To follow the dream or what the ESC teaches you?
ESC is a journey. Not just from one point of the map to another. This is a journey inside of you which teaches you and changes you in countless different ways!
To live in a different country and to be a part of an interesting for you project sounds luring and thanks to the European Solidarity Corps making it come true is more possible than ever. New people, a new country, new experiences. A new world. No doubt it’s like that. But everyone who makes the choice to take on this challenge must keep in mind that behind all the euphoria, there are quite a few things you have to deal with – quickly and by yourself.
The most important is to be careful with the luggage! Think about the important things and minimize those not of absolute necessity. Also never compromise with your suitcase and pack it up before the flight (I didn’t do it and got it back broken at the airport, which cost me wounds on my hands for the next month). In general, during the project it would be nice to master your ability to gather the lightest and most necessary things you will need the next few days in a backpack that is always with you because it is possible it will be happening frequently.
The fatigue is something you should get used to as well as finding your way to deal with it (in the beginning at about lunchtime I felt absolutely exhausted as if I had been working during an 8-hour full work day). The point is, nobody is going to wait for you to adapt and get some sleep for a few days. A vast difference between your previous journeys abroad and this current one is that you’re not going on an excursion and organizing your stay, you’re starting to live and work in a completely different place. So the sooner you accept the new place as a home, the quicker you’ll start feeling better yourself. Of course, the everlasting emotions, the initial stress and nostalgia will get in your way but never forget your motivation of making this choice.
The cultural shock won’t be so serious unless you choose an exceptionally similar in history, mentality and economical state country. And even if it is such, the people you’ll be communicating and living with, will most probably be from all around the world. And here comes one of the most important lessons – to learn to live with strangers completely different from you. To make compromises and at the same time to not allow any limits to be crossed over. To forget your prejudices and see the value of every new person you meet. To let people in your life with whom you communicate so intensely that you create some of your strongest and most meaningful friendships. Such friendships, built on laughter, tears, hugs, support and love, which something as little as a few thousand kilometers of distance will never destroy.
Life abroad teaches you to live bravely. You’ll have to use your fullest potential in all aspects of your existence and all of the knowledge you’ve gathered along the way. From elementary maths, through the basic culinary skills, quick orientation and good memory to great creativity – you’ll need all of this to survive without additional stress and anxiety.
Be ready to change plans in every moment, especially when travelling around cities in a foreign country. This includes sleeping either in the open or not sleeping at all for more than 24 hours: couchsurfing, hitchhiking (but never do this alone!), checking all ticket prices for buses and trains throughout their entire route, regardless your final destination (for example, when I was travelling from Matera to Salerno (around 2:30 hours from Matera), the ticket cost 11E, and for the final destination Neapol (4:30 hours from Matera), the price was 4E so I bought a ticket to Neapol and got off at Salerno.
As 7E is nothing much at all, maybe you’re asking yourself why you have to save up so seriously, we come to the question on the person who chose to be a volunteer’s money. The budget is calculated on the basic grounds so that you could survive with them (your monthly food, public transit tickets, basic needs + a few beers). If you want to travel around in your free days during the duration of the project, you’ll have to learn to save. The biggest cut in your monthly budget is the food, it’s good to go round the shops and to inform yourself of the prices in the first days after your arrival, because they have nothing in common with the Bulgarian ones. As well as getting familiar with the offered products because they’ll most probably also be very different.
Medicine is the other thing, which can empty your pockets, so take the basic medicines from home and take care of your health or count on having a roommate to heal you with some Turkish (or other kinds of unknown) potions J.
All things considered, my ESC experience gave me the gift of courage, a broader perspective, more patience, new ideas, priceless experience, warmer smiles, a calmer heart, which is now richer with a few new friendships (or to say it better, with my new sisters J). It gifted me even stronger love for Bulgaria, helped me feel calmer in its hug. Moreover, my newly acquired collection of knowledge helps it for a better future.
My advice to all young people who still haven’t gone through the “ESC school” is to do it – at the place where their heart is. And when you do get there, open it up for everything new which lies ahead. Travel, experience, be useful!