Summer is over, which means I’m back to being in front of my laptop again, trading the beach for the screen. So it seems logical to focus on the Vicolocorto blog Vicolocortini this cloudy October morning. Although it sure feels weird to write an introduction about myself, talking about my expectations for this voluntary service three months into my project. I believe that my time here has meddled with how I remember my pre-volunteer self. Still, I will try to put myself back into the process of adjusting to Italy.
The story of how 19-year old Sophie from Germany ended up here is quite basic. This world has a lot to offer; an unbelievable amount of opportunities, jobs, experiences. How—as barely adults—are we to decide which ones to ignore and which ones to take advantage of? For me going abroad after graduating high school at the age of 18 was the only acceptable option. However, since I had always enjoyed procrastinating seriously thinking about what to do, I was suddenly out of options when summer 2019 came around. Most programs abroad need a lot of preparation, many even need the right financial means to get started.
I did the easiest thing: push the gap year plans to after my bachelor’s degree and apply for universities. And it was a lot of fun to apply for studies when you haven’t decided what you want to do or who you want to be, trust me.
In the end I enrolled in a bachelor that was called Applied Literary and Cultural Studies which is a bilingual (English-German) course with two minor courses (I chose psychology and political science). Sounded interesting enough as it covered a good amount of my interests. It was also connected to moving to the tenth biggest city in Germany and studying in the ninth biggest after growing up in a town that was too small to be a city and too big to be a village. So, October 2019 meant a lot of excitement for me.
But pretty soon I realized that I stumbled into university life just like I left the womb of my mother about 19 years ago: without a plan and without any motivation to be there. The studies were partly interesting, the friends I made were amazing, and the feeling I had when I was on campus without a doubt told me that I wanted to study. Now incoming, the big “but”: BUT I was not happy. Already halfway through the first semester I was looking at alternatives. Which for me was the indicator that something had to change.
And then, just like the star that guided the Three Wise Kings to Baby-Jesus, I received an email from the European Solidarity Corps. Something I had honestly already forgotten about ever registering in. I was sitting, similar to right now, in front of my screen, bringing my psychology notes in order to study for the exam the next day when the email plopped up. Vicolocorto wants to contact you. Volunteering in Italy. Focus on promoting European projects and development of language skills. I don’t believe in destiny, but that came awfully close to society’s definition of destiny. Naturally, the only right thing to do was to ditch studying for my psychology exam and writing my application.
To shorten the story: I didn’t take my exam, I got into the ESC in Pesaro and for a very short period of time I was sure everything was going to work out just fine. Six months in Italy, volunteering, meeting a bunch of awesome people from all over Europe—that would surely help me get closer to knowing what to do with my life.
Unfortunately, an invisible threat weaved itself into our everyday life: COVID-19. And the virus went all out in the place where I was supposed to go to. I can’t even put into words how conflicted I was. The incredible classic song Should I Stay Or Should I Go by The Clash became my soundtrack for spring 2020, a year already defined by catastrophes.
In the end, one of the things that made me go was the perspective I had in Germany. Returning to university—and then also online, no thank you—and by that back to doing something I was not happy with. And—even though I strongly disagree with the concept of being able to waste your time in general as every single thing you do, no matter how useless it feels, has a purpose to you—I felt like that would be the prime example of wasting my time. So I left for my project, two months later than planned, and arrived one late night at the end of June.
Summer was giving its all, much to my displease. In the first week the heat exhausted me. After learning the way to the beach it was better, but still exhausting. It just took some adjusting to a different kind of summer than I was used to. I managed to focus on different aspects of my new life though, mainly the people around me.
I still consider myself very lucky with my flatmates and the remaining volunteers here in Pesaro because they form such a smart, funny, friendly and diverse group of people that, when put into one room together (or rather one open space outside; COVID guidelines) create a dynamic which is to die for. Then again, I suppose that no matter the city, if there is an ESC happening, there are going to be amazing people. We all come from different places and backgrounds but somehow make it work, also through the motivations that brought us here.
I’m already scared of returning to Germany and suddenly being surrounded by only Germans again.
In my first couple of weeks here I started to discover Pesaro and some nearby cities together with the other volunteers, sometimes through a game our mentor prepared for us, sometimes just by going out to a bar in the night or hiking up the Monte San Bartolo in the afternoon sun. The beach became our best friend day and night and some of my fondest memories so far were made when we stayed at the beach all night and watched the sunrise over the sea.
Of course life here it’s not just fun and games. We work hard. Theoretically. Due to COVID-19, it is almost impossible to go through with some of the activities of my project. I’m not going to lie, there have been some major frustrations for me here. Trying to find alternatives to some activities together with my organization is not always easy, but I know that they’re working on it. In the end, it’s not their fault there’s a highly contagious virus maybe slumbering in the person next to you. And I believe adjusting expectations and adapting to current, unforeseen events is a skill that I will be immensely grateful for during the remainder of my life.
So, basically, if I don’t die of COVID-19 here, I will carry the memories of my ESC in my heart for years to come, visit all the friends I’ve made (until Russia releases the vaccine on Skype), and hopefully look back at it as the beginning of something big; the rest of my life.