Category: Blog
Home feelings

Diving into a new culture is, no matter what, always a challenging experience. Being constantly mindful about how to react to a specific situation, about which words to use, and how a certain communication, verbal or not, will be perceived. And no matter how much attention you pay, you will always find yourself in situations of mutual incomprehension.

At first, while discovering a new environment, you can feel that it is very similar to your usual surroundings, especially in a place as Lviv, with such a european feeling. First, because you will look around for places you’re yourself accustomed to and you feel comfortable around. My first instinct coming here, after taking a superficial tour of the city, was to look for cafe places to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon reading a book, and of course I focused on looking for the ones that had similar vibes to the ones I was used to back in France.

Second, because, mostly, the people you will get acquainted with are the one with whom the communication is the easiest, meaning that globalish, english speaking community that remains relatively constant no matter where you go (Hey, G. Debord, I definitly agree about this society that is no longer a geographical place).

So of course, for the first times, you’ll find a lot of similarities with home, you won’t get evicted from your comfort bubble, because you will struggle to reinforce that bubble as much as possible, not because you don’t want, or don’t try, to get out, but because you will apply several layers of ‘home’ painting to your environment.

But as always with the paint, the older it gets, the more cracks start to appear.

What you first considered as peripherical differences start to appear as symptoms of more profund differences, and simple habits, on which you relied as comfortable anchors of stability, cannot be met anymore. You cannot be astonished by the surprisingly adequate yet unusual answer of a kid passing by to his mother, because you cannot understand what he said. Merely walking in the streets remind you everyday, every minute, that you are only a stranger here.

You cannot exchange with the homeless guy that comes to ask you a cigarette, it has become a simple yes or no situation. People will start exhibiting you as their foreign friend, simply because you are ‘so French’. You cannot have a cold coffee (Freddo esperessos I miss you very much my dears), because none sells some (also, it’s Ukraine in autumn, who the hell would like to have a cold coffee by -2°C?).

Going for shopping quickly becomes a nightmare, as you cannot read the labels, which are in cyrillic. If you want to get some vegetables and weight them, you have to go back and forth several times to remember the bare shape of the letters.

You want to understand your environment, and you can come up with the craziest theories to explain the most benign things. One perfect example would be doors. In France, bedrooms’ doors, or homes’, always open towards the interior. In Ukraine, they always open towards the exterior. As anecdotic as it can seem, I actually wondered (and still do) the reason behind that.

I remember the visit of a fortified castle, where they explained that the door was opening towards the exterior so that trespassers or attackers would actually be in a difficult situation when trying to enter, having to deal with the door being in the way of at least one of their hands. Does Ukraine doors opening every time towards the exterior reflect lancinating fear of intruders, a defiance towards people entering your house? If so, why? Because of successive invasions? Of an history of authoritarian political regimes? (A.k.a ‘the door theory’). It is incredibly interesting to be periodically spiraling into that kind of questions, as you are constantly challenged to question your environment and find solutions to problematics you would never have imagined having to face before, but also incredibly exhausting.

But in the end, I think I love having to question everything I thought I knew, or considered an inamovible constant of my reality.

 

cover credits: unsplash.com/Elena Kuchko

The most enriching experiences come from the people you meet

Travelling abroad can enrich someone in a thousand ways. We can learn a new language, work in different domains we’ve never tried before, discover need food and more globally a new culture. But to me, the most enriching experiences come from the people you meet. This week, I had the chance to meet so many new people who made me grow emotionally and humanly.

When you do an ESC project, an on-arrival training is organized for the volunteers of one or several countries. Created by the SALTO organisation, my on-arrival training happened in Lviv between the 9 and 13 of November in the Patriarshyi hotel. We were 25 volunteers coming from Ukraine, Belarus and Moldavia, all staying in the same place, spending our days together as part of a formation on different subjects: team-building, the development of our personal projects, project management, how to handle conflicts…Sharing an experience as intense as this one with people participating in the same kind of projects as you, living the same thing, creates immediate and strong bonds.

