Aleksandra, EVS, Serbia.

Today we have for you interview with Ola (as we all call her) -  Polish volunteer who did her EVS in Serbia. :)

My name is Aleksandra Belina, I was born in Tarnow and I am living currently in Celestynow near Warsaw:) I am 23 now, but during my EVS I was 21/22 ;)

Where did you do your EVS and why did you choose this country?

I did my EVS in Nis, Serbia (southern). I have chosen it mostly because of great description of potential activities. The project seemed to be very broad, various, challenging and rich in possibilities. My hosting organisation also mentioned that they are very open to EVS volunteer's proposals. Moreover, once I had few positive replies from few countries, I made a final choice because of involved, interesting and keen replies from Serbian coordinator as well as because of the fact that I have never been in Balkans and I wanted to discover this region with its unique culture. Some of my friends actually have encouraged me to go there. However, firstly, I was looking for the project with youth as target group and rich, detail description, with living alone and being the only (or any) EVS volunteer there (hope for learning independence and for middling up mostly with locals, improving language skills and discover depth of local culture).

Can you please tell something about the project: what were your tasks, how did your „normal“ day look like?

Well, it depends on the period. First month I did almost nothing then coming (once-twice a week) to the office, to meet the team, but all the meeting were always in Serbian, so firstly I was only a non-active listener. :) They told me to accommodate, see the city, contact with local volunteers I met during one meeting they organized and enjoy life in Serbia... ;) At that time I was meeting pretty often with my mentor (maybe 5-10 times a month), he was there for me. With the time being they noticed (and I told them so :P) that I am pretty hard-working and I need tasks to do in order to feel good. It took me much time to adjust to Serbian time management and lifestyle (let's take a break, let's drink coffee and have fun for days/weeks and then let's work 12 hours a day before the deadline :P). It took some time to build common trust and understanding. I was also, several time, participating various trainings, in local and international level. I had also open hours for local youth and I was EVS consultant - the person giving advice and sharing information about various international opportunities for youth (EVS and other projects). I went to local school few times to promote EVS, I was participant, support of trainers' team few times as well as provider of weekly workshops about polish language and culture. I also got involved in peer-to-peer education about Human Rights and in many actions related to No Hate Speech and Dance4Life programs. I learnt a lot about various methods of non-formal education and peer education, sexual education and so on. I travelled by myself and with the team pretty widely (ok, maybe not thaaaaat much, but still :)). I wouldn't say I had regular timetable - we tried to implement that, but there were a lot of sudden changes and actually, from the perspective of time, I am so glad of not working "8 to 4". I learnt how to be veeeeery flexible, how to adjust my work to current needs and how to ...seize the day as well. :) 

What did you do before your project?

I was volunteer, mentor and EVS supporting coordinator in SPW - my sending organization. I graduated from sociology (specialization: NGO) at Warsaw University. Many of my previous experiences lead me to EVS, it was all well-planned. :D

What would you tell about country, local people and their habits - is there something really different from Poland/Poles?

I could have written long book about it! Some parts of it I have mentioned above. Time motion, different working style, more patriotism than I see in Poland (of course these are all generalizations based on my individual observation and supported by some literature :)) - but a particular kind of a patriotism, a tangled, varied one, sometimes related to whole ex-Jugoslavia, stressing the brotherhood of South Slavic countries, sometimes related to one-few nations or countries (it's all very complicated there). People, even while facing poverty, can enjoy life and spend a lot of money in few days (seize the day!), they have rather short-term planning style. They are also sooo helpful, hospitable (far more than polish people I have ever met), they share a lot with total strangers, are very curious and open to tourist from EU, probably also because of lack of opportunities to travel widely and see other cultures. They are positively crazy, laid-back, outgoing, loud, talkative, emotional, expressive, proud (yet again- I talk only about some tendencies, general overview). I was touched by the fact that so many people treated me as a family member even after short period of my stay), invited me to Easter, Christmas, etc. They are proud and devoted to the country, but many people also complain about politicians, poverty, etc. Yet again they can party very often, smile and cheer up at any moment. Some people say that Serbian have tendency to autodestruction- so many people smoke heavily, drink a lot of rakija, bet money and spend a lot on parties. However, they are so warm, spontaneous and living the life fully.

Do you have some funny/interesting/horror story to tell? :) (something special what happened during your stay in Serbia, something you would like to share...)

Oh.. I think I have many of them, it's hard to pick one! :D Maybe.. the day when I had some problem with my flush in the toilet (except the fact that it got destroyed after every friends' visit and I played a role of plumber/mechanic many times in my own flat in Serbia which was also a good story to say.. ;)). I needed to replace tiny part of the flush so I entered the special shop. I didn't know how to explain what do I need in Serbian (not that I am sure how to explain it in Polish or English... ;)) so I tried somehow to talk to the shop assistant and explain where I am from and why I can't say the precise request. Then, very surprised man, sawing me for the first time...

First- invited me to drink coffee (no? so maybe coca cola? how about beer then?) INSIDE the shop (it wasn’t some kind of improper flirt, just a simple, hospitable invitation to sit in the shop and relax before we get to business - so regular and normal, isn’t it? :D)

Secondly - told me long story about one polish friend of him who has helped him around 20-30 years ago.

Thirdly- propose me free service- not only free part of flush to "buy", but also coming to my flat and fix everything for free for me.

Last but not least - he told me I can visit the shop anytime for some drink and chat; everytime I passed by the shop, he went out, greet me and ask how am I... ;)

I have also few good linguistic accidents to tell, but it need usage of gesticulation as well... :)

What did you learn/gain from your EVS experience?

Independence; raise of my self-confidence; believing that everything is possible and every mistake can be "fixed"; flexibility; various trainers' style; many tools and methods of non-formal education; language and the Jugoslavian culture; hospitality; spontaneity; facts about Human Rights, writing the projects applications, sexual education, HIV/AIDS, dancing and photoshop.... :)
Do you have some plans what to do after you come back? ? (Or maybe you don’t want to come back..?)

I wanted to stay in Serbia/out of PL during my EVS ad right after. Then, Serbian organization proposed me cooperation within their project.. so thanks to my EVS I am coordinating international project again and I am learning even more about Human Rights, hate speech and being a learner & trainer. :))