From March to December 2012 I did an European Voluntary Service at Žemaitija National Park (Lithuania). As I grew up in the city of Berlin I did not have the opportunity to work and live near the nature. Therefore, the offer to work in Plateliai seemed very appealing to me. Furthermore, it was the last chance to do an EVS after having finished my studies in late 2011. I did not specifically look for a project in Lithuania but already knew some about that country, as I had been there for a short trip back in 2005. I also wanted to work in northern Europe, as I feel more comfortable with the weather.
As I grew up in Berlin I did not have the opportunity to live near the nature
When I arrived in Lithuania I was confronted with the fact that the knowledge of English was generally low, even at my workplace. Therefore I put an effort in learning Lithuanian, which
was harder than I thought. During the language lessons I only learnt some vocabulary. My EVS colleague Roma was from Latvia and could speak the local dialect. She translated whatever I did not understand. Even though I am very grateful, I think that I would probably have learnt more Lithuanian without her help.
My expectations about the project responded to the tasks described in the announcement at the online EVS database. I was ready to go out in the woods to collect scientific information, to teach German informally and to deal with tourists. But it turned out that not all of the proposed activities could be carried out.
Instead, Roma and me worked mainly in the local secondary school, where we talked about our home countries and taught English by playing games. We also took part in some school events like a lyric performance in which I recited a German poem.
In summer both of us also worked in the park and especially guided tourist groups.
In autumn when the tourism season had ceased and I didn’t have any tasks assigned, I decided to create my own projects. For instance, I proposed to carry out a photography exhibition at the school. The topic of the competition were environmental issues and I arranged that the park donated prizes.
The second project was an event on the occasion of November9th, a very important day in
German history. I baked a German cake together with the pupils and held a presentation at the school. People enjoyed this event very much and the local newspaper wrote an article about it.
Both working with tourists and teaching pupils was a new experience and a great pleasure.
This made me think about my professional future: I would like to combine my theoretical knowledge (urban planning) with my practical experiences.
Lithuania is a poor country: salaries are much lower than in Germany, but prices are nearly the same. This is why many young people feel anxious about their future and often emigrate.
Besides, I must recognize that everyone I met was incredibly helpful and polite.
Overall, my volunteering was a very enriching experience and I am happy that I seized this opportunity.
I also wrote a blog about my experience in Lithuania: sympathistan.blogspot.com. Have a look!
(Reflections from Aaron Schaar, 28 years old, whose sending organization during his EVS in Lithuania was Citizens of Europe.)