Through this training week I met people from many different countries: United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Luxemboug and many French people. I was pretty amazed by the number of French et German people but considering this is a European project it made sense that these two nationalities were the most represented. 

To be perfectly honest this isn’t the training that brought us closer together. Yes, making activities together, mostly in small groups changing regularly allowed us to get to know each other better and to be more comfortable with one another. But the activities that most brought us together were to evenings we spent out in the city center of Lviv. Beyond allowing us to discover original bars or restaurants, it allowed to get to know each other in a more informal way. Drinking a beer in the bar where the inventor of BDSM was born or in one held by Ukrainian nationalists asking for a password to get into the location, we share moments of happiness and laughing, only thinking of having fun and enjoying those moments together.

Some mornings where more difficult than other, especially at the end of the week, but we were all enjoying it and being able to create bond though it. We had the chance to spend an afternoon in the city center on Tuesday. Walking in the street, climbing up the city hall tower to admire the landscape, discovering nice café hiding in a narrow street, eating in a restaurant all together… 

Because they wanted to extend the pleasure, some volunteers from Moldavia decided to stay a little bit longer and booked an Airbnb. We all went out again, spending the afternoon in the Cat Café where we had to chance to enjoy a nice hot drink surrounded by cute cats. The last evening, we were supposed to go to a football game (Ukraine VS Denmark). Sadly because of poor time-management skills and uber issues we didn’t make it in time for the game. We stayed in a mall, we ate in a Georgian restaurant, then we had to say goodbye. Goodbye because through this experience I became intimately convinced I created friendships that will last in time. We all said it several times during the training, how happy we were to be able to create a group of friends so easily, to have the same idea of what it meant to do such a trip and that will to discover, share, travel and meet new people.

We all hope we will all see each other again during the mid-term. I know some volunteers plan on coming back to Lviv in the next months, and I decided I would go the Odessa and Chisinau to visit and spend time with them. I also know that if one day I decide to join them in any place of the world, I would only need a phone call for them to welcome me, the same way I would welcome them anywhere I am, either it is in Lviv or in France.

Beyond that, the day-by-day life here is full of meetings. I discover so many new people, all ready to organise events with us volunteers. We also get stopped at lot in the street by people hearing us speak English. They want to know where we come from, why we are in Lviv, how long we are staying. The secret is to not be afraid of going toward others. Accepting to go out when you are proposed activities, even if they sometimes are original. Not hesitating to send a message to that person who told us that they “would love to grab coffee with you sometimes”. Sometimes, they say it to be polite, but they can also really mean it and insisting to see them can lead to real friendships.

I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to meet people from diverse horizons, so open-minded with the same will to discover and share. I can’t wait to share new moments with them and to know who I am going to meet in the next months and see where it will lead my in the next years.

Carla loves borsch

Almost 3 weeks in Lviv, and I still don’t believe it. I’m meeting so many amazing people, so many different places that I never want to end. Last Friday, November 29, with the help of co-workers especially from Katia, I was able to experience my first approach to Ukrainian culture. We prepare a dinner with two typical dishes of the country; Borscht and Vanerykys. First we went to buy the necessary ingredients with Katia and then we learned how both dishes are made, it was really fun and enriching. We spent an hour doing the Vanerykys together and in 5 minutes we had finished with the whole dinner. It was an amazing and special night for me. Thanks to everyone who shared it with me.

The rest of the weekend was quite complete too. On Saturday we enjoyed several live concerts at an event organized by Solia and in a cafe, a really cozy atmosphere, where even Solia sang a Mexican song called ‘Cielito lindo’ that we usually sing in my family so for a moment I felt like at home.

On Sunday to finish this fantastic weekend, I met with my mentor, Piotr, who showed me a spectacular vegetarian restaurant and with which I enjoyed a beautiful road through the streets of the city center.

