My 6 thoughts after 6 months of the volunteering project

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The end of March marked the end of the first half of the Circles of Change ESC volunteering project at Krugovi. For me (together with the other ESC volunteers), this means 6 months of living in a new foreign place with new people, working in a new environment in a field that is far from what I know and using a language I hadn’t spoken a word of back in October. If you combine this experience with the fact that ESC, besides solidarity, is really focused on self-development, it comes as no surprise that it pushes you to… think. A lot.

That’s why in this article I wanted to share with you some of the thoughts I have after those 6 months of being an ESC volunteer at Krugovi.

Not having many obligations can be… hard

In my life to this point – in school, on university, in my previous jobs etc. – there were almost always some deadlines, requirements, obligations set for me by someone else. I knew pretty much exactly what and when I’m supposed to do to fulfill them, I had a fixed schedule. Here in the project however, it’s very different. While some activities are a stable and obligatory part of our schedules, most of our work time is free for us to plan on our own and we’re responsible for finding productive ways to spend it. It has been definitely more challenging for me than I expected. I found outit actually takes some solid effort to set your own goals, schedule your own work and monitor your own progress, without having anyone directly supervising it at all times.

You’re learning more than you think

Like I said in the introduction to this article, self-development and learning, in the broad sense of the word, are important parts of the ESC projects. To support our learning process and better monitor our progress, we’ve created personalized learning plans. While preparing mine, I realised that I’m really improving a lot of my skills in the course of the project but some of them are very easy to overlook if I don’t take the time to think about it.

I believe in general it’s easy to underestimate how much we’re learning every day. The fact is, whatever we do, there is always some potential to learn from it. Even a seemingly “small” lesson or improvement is worth noting and taking pride in. I think tracking my learning is something that will stay with me even after the project and I recommend you try it too.

You can practice creativity

For a long time I used to think that I’m just not a very creative person. That simply some people are born with those creative brains and some are not. I still agree with that, at least to some extent – our predispositions vary from person to person. However, with time I also noticed that the more I was forced to do things that can be considered “creative work”, the easier for me it was becoming. I could observe it very well especially here, during the volunteering, as I have been pushed to use my “creative muscle” more frequently than probably ever before in my life – for example in coming up with social media posts or writing articles for the blog you’re on right now. Now I have no doubt that with practice you can actually learn to be more creative. At least a little bit.

The language barrier is actually tiring

Since I’m a foreigner in Croatia and don’t really know anyone here that would speak my mother tongue, I spend almost all of my time speaking exclusively English and some bits and pieces of Croatian. Of course, I knew what I was signing up for, but I really underestimated how much effort it would take for me to constantly use a foreign language. Even though I’m rather comfortable with English, I still have moments of frustration when I can’t express something without using my native language. It’s obviously even harder when I can’t even use English – I’m still only a beginner in Croatian after all. Sure, if you want to communicate, you’ll always find a way! Sometimes I just really feel tired and miss being able to speak effortlessly in a language that’s natural to me.

I miss home and that’s ok

I never really considered myself a type that gets particularly homesick. I like to travel, to try living in different places and I’m able to start feeling at home in a new place pretty fast. However, I don’t know if it’s because I’m older now or because I have less distractions and a lot of time to think here (or a combination of both) but I find myself missing a lot of things from home that I didn’t even think I would. It’s a variety of things, from my country’s food to walking in my favourite park and, as I mentioned earlier – speaking my native language. Naturally, I would love to hang out with my friends and family members as well! In the end though, I feel it’s completely ok to miss those things for now – I will have a new appreciation for them when I come back.

Not enough people know about ESC opportunities!

Since I became a volunteer in this project, I’ve gotten plenty of questions about it – from friends and family or from people I met here in Croatia, including some local volunteers. It made me realise that most people have never heard about European Solidarity Corps and don’t know about the opportunities they create. I really believe that it deserves more recognition. We definitely need to spread the word!

Altogether, the ESC volunteering surprised me in a lot of ways. It’s been a truly interesting and teaching experience so far. I’m curious what the remaining months will bring!

Kornelia Makowska