A look back at my volunteer project with ESC in Romania
Posted On April 12, 2021
Are you a passionate young European, who wants to gain international experience? Do you want to work or volunteer on impactful projects across Europe? Are you longing to travel and meet awesome people from across the continent?
If you said yes to any of the above, then we have a lot in common! 🤗
My name is Annie, and I want to share with you my 2-month volunteer experience in Sighisoara, Romania at Associatia AUM. But first, have you heard of the volunteering opportunities that the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) offers? If not, you should definitely read up on that here and see a list of the open projects here. That’s how I got to live, have fun, and work on an educational project in Sighisoara, all expenses covered!
I’m a Bulgarian based in the Netherlands and when the project was starting in mid-October 2020, everyone entering Romania from the Netherlands had to be quarantined for 14 days. I was so worried that I’ll have to spend two whole weeks alone, but it turned out that people coming from Spain and France shared the same fate. And so, a group of 4 people formed: me, two Spanish girls – Paula and Nagore, and a British-French guy – Jos.
I’m sure you’re curious about how we lived. We shared a big living room and a kitchen, Paula and Nagore shared a room, while Jos and I had the luxury of our own separate rooms during quarantine. Each room had their own toilet and bathroom. We had to work together from the start as we had to make a grocery list for the next week, so that our project coordinators – Flori and Ada, can bring us food while we were ‘on house arrest’. As far as I know, the rest of the volunteers enjoyed themselves on day trips and movie nights, while they waited for us to ‘get out of prison’. 😆
This was the time of my biggest struggle thanks to a small culture shock. If you’ve traveled or met people from different countries, you’ve probably noticed that there are two kinds of cultures:
Warm – people coming from a warm culture tend to make friends rather quickly.
Cold – people coming from a cold culture take their time in getting to know strangers.
Bulgarians are an example of the first kind, while Dutchies – a prime example of the second. I was expecting Spaniards and French people to be warmer but, as I learned during the quarantine, both cultures get warmer the longer you’ve known them. Here I began growing as I had to adjust to my housemates’ tempo of bonding rather than force them to be friends as soon as I felt like it.
To be honest, at times I felt attacked by their opinions on certain topics, but it wasn’t about me. Each of us held different values and opinions, it was a coincidence that all three thought radically differently from me, and they were on the same page more often. I learned a valuable lesson: being able to separate yourself from your opinions is a virtue every traveler and ESC volunteer should master if they want to enjoy the variety of people they meet. 😊
Organization of the project
We had Reflection groups once per week, where we talked over the last 7 days. Each Monday for the first 4 weeks after we got out of quarantine we also had sexual health and education workshops. Two projects were running: a six-month one and a two-month one. The longer project began before the short one, so the veteran volunteers organized a few workshops for the newcomers – debating, bees, photography. From the middle of November till the middle of December we shot educational TikTok videos on sexual and mental health, hygiene, and nutrition. Check them out at @asociatiaaum or look up #theAUMway 😜
I went on this project with little to no expectations – help from the coordinators on my way to Sighisoara, my expenses being taken care of, the opportunities to travel around Romania and to work with adolescents face-to-face. The last one was impossible because of the pandemic. I was curious how are we going to work and what exactly are we going to do if all our activities had to be online. I had hopes to make friends and practice my social skills. Everything else I was open to. I wanted to see what ESC can bring me.
I cannot be happier that I went to AUM!
Despite the pandemic, there was a way to deliver valuable information to youngsters. We had parties, hangouts, day trips to Sighisoara’s surroundings and landmarks (right after our quarantine ran out we were strongly advised not to travel in Romania because of covid, so that didn’t happen). The work we did was in small groups of 4-5 people – it was so fun coming up with ideas for TikToks and then filming them! Definitely check them out at @asociatiaaum or look up #theAUMway 😇
I made friends, learned to listen to my inner voice more and to share my creativity with my fellow volunteers. I’ve always loved dancing and painting but on this project I began showing my improv dance and my abstract paintings to others. It felt good to be amongst like-minded people even if we didn’t have much to talk about with some of them.
A personal highlight of the project were the weekly Reflection groups. They were a safe space within the experience to talk and share, be sad and happy. They showed us where we have to grow more and let us get inspired by each other. Our amazing group leader, Kasia, had super fun ideas for these groups – we shared good and bad things about our weeks, facts that we learned and found interesting, and played games.
In short, I did so many things I would never have gotten the chance to if I didn’t join AUM in their ESC project, It: