Before I left the UK I had an afternoon at Concordia’s office for pre-departure training (another right for all EVS volunteers), where the on-arrival training was described as a ‘networking opportunity’. Working for two years in an office obviously had an effect on me because I imagined the training in that context, with uncomfortable people trying to sell themselves and their company to potential clients, with groups formed of people who already knew each other, with newcomers trying to get noticed. However, after three weeks here I had recollected the short-term volunteering projects, and a couple of weekends, I had participated in through or with Concordia – the joy of meeting interesting people (volunteers are always interesting), living together for a short time – and, though there were still some nerves, I was looking forward to it much more.
The other volunteers lived up to expectations; over the 5 days I met, and got to know, some amazing people, some of whom it felt like I had known for years, and who became like an EVS family. In total there were 16 of us, with three groups (and ours) living together, and three individuals, from across Europe: Italy, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, the Basque Country, Bosnia, Bulgaria and Sweden.
It is interesting to gather together such a diverse group of people, from a range of backgrounds and countries, for a week in an environment that encourages everyone to be open and share their opinions, thoughts, culture and themselves. It is a great way to discuss ideas, and hear the different views on them, differences from culture, language and upbringing.
We had all chosen to undertake an EVS project, so it was clear that everyone had at least something in common: the desire and open-mindedness to experience a different culture; to learn, improve and do something good. Despite this common ground personal motivations were different; these are affected by the volunteers’ age and where they are in their life at this time; their interests; their personality and many other things. These motivations were often discussed, with a focus towards what we really want to gain from our experience, as it is as much for the volunteers as the community they are working within.
After an arrival lunch we had our first couple of sessions, a chance for us to introduce ourselves, including our motivations, and to learn about the structure of the EVS programme, all the partners involved (volunteers, host and sending organisations, national agency and the EU), the rights and responsibilities, and importance, of each of them in the programme.
During the first evening we decided to venture into the town of Orahovica and head to the highly recommended, ‘infamous’ Blues bar. This was a good opportunity for us to get to know each other more, and some important lessons were learned: firstly, activities done whilst drinking in eastern Europe (Poland) and western Europe (Italy) differ – some cultures may see playing table football as rude; and secondly that when some locals start offering around a bottle of rakija, don’t drink too much of it.