this project. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, different countries and, therefore, different cultures. Each of us in “Rise Together” has different reasons to work on it, yet we have the same goal: to see this project thriving to its full potential. With that said, there is no right vision or right idea, they are just different and all of them deserve to be heard. We are a team of diverse people which makes it even more beautiful to work on this project, but it also can lead to miscommunications.
First, there is the language barrier as we are all coming from different countries and can only communicate in English. Secondly, each person has a different communication style, some of them easier to understand than others. Nevertheless, communication is important to have for a team that can actually work together, and I am still learning and evolving in order to express myself better.
From these experiences, I realized that it doesn’t matter how much I try to make people feel at home, how hard I bend myself and put others first, they may go at some point, but not because of me, but because of the circumstances. So why not be myself in the first place? Why not be authentic in the first place? In my personal and work lives?I figured out that life is too short to bend myself in order to be liked and have people around me that may not even know my true self. If I am myself, I will attract people into my life that actually love me for who I am and, even if they go, sooner or later it was more than worth it.With change comes the terrifying moment of not knowing what the future has in store for me, yet it is the moment where a gate opens for new possibilities, adventures and people. I can’t control my life, but it doesn’t mean that I can only react to what it is throwing at me. It means taking the initiative and creating it the way I want it to be.