About two months ago, I returned from Portugal / Lisbon, where I went to do European Voluntary Service (EVS), and decided to gather this article to inform my experiences about EVS.
First of all, EVS has become widespread among active and enterprising young people who want to have different experiences. This is a very pleasing situation. In my opinion, every young person should have such a good opportunity and experience.
Let’s come to my story of meeting with EVS… I got acquainted with my housemate who will graduate when she is in the third grade of the university and apply for EVS projects. At that time, I was very biased about this kind of work, I was definitely trying to discourage my friend from this love as I did not believe myself, thinking that there was a torpedo or a different situation in the business, they would not accept us :). When I came to the last class, when I heard that my housemate was accepted, as soon as I graduated with enthusiasm, I started to research EVS and started looking for a project for myself.
I agree, preparing motivation letters, making project applications and being rejected reduces your motivation, and it can be a long and demanding process. It can be accepted in three or five months, but it can take years, but if you really want this, I would never give up. It is worth taking these troubles for an unforgettable experience. At the end of a 4-month intensive process, I made 17 applications, including a one-year project in Portugal, and eventually the news I had expected came to me on the day of the feast and gave me a real holiday 🙂 I received an acceptance from an institution in Portugal.
One month later, when I said it was his passport, his visa, his necessary documents, I found myself in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, where I watched his documentary and fell in love and even listed the following if I go one day.
It was still a dream until the plane arrived in Lisbon. When I saw our project coordinator at the airport, I said, “Let the adventure begin!” They welcomed me very warmly, the Portuguese in general are really very friendly and helpful people.
My project started a week later. I would spend time in a social center with the elderly from morning till noon and in a nursery-style school with children with insufficient financial status until noon.
We had activities such as gymnastics with older people, knitting and playing educational games. On New Year’s Day, Easter and important days, I prepared them for parties and attended the activities. Apart from that, I even attended the rituals with the elders once a month 🙂 The elders were very interested in me because I was a stranger and they always helped me with everything. All of them were like a grandmother and a grandfather at the end of the project 🙂 This was a bit of a challenge since I was the only one who was a volunteer and foreigner with EVS. But my mentor (who is there to deal with your adaptation and all kinds of problems) and all the staff there helped me so much that the process was smooth and very enjoyable.
The children I worked with were between 3 and 18 years old. I was also playing games and helping English homework, if any. In addition, I was accompanying them during the preparation and implementation of the activities to be held on important days. We were organizing picnics, excursions and going to the beach in summer. We were getting used to both old people and children, and all of them became a family in a short time. In this sense, I was very lucky, I was working on a project and environment exactly as I wanted, and the people around me would never spare their help and love from me. Already at the end of my project, our separation by crying with the little ones and the elderly proved to me that EVS was the most accurate decision I made in my life.
So how did you get along? If you say we were taking Portuguese lessons but it was a very difficult language for me and it took me about six months to understand and agree. Previously, I was trying to handle with the help of basic expressions and connoisseurs. Even the little ones were trying to teach me Portuguese 🙂
I was spending my weekends exploring Lisbon and going out with friends. I had many friends from many countries like Italy, Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, Romania who came to Lisbon to volunteer like me. Suddenly, I became part of a culture I never knew with people I never knew. Now I was accompanying them on their special days and trying to learn their culture.
I want to tell you a little bit about Portugal, but I don’t know where to start! Portugal is truly a peaceful country with its vast beaches, warm people, narrow streets with hills and authentic details in those buildings. As far as I have observed from Lisbon, it is a country that knows how to have fun and enjoy life. It is the country that cannot recover without drinking those hard shot coffees in the morning. The country that caused me to be partially hungry by eating fish and some seafood at least three days a week! If you go and see it one day, maybe you will share your observations. If you have already seen it, you are familiar with what I have told. I feel very lucky to have made EVS in Lisbon because it has become my second hometown. If I had a chance to do it a second time, I could do it again in Portugal.
And of course, travels are an indispensable part of EVS… You can save your free time or leave days and organize small trips to other countries with your friends. Portugal is a bit disadvantageous in this sense, because it is the westernmost of Europe, but if you follow cheap airlines such as Rynair and Easyjet, you will find that you can travel very cheaply. I had the opportunity to go to many European cities. If you like to travel like me, you can also have the chance to visit many cities thanks to EVS.
Thanks to EVS, I put a lot of unforgettable memories, countless beautiful people, beautiful friendships in a year. I feel that it adds, develops and enlarges me a lot. It can add a lot to you as well, just break your shell and try to live such an experience, trust yourself!
I hope this article will help you take a step forward for EVS.
Gökhan Turgut Ünal