This week has started somewhat white with snow, which I can not stop photographing, so long ago that I did not enjoy the snowy landscape that only this detail improves my days. Thanks to all who are sharing this experience with me and greetings to all those who i have left far from the snowy Lviv!

Getting used to

Week 3

Only a week can pass, but many things can happen in seven days.

First of all this week we had the “Borsch and Varenyki party”.

It was amazing to be able to enter in the culture of this different country for the first time, seeing how two famous dishes of their tradition are prepared and then eat all together.

And Varenyki are Varenyki: everyone likes them, but if you want to cook those, just remember to have enough energy for the preparation.

A special thanks go to Katya, the best Ukrainian chef.

Then I don’t know if you know the High Castle of L’viv. I didn’t go there, but to the hill next to it.

I advise everyone to go there at least once to see the view from there, and I think I’ll be back there, just to sit there, breathe that air and admire the city from above.

Now the special thanks go to Solia, my awesome project mentor (the yellow girl in the pic) that bringed me there.

And in the end I have the pleasure to tell you that these will be only the first of many Italian-themed days that we will have in the period in Ukraine, full of Italian great food and with awesome musical background.

And obviously I can’t wait for the other countries to show their culture, show their food, show their languages, because one of the best moments in these European projects is when cultures are shared and new things are discovered.

I don’t think I get use to living here yet. Certainly it has only been a little over twenty days since I arrived in Ukraine, but seeing how things go I think I could get used to it soon.

Adaptability

I’ve been here in Ukraine for two months and almost a week. The first month seemed endless to me, there was no longer that fateful day when I would celebrate my “first month”, but the second month passed really fast. And it’s all about having the days full of plans going on. I spent five days in a hotel in my district, for the arrival training, together with about twenty other volunteers, without having free minutes to waste doing unnecessary actions as usual. I went to see a football match, Denmark and Ukraine, at the stadium, which was the first match I’ve ever seen. 

I spent three evenings following events designed and organized by volunteers who share the apartment and not. I attended a conference all in Ukrainian, of which I will have understood yes and no few words, but it doesn’t matter. I walked through a forest with two local people, enjoying a spectacular view and finally I realized my dream of when I was little, that is riding a horse in a spectacular place, whose churches remind me of those in Dubai, despite the strange comparison.
It has been a really full month, counting also all the evenings in the center in the various restaurants and bars.

Nostalgia is obviously present, who can deny it, but I’m really appreciating these days, so much so that I don’t have time to think about the rest.
I also had the privilege, not only the pleasure, to see published the interview that was done to me by a woman who works in this office, on the official website of the district. I was very proud and it wasn’t the only thing I was proud of.
Now I’ve also established my own routine and I’ve been very surprised at how quickly I’ve managed to do it, but I always thank my ability to easily adapt to my environment. 

Being here, I have learned above all to eliminate the stereotypes I had in my mind before I left: no, there is no war every day, there are no no noises of daily bombs and there are no cases of kidnapping every day. “It is easier to break an atom than a prejudice” said Albert Einstein and it’s an absolutely true phrase. I’m glad that in my case, the prejudice broke so quickly: there’s nothing worse than an idea that creeps into your mind and leaves no way out for the truth. So, I’m happy to come back and do my part, spreading the truths of the place.
I was asked a few days ago by a friend in Italy, how my experience was going. My answer was “I’m happy”. And writing it now, I am glad to have these two words engraved in my mind, which will not go away very soon!

Looking for my way in L’viv

Hi there! I’m Carla and I came from Madrid, Spain. In June I finished my studies as Social Integrator and I did my training period in an organization that works with gypsy and immigrant populations. My main functions were working with children (3-18 years) and intervene in the relationship with their families. In this organization, I met an Italian boy that belonged to EVS and he told me about this program so here I am in Lviv.

