or how rats learn to swim (a hint: it’s just because they are forced. Really.)

       by Angela Maddalena

They say that “if you go to Napoli, you cry twice: when arriving and when going away”. Because, for every normal person, to adapt to Napoli is quite devastating. And, yeah, this is true. But, also, the beauty of this place is so savage and astonishing that you don’t want to go away.

Because I love to think of cities like they were living creatures, I usually call it, Napoli, the Esmeralda city. You know, that gipsy girl in Victor Hugo famous novel, no?

Beautifully deadly.

But what is true for the city that burned my eyes is true for travels in general; I think you know what I mean: If you are staying somewhere more than two weeks, every place will be like Napoli, and you will cry.

I cried first time I had a shower in Sofia, with the water going everywhere and the soap making the floor so swishy (there is no shower box, ever and never) that I almost killed myself on the first day.

I cried because of my broken English, depriving me off one of the most important things in my life: the sense of safety you feel when able to understand the world around you.

I cried for the things I was not able to have with me in this experience, like family and close friends.

Like espresso.

Like that particular expression, when you shrink your shoulders with your hands open, like the statue of the Virgin, and say no with your head (and it means “let it go”, or “I have no idea”, but also “why bother? live and let die”), that for me is an actual answer to questions, but was meaning nothing to nobody.

It is painful to adapt.

Almost everyone of you knows. But there is another moment, usually in the middle of your experience abroad, which is even harder than the “fitting in is hard” moment. Here, this article is about this second, and more terrifying moment: the “I totally don’t know what to do with myself” moment.

Some of my EVS friends were in Sofia for a shorter period than me, so I saw this thing, this despair, in advance.

People go paler, more unsteady, more ready to fight.

People go crazy.

In their eyes, after some beer, you may say a typical look: the rat look.

Never hear about the rat look?

Rats never were the most loved pet in houses, were them? And, usually, the reaction of people seeing a rat is to scream and to chase the tiny creature trying to killing it.

Well, the rat knows. that is why, if they see you seeing them, they also “scream” and give you that terrified, washed up look, like frozen by terror. For a second. Then, if they are intelligent animals, they run.

Here, a scared EVS has the same look of a trapped rat.

The point is, sorry to be blunt, that the majority of us go abroad because they want to escape something (an hard moment, a delusion, a broken heart… unemployment, even boredom), not because there is something in particular they want to do in a particular place.

So, basically, they don’t know what they want.

This also means that, in the end, they are scared to go back and to find themselves in the exact position they were before leaving.

In a trap.

They start to feel in a trap. The door they wanted to force open shut itself closed, again, and there is no cheap beer in the universe that could make the barrels of your imaginary cell look wider or confortable.

A friend of mine once said that to waste time to decor your university room is as silly as buying colorful pillows for a prison: nobody cares, everybody hopes this is only temporary.

On the other hand, they say “everything, but the Death, is a temporary thing”, no?

That’s was confusing me.

See, I like things in black and white, I like clarity.

Shall we consider this temporary thing like it is lasting enough to be taken serious? But, in this case, how to overcome the small (or even big, or massive) everyday problems without exploding?

Because, c’mon, you are living in a house that’s not yours, you cannot even call the man to repair the heating system without approval from your organization. You can’t buy light bulbs without the approval of an incredible amount of flatmates, and everyone has the same right you have to decide what to buy, coz’ money are in common and they may not see your need for a new light in your toilet, because is not their own and even if the floor is squishy and you may break your head, anyway now I am in the pub/busy/broken so I think we can speak about it tomorrow… I

think you got the point.

And, if is not a serious thing, if is just temporary, why should you bother?

Like, oh, you know, my things are lying on the floor, and I don’t even have basically important items for my personal care and/or comfort because anyway I’m gonna leave in some months, so… Can I use your things?

If the picture is still not clear enough, I will add that I was of the kind that buys pillows. I WAS, because, in the end, the infamous “moment” got me, too.

All the energies I had put in fitting, seamed a glorious waste of time, in a moment. “this is ending, anyway”: I surprised myself thinking in this way more often than usual. “Why shall I care?”

But, see, like lots of times in my life, the despair moment was a good thing, for me: because I was caring way too much.

The anger I felt, sometimes, during my project, should not be part of the package: because it was the wrong type of anger.

Because I was angry at things I can not change, like this thing people seem to have for buying the cheapest trash bag that is possible to find, I actually suspect they do researches, and watch at the thing breaking with a look like “Hey don’t blame me, is the first time I see one of them break” (Maybe because it was your mother to buy them, I have the doubt, and she was not choosing the ones made of goodwill and prayers?)

