Don’t call it “gap year”: my experience as a volunteer!

Thursday 3 August 2023

Home » Experiences » Don’t call it “gap year”: my experience as a volunteer!

I’ve always been an indecisive person, so after high school I didn’t know what to do. On one hand I could go to University, just as all my friends were doing, but on the other hand, I ‘d always had this thought of doing something unexpected, going on an adventure like no other. As I was making my decision, someone casually mentioned ESC to me. A program offering volunteering opportunities, the chance to live abroad, learn new languages, broaden one’s horizons. It seemed like the perfect fit. Actually just out of curiosity, I registered, found a long-term volunteering opportunity with CESIE, wrote an application letter and went through a video interview.  

Before I knew it, I was boarding a plane from Katowice to Palermo.

Reflecting on my experience, it’s almost impossible to write a thorough article on the project, with all different sides to it. Because how to include all the emotions of: As a 18 yrs old Polish girl I spend 8 months in a foreign country, far from everything familiar.

Kind of crazy thinking about it now.

Because obviously there were down sides. Palermo wasn’t just a magical vacation spot for me, but an everyday workplace, which was often really demanding. The problems with communication. Trying to talk in Italian, even though at first I could only say “pizza” and “ciao”. Finding my part in a new environment, being separated from the closest ones. Living with 7 other roommates. Seeing not only good sides of the city, but also things that needed a lot of improvement.

Nevertheless, with all its difficulties, I’m glad that Wisia from a year ago made this decision. Because I learned so much and, as cheesy as it sounds, grew a lot as a person.

 Before going, I made a list of goals for this year, and looking back at it, I checked all of them. Learning Italian and going to all the beautiful places in Sicily.  Having great relationship with my flatmates (which has been extremely helpful through it all) and becoming more mature. Seeing a change in the children and I worked with and having to meet a lot of interesting persons.

During my journey I learned a lot about how to work with children, offer them non-formal education activities and manage groups of different ages. For this reason I decided to put my experience at the service of other volunteers who will come to CESIE or who will do activities at the UBUNTU center or with children in general, creating a manual with useful suggestions and instructions for playing and entertaining children. The manual can be downloaded on this page.

Thanks to that, also I’ve also expanded my ‘’young polish girl who has only lived in Poznań’’ point of view to so many various possibilities. Since meeting all these people, I’ve realised we all have different believes, experience, culture, background, and ability to do certain things. But that’s what makes everyone’s story so unique. Also, deep down, despite our initial differences, we all share basic needs. Understanding, sense of community, love, peace, warmth, security. And we all seek good people to share it with.

Today, I’ve made my way to university, pursuing an interesting degree. And even though one would say I took a ‘’break from studying’’, I wouldn’t call it ‘’a gap year’’. Because I don’t see it as a ‘’gap’’ in my life. On the contrary. Not only did it shape me into the person I am today, but it also gifted me with invaluable experiences. It was a ‘’gain year’’ to say the least.

Wisia Zawieja

ESC Volunteer – Sharing solidarity 2022

Youth Unit