The main reason I decided to do EVS was that I didn’t really know what to do “when I grow up”. At the age of 18, when you have spent all your life in school it’s really hard to choose one thing that you want to do for the rest of your life. Especially for me, since I am interested in many-many things, but not enough to commit to just one. I planned to start my project before university, but I couldn’t find one in time, so I started my first semester at the university. I spent a lot of time searching for the ideal project and I sent many applications for which I got negative answers, if I got any… Then by chance I found the call for the Youth Mode project, just few days before the deadline and I thought: “what the hell, I might as well apply for it”. Of course, after the interviews with the sending and hosting organizations, I got selected, that’s why I’m writing this article now. At the time I haven’t realised yet, but the first step of this travel was a perfect omen of everything that EVS represents for me now.
My arrival to Palermo was a little bit like jumping into deep water head. The first impressions were overwhelming. The natural beauty of the island makes your jaw drop when you are still on the airplane and when you arrive in the city, you get caught up in its rhythm right away. The life of a volunteer here is in constant motion. My first evening the previous volunteers, who already finished their project but were still in Palermo for a few days, organized a big dinner in our apartment. The house was full of people. After a long day of travelling it was a little bit stressful of course, but it was fascinating. I remember how I was confused that around me people were speaking Italian, English, Spanish, French all at the same time. Now this seems like an average weekend evening for me. We have a really great community that is always changing. New people are arriving for new projects, some people are leaving, because their projects are finished (this is the sad part) and some are returning to Palermo either to visit, or to try life here – not as a volunteer anymore.
For me, being an EVS volunteer is like wearing a safety belt in a sense it protects you, but it leaves you space to move. Palermo is a welcoming city and it offers endless opportunities; you can find everything you could need or want, and even more. You can go to explore it, knowing that you are protected. You have mentors who help, support and guide you and your fellow volunteers. It is true that we come from different countries, backgrounds, we have different characters and we are at different points of our life, but at the end this diversity is what will make you realise that we are actually very similar to each other. We are all crazy, just in some different ways – as we like to say. And EVS not only gives you the opportunities to enjoy it all, but it gives you also the means. We have a nice place to stay and with the pocket money that we get we can really be free. But it is important not to spend it all in the city, Sicily and all of Italy has many amazing places to discover. And the limited sum of the pocket money can teach us how to get the most out of a trip while spending the least amount of money.
But the most important way this safety belt is protecting us, is not letting us get lost in all these experiences. It gives us purpose and direction. As volunteers we can take part in trainings, language courses, and various workshops that not only teach us useful skills for the future, but also we meet a lot of great people from all around the world. And working in the local centres is what makes us more than a tourist and even more than an exchange student. This way we really get to know the local culture, we became part of it. It is obviously not easy, but it is worth it. It changes your whole perspective on life. Because it’s so different, it makes you revaluate all that you have and all that you though important before. Working with the immigrant children gives you connection to their world as immigrants – meaning that you will not only get to know the Sicilian culture but also you will learn about life in Africa and Asia – and as children – meaning that they will show you their true honesty. They are really grateful for the love you show them, and they teach you that a smile, a hug or a nice word are sometimes the greatest of gifts you can give to somebody.
So, no matter how many plans you have for the future, if you do your EVS with an open mind, you can probably better understand what you want. You will realise that all the traditional values that school has thought you might not be really so important ones, that you cannot form an opinion about the world or be part of it if you live all your life in the same place and that you don’t have to choose your life career at 18, but even if you did you can still change it at any time, because it is your life and you decide how to live it. You can make mistakes, you will definitely make them, but it’s not a problem, it’s just another opportunity to learn. And when you’ve finally set a goal for which you are willing to fight, you will get it. Maybe you will not arrive on the path that you planned, maybe a path that is not even on your map yet will take you there instead, but you will arrive there for sure.