Category: ESC
When adventure calls – Sarah Azevedo

My name is Sarah Azevedo, I am a 20 years old French student from Nancy, in the east of France. Some of us have, at some point in our life, the need to discover the world, a new culture and leave the comfort zone we’ve been living in forever. I felt this need one year and a half ago, in the middle of my second year of college. I realised how much I wanted to go on an adventure, just like my best friend had done before me by going to London for a year. Therefore, I did a lot of research to understand what, as a student, were my options to leave France, that is when I discovered the European Solidarity Corps, or as it used to be called the European Voluntary Service. Part of the Erasmus+ program, the principle of the ESC is to allow people between 18 and 30 to go abroad to work on a mission, mostly to help communities and individuals.

During my years of college, I had already been a part of many different organizations. I was the secretary of a feminist association, volunteer for an audio-visual one, a political militant…I always loved to give my time for bigger causes. The idea of being able to mix what I loved and my will to go abroad seemed perfect. I kept going with the research, read many testimonies, all were saying how their ESC mission had been the greatest experience of their life. My desire to go increased with each day passing by. I already knew that if I had to go abroad it had to be between my university degree and my master’s degree in Cultural Studies. I had more than a year to prepare this trip.

I started contacting sending organizations in my region. In order to do an EVS you have to find an organization in your country which can handle your departure and find an organization abroad who wants you for a mission. Often sending organizations already have several missions they can offer you; many find their happiness there. If you don’t, just like I didn’t, you must find a mission by yourself using the different online portals. This is very simple: make an account, answer the questions about your motivation, your professional journey, and then you apply for the missions you like. If the organizations like your profile, they contact you, and then start the hiring process (often by skype). I got lucky, Ukraine was only my third application and the first to answer me. No worry if you don’t find a mission you like, it takes time. It takes an average of six months to find the mission and go.

So, I got accepted to become a volunteer for the EqUalize 2.0 mission by the Society Initiative Institute. I contacted a sending organization I already knew in my city who agreed to take care of the project. I was supposed to leave in august 2019. But because of grant issues my departure was shift to September 2019. When we got the grant, I started the process to get a visa and I finally left, after months of waiting patiently, the 23th of October 2019. It took time, but I finally got there.

We all have a different journey, but if one day the desire to go on an adventure, to discover a new country, a new culture takes you, the ECS could be a good way. Too little known by the public, it is an easy way to get an important et rewarding professional experience in various domains. When I started talking about my project to my relatives I often heard « What about college? » « You’re going to miss a year ! » « Aren’t you scared ? ». And they were right, I was scared and I still am. But I never doubted my desire to do this adventure, because I knew when I decided to go that it was the right time. There is no perfect time to do anything, so just do it when you feel this is right for you. Whether you decide to do this right after high school, or during university, or when you’re already working, if this is what your heart desires, if the adventure calls, you must answer it. 

On my part, I have a lot of hope for this mission. I left France because I wanted to discover new things, find happiness where I never went before, learn about the world and about myself. I long to make of this experience something positive and powerful. But saying this is easy would be a lie. Leaving my country, my life, my loved ones to go by myself to a whole different place, for an entire year is probably the hardest thing I have done in my life, but it also is the most exciting. I don’t know how long it will take for me to adjust to this new life, but I have high hopes about the future, and I wish for everyone to feel this way. 

Life is mainly made up of questions, not just answers – Francesca Rossi

My name is Francesca Rossi, I come from Italy and I have just finished high school. I have always had a passion for volunteering and I took this opportunity when a friend of the family shared his experience of volunteering abroad. In this way a world opened up before my eyes that I could not wait to enter. So it was, and now here I am in Ukraine for a year.

By registering with the volunteer site (European Solidarity Corps), I was contacted by the Italian agency Nous, who followed me on the journey before departure, until a direct meeting here in the city with the coordinator. They assisted me with visa procedures, the necessary documents for access to the country and general questions about everything that could help me, despite some bureaucratic implications that were finally resolved.

Being aware of the fact that I was born in a certain part of the world that allows me to have the freedom that is denied without reason in other parts of the planet, I have always had the privilege of being able to choose. Choose whether to attend a particular school instead of another, choose which sports course to attend, choose which social group to belong to. At this point in my life, I had to decide a place to reflect on my future and Ukraine turned out to be the desired destination.

This  project is for a year; my cultural baggage will definitely be enriched at the end of it. It  is what I believe it would each person should do at least once in their life.

Having opportunities and catching them on the fly: this is the way in which I think we have to face the only life that is currently available to us. Experiences happen even when a person is implementing that particular project, as it is in my case.

These are my experiences:

  • I had the opportunity to take a plane alone, to have to adapt very quickly to an environment unknown to me and surrounded by people I could not verbally understand. There was a chance to enjoy a spectacular view, watching the sea of ​​clouds below me.
  • I had the opportunity to learn to communicate in a language I rarely used and with which now, after only a little over a month, I find myself even thinking.
  • I had the chance to overcome the embarrassment of entering a store and communicating only with gestures with those who worked, to make them understand what I intended to take.
  • I had the opportunity to gain experience in teaching, designing projects for some children.

Having the ability to take certain actions is the best way to learn. And learning means opening the mind to novelty. And opening the mind to novelty means being ready for anything, eventuality.

Fortunately, since I was a child I was introduced to the world of volunteering, so my mind is already open to new things and I think I am lucky because I have a great capacity for adaptation.

Living in a certain reality, it only takes a few days to understand how the environment in which you find yourself is structured, and the most important thing to remember is always a saying from Confucius that I read years ago, but which I still remember today: “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” Life is mainly made up of questions, not just answers, you always have to remember it.

The experience I am going through now, has already led me to learn new things and to live new experiences, which before I could only imagine but which I now really understand.

In my young age, I must say that it has already been a challenge for me to experience what it means to live alone and manage a certain amount of money. I call it a “challenge” because I had to put myself on the line first, without support from the family, which I used to let me manage my life, even simply referring to the part linked to the basic needs.

I think I did very well to catapult myself into this experience, which would have been very difficult to accomplish maybe at another time in my life and I do not regret not having chosen to continue, after high school, in the university environment: I have all life to make choices that I may have ignored.

I have heard many people here congratulate me on my courage. Courage to go to such a distant place, having such a young age. But I believe I had more courage to choose the path of volunteering than an average person could, because I find it right in life to live also for others and not just for ourselves.

I also found people who totally disagreed with this decision of mine and I respected their ideas. Unfortunately, I discovered that many people put themselves in the first place, without considering those around them. And this, too, was, therefore, further teaching to me, which I could not have received from life if I had not done this project.

For me, every excuse is good for learning something new. And I feel fortunate to have some people around me who directly, or even indirectly, involve me in the news.

Every day we are projected into a negative reality, if we inquire about problems concerning the world around us and that we cannot fix with a snap of our fingers. The only thing we can do is to live in a small way, so that, perhaps, we act as an example to others.

Standing here, I cannot help but be amazed by the diversity that surrounds me and to which I was not at all accustomed. I am often surprised by everything, since I was a child I have the vision projected towards positivity, so I am surprised by the smallest news and I can see everything that surrounds me in its full splendor, even if at first sight, not everyone is inclined to see this in this particular way.

Ukraine is definitely full of places to visit and old buildings to observe, both in the district where I live and in the center. From the street artists that accompany my steps when I walk in the most central part of the city to the buildings that offer free guided tours, to make a world known to me.

It is also full of parks that appeal to people of all ages and enjoy moments of rest.

In short: it is really a beautiful place to stay and it has many places to visit, experiences to go through, which also leads to full days. As I am trying to do everything for the  people I know to understand that life is one and we can do what we like best.

So why not take the opportunity to look at the past, reach old age, and smile?