When I finished my studies I didn’t know honestly what I really what to do, starting university, looking for a job… so I thought that will be quite interesting doing an experience like the Italian volunteer’s in my organization, going out of my comfort zone and spend one year in a country really different from mine.

In my city, I was part of a feminist antifascism collective that organized some events like, political discussion, protest, or women’s groups where we share experiences. On the other hand, one of my passions is art in all its aspects, most people around me are studying something related to politics or art so I’m really involved in these issues. So when I decided to sign up European Solidarity Corps and I found the SII’s project which mixed my two passions (politics and art) I thought that it was made for me.

All this happened this summer and now I have been here in Lviv for a week, and I still don’t believe it. There are so many things I want to do here, so many things to see and discover that I am really excited and grateful to be able to live this experience. Maybe I can find my way in Lviv.

The beginning of something bigger

Hello everyone, I’m Luca, I’m 19 years old and I come from Italy, the town one hour away from Venice.

I always thought that what everyone should do is spend a long time abroad to be able to grow inside and to be able to open their horizons; and as far as I’m concerned, even just for getting in touch and know a different culture from own.

This summer after graduating from high school, I realized I wasn’t so sure what to do in life, so why not try to find my way?

Since I was a child I’m inside an environment that made me learn the importance of NGO defending human rights, the development of civil society and volunteering, but above all I learned the importance of European projects. So in September, I decided to deepen my little knowledge of the European solidarity corps /ESC.

After sending several emails throughout Europe, and even outside the continent, I found the project I was searching for.

When I arrived on Monday 11 November I realized I finally found what I was looking for: something different from my everyday life. Ukraine, for now, appears a little bit different than Italy, not because only of urban aesthetics, but also because of how people think, what they do and how they live.

I hope that I will learn new things, and also I hope I will be able to implement the skills I already have, but above all, I want to be able to understand and help others understand what be an active citizen means, what being European means and how important it is defend rights.

Many times I heard people asking me “Why Ukraine?” and now I think I know the answer. Because in life the easiest way is not always the best. Deciding to be a European volunteer to spread human rights and help civil society to develop in a country that needs it more than others is the right choice.

I want to make this culture mine, and I can’t wait for that moment to arrive, because I like what I’ve seen, and it’s just the beginning of something bigger.

The Laws of Adjustment

It can be hard adjusting to a new way of life. Leaving everything you know to jump into the unknown, only hoping things will go as well as you want them to. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, you lose your credit card right after going out of the plane and you find yourself not knowing how you’re going to survive without money in a new country, just like it happened to me when I landed in Ukraine. Sometimes, you realize than you miss your loved ones a lot more than you thought you would and start wondering why you even left them in the first place. Sometimes, you get scared of doing things by yourself because you realize how alone you are right now, away from everything you know. But the truth is, those problems are only temporary and if taken one at a time, they are manageable.

There is no rule to adjust to a new environment. Some people feel at home everywhere, comfortable in every situation and are made to live on the road. Those people make it seem so easy to travel because they appear to have no strings attached, to be as free as the wind and able to find happiness everywhere. Some others have more difficulties to adapt, to find their way in a new way of life. I am one of these people. This dynamic is complicated because the will to travel is there, but the fear of the unknown, of failure, of loneliness, is still omnipresent. So how can one enjoy traveling, having new experiences out of their comfort zone when fear doesn’t leave them? How can one adjust to a new life when finding their way is so difficult?

I sadly don’t have the answers to those questions yet. It’s been only two weeks since I arrived in Ukraine and I am still looking for my routine, a comfort zone in such a different environment. But I have many paths to explore in order to find the happiness I long for.

Understanding and reminding ourselves of why we left is necessary to adjust to a new place. It can be easy to forget the reasons that led us to leave when loneliness takes over. We can start feeling a need to go home, even start regretting leaving. But if we decided to leave it is for a reason and remembering those reasons is a good way to keep our objective insight even in moments of doubt.

