I read some old texts of mine, and discovered a text from over two years ago, when I was in my first Erasmus+ training course in Struga, Macedonia. I wrote how I will someday go and do my EVS somewhere; I wanted to be a volunteer. That time, I had no idea that two years later I would be reading that text from my home, in Macedonia, where I came 5 months ago from Finland.
I was introduced to the world of Eramus+ in that first training. I got so inspired after learning so much about EVS and all the opportunities that young people have to go abroad. I always thought that since I am not studying in University, I will never have the chance to go to another country to study or do an internship. Here I am now, in the middle of my volunteering program. I remember the day when I got here like it was yesterday. I flew here via Kosovo, where the director of the organization and my mentor were waiting for me. I was so confused, remembering the previous night when I was home with my family still trying to figure out what can you possibly pack up for a whole year in another country. The day, 28.8.18 in Skopje was hot and sunny, and my head was about to explode from all the new people and information. I have to admit that, the minute I got to my new room in Skopje after a long day of travelling, I burst into tears. I texted my mother that am I crazy, why did I come here, I want to come back home immediately. However the feelings of confusion and the fear of starting a new life in a totally different country and culture passed away in a few days. I met so many great people that I now consider my close friends and a second family.
I am volunteering for Volunteers Centre Skopje where we are doing many Erasmus+ projects, a youth magazine called VOICES, local events and workshops with young people from Macedonia. I could write you a bunch of stuff from my work experience here, but I want to concentrate on explaining the leap into the unknown. For me, my life was good in Finland and I was surrounded by amazing friends and family. Still I felt a bit like there is something missing, and when the opportunity to move to Macedonia came up, I collected all my courage and started the process. I settled down in a few weeks and started to call Macedonia my home. Everything started to roll down pretty easily when I started to have my first friends. I think one the biggest help of my settling down here was my flat mate back then, whom we came close friends and shared many adventures together.
I have to say that after meeting all these amazing people in Macedonia, after becoming close friends with so many, I have never felt this happy. Still, even as everything is more normal and life has become casual, I sometimes just stop and smile, walk like my head is in the clouds. The jump that you have to take to move to a totally different society is life changing. I have gained so much more courage, confidence and good vibes for the future. I would say that everyone should take this chance and go. Just leave everything behind for awhile and start an adventure that can show you so much more in life.
For many young people, the EVS is the first time they live away from home and from their parents. And you start to grow immediately; everyday means learning something new, without even realizing it. All the everyday things such as making your own food, cleaning the apartment, going for grocery shopping, all these small obvious things are part of your leaning journey. I remember, at the beginning, I missed a dish washing brush so much. I missed the coffee from home and more pressure in the shower. Now I don’t even realize how they are different from home. You get used to it so fast. Also the journey of learning comes up when you have to be brave enough to go to talk to new people, learn how to behave in a new culture and settle yourself to this new life, learning the language, accepting all the new challenges. My first “shock” was how people in Macedonia share their food in the restaurant. Where is my own plate, my own food? Second came the fact how warm and kind people can be, even when it comes to small things. Someone always offers you from their own, whether it’s chocolate or a cigarette, it always gives me a good feeling. The stereotype that people in Finland are cold and need their personal space is partly true. That’s why the first times someone was touching me, just as a friendly gesture, or giving me a hug after meeting for the first time, were a bit weird. I think in my culture it takes more time. You have to build up trust and friendship before being able to be close. I learned the joy of being close to people really fast. I mean, I have always been a hugger but here it’s easier to live this habit. I just love how people here are mostly unselfish and sincere. At least that’s what I have experienced in my close circle. The best example is my mentor. Your mentor is someone who is assigned to you in EVS as a “first friend”, to help you settle down and get through the first months. With mine I can say, that even without the title “mentor” we are friends and I can always trust him to be there for me. And it goes both ways. And all the other people surrounding me, other volunteers and local friends have became so important in such a short time. Also I consider myself so lucky to find an organization like this for my volunteering, because even though we work together, we also share friendships.
People often ask me with honest confusion in their face, why a Finnish person would want to come to Macedonia? I can understand the question. Finland is a good country; we are one of the leading countries when it comes to equal rights and education. You hardly drop out of society. I consider myself lucky to be born in Finland, and it will always be my home. But I wanted to take the rose colored glasses from my face, to see what else is there on this precious Earth of ours. We have our flaws in Finland, like in every country, but after seeing how people are living in other societies, our problems seem so small. I started to appreciate more where I am coming from. That is the reason I don’t want to go back home after my EVS, get a steady job and live there happily ever after. There is so much to see in this world, and I want to see it all: all the good, all the bad and in between. I would like to lead my life as an everyday learning journey. I still have 7 months to go, but I am already thinking about the possibilities to stay here. I am joking how someone has to marry me, so I can continue my life here. Because as the cliché goes “Home is where your heart is”.