Why did you choose Citizens of Europe as your host organisation?
A year ago, as I was about to finish my studies at university, I felt the need to change my environment, get into a new challenge and try living and working somewhere else. I had been curious about Berlin since my very first visit in 2007. The chance of applying for the EVS placement through the Swedish organisation Peaceworks seemed like a great way of combining practical work experience with the opportunity to explore the city.
Before coming, what did you expect from your EVS?
I tried not to build up any expectations,just to set the basic goal of getting on that plane and then to take everyday as it came. What distracted me from the fact that I was leaving for a year, was that during the very last weeks before moving, I was still caught up in finishing my bachelor thesis. Looking back to the first time I skyped with Tobi and Maaret, my colleagues to be, I remembered telling them how I wanted to learn more about creating and running social and cultural projects within a small NGO. I did not set any fixed goals but applied out of curiosity and a strong urge to get out of my comfort zone.
What would you tell someone who is planning to apply for a EVS?
Your time as a volunteer on a organisation, no matter if you end up working with kids on a kindergarten in a German town or as a theatre teacher on a circus in Berlin, it’s all about what you make out of it. It requires independence, the ability to cope with people and situations in complete new ways and a strong will to learn as well as responsibility. In the end, you will probably learn more about yourself.
What was the most difficult thing during your placement at C.o.E?
I’ve come to understand how many inspiring people are out there working on their projects – creating non-formal educational projects, spreading ideas and bringing people together on a grassroots level. It’s been difficult ,sometimes frustrating, realising how tough it is to run projects entirely voluntarily. I feel that the NGO-sector should get better funding as they’re such a important platform for civil society. I experienced difficulties dealing with this frustration, but also gained lots of energy from it. On a personal level, I did not realise how much I would miss my friends and family while being away. The homesickness struck me pretty hard after a couple of months but then I realised that they weren’t that far away…and since Swedes are crazy about Berlin, I’ve had many visits.
The diversity and creativity in the city is a ongoing inspiration
How would you describe your life in Berlin during your time as a volunteer?
I would use a cliché and describe it as many ups and downs. It’s surely been a challenge and I don’t regret taking the chance in coming here. As each day goes by, I feel more welcomed, more like a citizen and not just a tourist. Being here has allowed me to develop interests that I earlier neglected. I guess the diversity and creativity in the city is a ongoing inspiration. As a volunteer you live on a small budget, so it’s important to find ways of enjoying what the city offers without spending to much money.
How important has it been to learn German?
Although I get by well in speaking English, I think it’s truly important to try and learn German. I’m picking up new words and phrases each day and it’s easier to speak. My aim is to study the language so I can communicate easier outside the expat community that I’m usually surrounded by.
What did you learn during your year as a volunteer?
Its hard to say, since I’m still processing the time I’ve spent at the organisation and in the city. To be more concrete I would say that I’ve learned more about group dynamics, the importance of leadership and how to coordinate projects. I discovered how much you can do with a small budget, motivated people and a good concept.
I discovered how much you can do with a small budget, motivated people and a good concept.
Which impact did your EVS-year have on your future plans/influence your life?
More than I possibly could have imagined a year ago when I decided to stay in Berlin. I recently started a job in a German company and the city feels more like my home as each day goes by. I am looking forward to following the development of CoE, joining as a regular member and who knows, maybe I’ll propose a project some day.
(Interview with Maria Nehme, 23 years old from Sweden. She did EVS at Citizens of Europe from July 2012 to June 2013.)