Don’t forget loneliness is an illusion. I am lucky to be flat sharing with the other volunteers and to have such an involved and benevolent team around me. Besides, I have regular contacts with my loved ones in France and, against all odds, being separated from my close ones allows me to feel even closer to them, by realizing how much I miss them and how much they mean to me. Go out often, agree to do group activities sometimes, don’t hesitate to ask for help when you don’t feel well…All those reflexes can help you feel safe and realize how loved and needed you are, even far from home. You are never as alone as you think you are.

Enjoy the moments of happiness you find along the way. I had the chance to participate in an activity in an orphanage last Sunday. With some members from a university, we want to the Sasov Zolochiv District to spend the day with the children. We brought them games, coloring books, drinks, and sweets. Spending a few hours with those children, knowing our presence brought them some joy, that I was able to make children smile by teaching then English or just playing with then despite the language barrier made the whole trip worth it in a second. Those moments of joy are everywhere around us. Walking in Lviv’s streets by nightfall and enjoying the lights sparkling in the dark, admiring the Halloween costumes and decorations, discovering new restaurants and having a drink while talking about anything, spending the day in bed with Netflix and a hot chocolate…Take the time to enjoy those moments when you live them.

Everyone has their own method to bear difficult moments during an experience as intense as a long trip abroad. If social media make it seem like all these experiences are exclusively positive, without any problem or moment of doubt, we can’t believe them. It is normal to doubt, to feel alone sometimes, but we must look forward and be honest with ourselves. Happiness takes many forms, and the future holds so many beautiful things, it just takes time to adjust, to find our own way, but it always happens.

 

Getting involved in a human rights promotion project was only a logical step for me

It had been quite a while since I was preparing my arrival in Lviv, as I already applied in February. In the meantime, a lot of things had changed, but not my desire to come forward and spend a year in Ukraine.

At first, I was only interested in the project offered by SII, since I had never had the chance to discover Lviv before. Getting involved in a human rights promotion project was only a logical step for me, as I had graduated recently in this field. I was looking for a new perspective that would expand the scope of my lacunary and mostly academical understanding of human rights, especially since I only had explored it through the lens of law. Starting only a few months later was nothing less than convenient for me, as I was already involved in a project of information sharing to refugees in Greece, with Mobile Info Team.

I am very eager to discover how a human rights promotion project is implemented and how to create a space for discussion and sharing of perception of human rights narratives. Even though I had asked a few Ukrainians friends if they liked Lviv, and they all answered it was an amazing city, the choice of Ukraine was initially not my main concern, but it came out to be a lucky pick!

However, when the funding of the project was finally confirmed, I went to have a deeper look at the city and about Ukrainian folklore, and ended up spending hours watching videos of Lviv and events taking place here, being absolutely amazed about how beautiful the city is. Fortunately, one of the former volunteers that was involved in the organization I was then working with had forgotten a book about Ukrainian culture. I started browsing it, got absolutely caught.

In the end, I was eager to start discovering varenikis, bortsch, and other amazing Ukrainian dishes, but also to learn more about history, Tatars… The more I looked into it, the more I was enthusiastic by the slight glance to Ukrainian culture I had from afar.

Finally, I managed to book my flights, after interesting administrative adventures, as we all enjoy it.

Having just arrived, I can only say a few things about coming here; but even though the language barrier has been challenging, I discovered warm and welcoming people, that can be reluctant with English but enlighten themselves as soon as you pronounce even a few words in a messy Ukrainian  (and they can be proud of their language, because it is a beautiful one).

I am now looking forward to getting involved in projects to participate in the life of Lviv, trying our best to make it a better place for everyone to live in!

 

“Road to the gender equality”. How intercultural exchange contributes to overcoming gender barriers and promotes equality.

“Equality” is not a statement; it’s a destination that takes time and efforts, and that is why we have “a road” to go so we can reach it…

In early May, 22 young people began construction of a long highway on gender equality that connects two points: Ukraine and Germany.

