Andrie is an ex-EVS, is Cypriot, and after her experience in Spain, hes outlook on life has changed dramatically! ¡In a good way! The interview is one of those that motivate anybody, even those who have never considered being volunteers.
1.- Andrie, tell me, at what point in your career you are.
I completed a 5-month paid internship at the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Dublin, and as I am finding it hard to get a graduate job in the field of my choice in the south of Europe, I have saved some money and I intend to go backpacking around the Mediterranean for 4 months. Then in September I will continue my job-search, but I will be looking outside Europe too.
2.- Was it easy to find the EVS project? And why did you decide to participate?
After completing my undergraduate degree, I knew that eventually I wanted to do a postgraduate course but I needed to take a break from studies. I wanted something more educational and more exciting than simply coming back to my country and start looking for a job. EVS was the perfect option because it combines non-formal education with fun and new adventures. I always liked the idea of undertaking a long-term volunteering project but young people usually can’t afford to pay money to volunteer, which is what happens with most international volunteering initiatives, unfortunately. I got quite lucky, I was offered the chance to go to Valencia for EVS after sending about 5-6 applications because someone had changed his mind, but most people have to send many more to get a positive reply. With so much youth unemployment, there are more and more people looking for this kind of opportunities to do something productive with their lives.
3.- Do you think the EVS, has helped you learn or enhance your professional skills?
Yes, but it depends on your point of view and your career choice. Many volunteers, especially the younger ones, chose their career or studies direction based on their EVS experience. Some chose projects related to their career plans. Others changed careers after completing their project. There were even those who were given the chance to stay in the organization they volunteered for. It’s not very common, but it happens. Others simply viewed it as a chance to do something different that had nothing to do with their profession. You learn new job-related practical skills for sure. But you also learn interpersonal skills such as team-work for instance, that are very important in a work environment. Before my EVS, I would have never considered working with children. Now, it is actually something that I would like to do if given the chance. So in that sense I have gained some direct professional experience in a new field. But even if I never get to work with children again, I have still enhanced my interpersonal skills, something that has come in handy in various occasions.
4.- What was the most important of the experience?
It’s hard to say, because it is a 6-month period during which participants go through a lot of changes, not only externally but internally as well. It was a very intense period for me. Perhaps this is the most important aspect of this experience. I discovered new things about the world around me, but about myself as well. It was a process of awareness. Now I try to get a lot more involved in social issues and society, I observe better and I have a rather well-rounded perspective of situations. I’ve learned to put myself in someone else’s shoes. And of course, working with children is a big lesson! I felt like I had a second chance in childhood, how many people can say that?
5.- Do you know someone who EVS experience has been helpful?
It’s hard to think of someone whose EVS experience has been useless. But as always, it depends on your attitude. If you are willing to evolve as a person, every situation will teach you something new. One important thing about EVS is the concept of choice. You are not forced to do it, you do it because you choose to, so most people want to learn as much as possible from it. You need to be open-minded, patient and accept advice from your mentor and the people around you. Apart from the obvious – language skills, practical skills related to your project tasks and so on, you grow as a person. One of my housemates had never lived outside his family house before. On the first day he almost burned the kitchen when he tried to cook. I can tell you that a month later he was already preparing food for all of us. You see shy people becoming sociable, selfish people learning to share. It’s strange how many of us learned to be more independent through being part of a community. But the process is different for each one, it depends on the individual. EVS has a bigger impact on some people, on others not so much.
6.- Does the EVS is popular or well known here?
It wasn’t when I applied back in 2009. Many people, mostly older generation, were asking me why on earth I was going to work voluntarily in another country when I could be looking for a full-time paid job in my country. I even had a hard time accessing information and finding a sending organization. But now these opportunities are gaining popularity, as young people understand that the traditional structure of school – university – career is no longer feasible. Perhaps young people are becoming more adventurous too – they want to live in other countries. This is good news! It means that more young people will gain a wider range of skills beyond academic ones. In addition, working and living in a multicultural environment is an effective way of combating prejudice and xenophobia.
7.- Do you work / what do you do now?
Mainly travelling. I am interested in more alternative ways to travel which encourage cultural understanding rather than tourism. For instance, I would like to visit eco-communities, or volunteer work in exchange for food and lodging, and I prefer couchsurfing to hotels because I prefer to have more contact with locals. I am also planning to document my experience in some way using photography, blogging etc. I believe the Mediterranean region is an interesting place to be at the moment, because of all the social change that is taking place.
8.- Do you think the “SVE” has had a positive impact on your job search?
I will tell you a story. I was approaching the end of my project in Valencia and I was trying to figure out whether to return to Cyprus for a summer job before going back to University or to look for one in Spain. I received an unexpected phone call from a Cypriot friend, telling me that the company she worked for was looking to employ a multi-lingual person to conduct market research interviews with passengers on cruise-ships touring the Mediterranean. Of course I accepted the job and I no longer had to choose between Spain or Cyprus – I could do both. EVS gives young people the opportunity to learn another language – this will always look good on your CV. It’s a shame that not many employers know about YouthPass, but I am hoping that more people will recognise its value at some point. Maybe the professional path we choose is not directly related to our project – sometimes it is – but speaking another language and having worked in a multicultural environment widens your possibilities. You also get the chance to network with like-minded people that are into similar things, you exchange ideas and information. You never know…