Is nothing like I never lived with people before (I lived in a place we were friendly calling The Babylon, for example, with people using adesiv letters to write insults on the fridge. With people using tiny cups for coffee, or even the bloody bath tube, as an ashtray.) but savage as you want, they were seeing the line. That line, you know, between “please, stop doing this” and “I’m sharpening the knife”. To this, add that we were living in the same country and speaking the same, well… pretty much the same, language: to fight was easy. No bad blood, no offence taken. They went on using the bath tube as an ashtray, I went on calling them (“hey, you monkey!”) to clean up before showering.

And this, the unease of communication, brings up the next point: I was suffering a lot for this. The sensation, deep inside, that people are looking at you, and even nodding, but they don’t get you. First time in my life, I experimented this on my skin. I’m good in communication, this is the point. I was the debate star in high school. I never had problem in speaking my mind and very rarely I needed to repeat myself, or to ask someone else to mediate for me. Because I was the mediator.

And this was getting me so full of bad emotions, you can’t believe, because I also find it difficult to believe that this was my biggest problem. My former talent: bloody communication.

Well, If speaking of SERIOUS PROBLEMS, at least. About the silly ones, I could make a list from here to the moon.

Like, just to say, if you deep fry without the right type of oil and without the aspiration system the house will smell like a trash bin for forever, my dresses included. MY dresses. Is not something I can forgive until the day I’ll die.

I think you see now, my reader, that the “moment”, the crash, so terrible for the majority of my EVS friends, was actually a good change for me: I just stopped. I felt so much better, so much more relaxed, when I was able to take a breath and just say to myself “yes, there is a communication problem\barrier; well, smile, nod and move on girl, this is temporary!”

This is because of a problem off my own: I lose my temper too easily. Which in my original environment may also mean that I care for things and I am committed. Sure. In Italy. You know the stereotypes better, there is no need to explain, no?

However, to let go, at least a bit, saved my nerves. Also, the idea, finally assimilated, that this experience, like every experience, is just a temporary thing, helped me to give my best in the small things, in the everyday jobs, without caring for what I wasn’t able to fix.

I think I came out of the “despair” stronger in my will and more secure of myself.

For the majority, as I said, was different: we all are different types of people, we all react in a different way. Someone crashes things on the floor, someone gets the rat look, someone cries. Someone just start to haunt the house like a ghost mumbling and “eating the air”… And so on.

Because, just like when we arrived, full of dreams, and we clashed with the reality of a new environment, we are scared.

This time, anyway, the confront that is scaring us is not with the new place and language, but with our own: we need to talk to ourselves, to ask ourselves “whattahell is coming after?” and, usually, we don’t know.

I also noticed that EVSers, in this process, refuse their past lives and experiences: their countries, their languages, their previous environments. I did (not the language, never the sweet language) and so many friends did, too. It was painful to adapt and we don’t want to repeat the process. At least, I think this is one of the points. Also, to understand that you have no idea what to do when you’ll go back home is quite scaring. But I think this is the smaller problem: I do believe the real deal, here, is that so many people expect, from EVS, an answer. About them,  their lives so far and the type of adults they may one day become. So, as the end of the project gets near, and the answer is still nowhere to be found, they go nuts.

I honestly don’t know what kind of reaction I would have had if my experience would have been different, because I found an answer I really was looking for. So, things for me started to look easier, not harder. Off course I’m scared, life is scaring. But I’m not going nuts.

I feel more secure, especially after this “moment” off deep questioning happened to me.

So, as a conclusion, I would say just this: I know that almost everything in the western civilization is teaching you the opposite, but to have a moment of doubt and even to face insecurity, a little pain and a little uncertainty is not bad. Actually, it is what makes real people different from barbies. To feel. The same way you want to feel love, or enjoy adventure, you must be ready for unpleasant things, too. Like delusion, like fear, like… the rat look. Just to say.

And, but off course this is just an advice, you need to let also the other people to go through it, without interfere too much, or trying to talk them into your point of view or solutions. I know it’s hard. But every rat, in the end, needs to escape from the burning ship alone…or to learn to swim, no?



The “Angie’s Blog” is a rubric led by Angela Madalena (Italy)

and is part of the project “Freedom of (Hate) Speech“. It is funded under European program “Erasmus+”,
KA 1: European Voluntary Service and Training Course for Youth Workers.

National Agenda for Bulgaria: Center for Human Resource Development