Vicolocorto

What it means to be part of a Volunteering Team: the experience in Austria

Volunteering projects are unique opportunities for young people to gain experience abroad with the support of European funding. As these are important life experiences that involve a disruption of one’s daily routine for several months, the European Commission had the wonderful idea to create the so-called Volunteering Teams: what kind of projects are they?

These projects last a minimum of 2 weeks and a maximum of 2 months and they can involve up to 40 young people from all over Europe at the same time. In this case, young people (always aged between 18 and 30) can participate more than once, even if they have already taken part in a long-term or other short-term projects. In short, endless possibilities! 

To help you understand the beauty and richness of these experiences, we interviewed Daniele and Giulia, two young people who have just returned to Italy after a Volunteering Team in Austria. Their project focused on nature and its care, but the main goal was to motivate young people to take control of their lives and to create opportunities and perspectives together. As the representative of Cubic (the coordinating association) Leo Kaserer explained: “They learn to be themselves and to recognise that they have valuable skills and can grow from them.”

Let’s hear what the volunteers think!

What were the project activities?

D: The activities carried out during this month included nature conservation work, which ranged from maintaining the paths, cutting back weeds and bushes that invaded the path where necessary, to collecting previously pruned branches to prevent the grazing cows from injuring themselves in their constant search for grass to eat.

G: Yes, in order to do this it was possible to spend days with mountain guides and experts who worked with us. On the free days (Saturday and Sunday) we could do whatever we wanted, but we were offered activities to do as we pleased such as walking on the trails.

How was it to be immersed in a culture and language different from yours?

G: I already knew that I would be dealing with people from different cultures but I didn’t know how easy and simple this meeting would be. I thought I would have encountered more difficulties or resistance, when in the end it turned out to be a way to learn a lot and with great benefit.

D: For me, it was both interesting and, I won’t deny, a bit stressful. Interesting because obviously getting out of the usual routine and having the chance to get to know new people and their opinions, different from yours, with different ways of thinking and doing things is wonderful, because you can learn from it. Stressful instead because, from never speaking another language to speaking another language every day, in this case English, it is complicated to get going and be able to communicate as you normally would, but it is only a matter of days, because then it becomes normal.

What did you learn from this experience?

D: Thanks to this opportunity I can say that I have further understood what it means to respect who and what you have in front of you, and how a group that was initially unknown to you can become a family from which you would never want to be separated.

G: Personally, I learned a lot of cultural curiosities, but also new ways of seeing the same reality that could match my own, or even not diverge, but travel in parallel. I learned that time passes quickly, very quickly when you are having fun, and that even fatigue becomes lighter in company. I learned that it’s nice to be able to talk about how you feel and what you’re feeling in a language that’s not your own (we spoke in English), because in the effort to make another person understand you, you also make the effort to understand yourself. And it’s possible to do that very well. The same goes for listening to the other person: it is successful when you can understand them and get in tune with them; and it is easy, actually, because the world is really very small. I have learned that experiences like these can become a drug and you want to do one after the other like eating cookies!

What would you say to a young person who has to leave for a similar experience?

G: If it’s the first time, you might be afraid, you might think “a month is a long time”, but in reality, when you come back, you will feel like you never left, but that you have a treasure in your hands that made you change you a little.

D: “GO”, do not deny yourself this wonderful opportunity, it is something that will change your life and will surely be unforgettable, it does not matter if you leave alone or with other people, because living an adventure away from home just you and yourself, opens new horizons and new perspectives on your ability to adapt and understand how far your mind can go: go and enjoy.

We conclude this article with Daniele’s exhortation: GO. Only by leaving, you can not only discover yourself, but also enrich yourself with useful skills for your future.

Virginia

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