 

“Road to gender equality” No.1

From 6.05 to 12.05, the first phase of the “Road to Gender Equality” project was held within the framework of “MEETUP!” meetings of German-Ukrainian youth. The main reason that the young people from the two countries gathered in the small town of Slavske, Lviv region, was sometimes speculative, painful or intimate topic about gender equality.

Starting with the formation of their own identity, each participant gradually became more aware of the problem. These transformations were followed by a long work: studying the difference between gender and sex; research into how gender roles work, what stereotypes can be infected by the media and what is common and different between the two countries in the gender field.

“I am happy to know more about gender equality in Germany and Ukraine. And it’s really a new topic for me, turkey especially.” – Umut Sasmaz, participant of the exchange

“The most interesting for me today was a presentation about gender stereotypes and gender stereotypes in Germany and Ukraine.” – Daria Gaskova, participant of the exchange

 

 

“Today I’ve learned about new perspectives from Ukrainian about gender, gender equality and stereotypes and it was very interesting for me because new ideas came to my mind that hasn’t been there before.”- Antonia Schafer, participant of the exchange

 

 

 

Sensory labyrinth theatre

The participants for 2 days became the creators of a large labyrinth theatre, through which they were able to reflect several scenes from the life of an immigrant. The “spectator”, deprived of one of his senses – sight, was able to go through the theatre and experience every situation deeply.

“And sensory labyrinth theatre is something very impressive and very useful for youngsters to understand. So I’ll use this method in my youth work because it’s so creative and interactive.” – Umut Sasmaz, participant of the exchange

“The most interesting for me was when we went to the local school and made SLT and when I saw a lot of smiles I felt very great.” – Oleh Popovych, participant of the exchange

“To me, new was that people experienced the world a lot differently if you take away one of the senses.” – Antonia Pilz, participant of the exchange

“The strongest I guess the experience was the SLT because I had the chance to be an experienced and also I could be a participant.” – Evelina Rosuk, participant of the exchange

Storytelling

The ability to tell a story is one of the additional methods that participants practised as an approach to accurately convey information about discrimination, stereotypes, and gender inequality to audiences.

“I received a lot of positive emotions after meeting people from other countries and regions. We, as modern youth, must understand and respect the choices and culture of other people. With the help of such forms of non-formal education as SLT, storytelling and collage, we learned more about stereotypes and discrimination of minorities.” – Arthur Horunzhyi, participant of the exchange

“The first stage of the project “Road to gender equality” ended with pleasant feelings after meeting new people and understanding of the situation in Ukraine and Germany. We have a lot of work to be done in both countries and meetings like this give us a great opportunity to change our minds and minds of our environment in faster and more efficient ways.” – Oleg Kolesnikv, participant of the exchange

“Road to gender equality” No.2

June 23-28. Magdeburg, Germany. A new phase, new experience, new discoveries.

Media is already a separately formed world, which the participants of the meeting sought a permit for. Fortunately, there was a place for activism and equality in this world. 

By mastering the basic knowledge of video shooting, stop-motion videos and digital staging, young people have shifted their thinking about the role of media, discrimination, inequality and the role of activism as a protector to the creation of a video canvas.

“I’ve received a lot of experience like working in a team, making media products and I’ve learned a lot of things to develop myself like how it easier for me to work in a team and communicate with each other. The most interesting part of the project was the practice of creating videos. We created a stop-motion video, it was a really long process, like 5 hours, but in the end, we received a great product and I am really proud of that.” – Andrij Boiko, participant of the exchange

“Interesting was meeting a lot of people from Ukraine and working together with them on multiple media projects actually. Starting from the idea and coming to the execution idea actually. That was a great experience for me because it was the first time when I was working like this about a really cool topic.” – Johannes, participant of the exchange

 

 

The project was implemented by NGO “Society Initiatives Institute” within the “MEET UP! German-Ukrainian Youth Encounters” programme with support from the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (EVZ).