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Lies’ experience in Hyvärilä

Lies exploring the old train station in Nurmes.

Hi everyone, my name is Lies and I have been a volunteer at Hyvärilä youth centre. I’d like to tell you more about this experience and what led me to go all the way from Bruges in Belgium to Nurmes in Finland.

It all started a year ago, when I finally decided to concretize me wish to go abroad for a few months. First, I looked through all the options I had to spend some time abroad. The site was my main source of information. It led me to all these different kind of opportunities to work abroad, be a volunteer or go on a working holiday. I spend a lot of time gathering information and looking through all the different initiatives. The more I looked, the more I found out about what I wanted from my experience abroad. I wanted to be away for only a few months and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. But most of all I wanted to discover more about myself and how I would handle being out of my comfort zone.

After some time I found the European Solidarity Corps. This is a fund of the European Union that allows young people to discover Europe as a volunteer in a community based organization. This was exactly what I was looking for. They allow young people from 18 to 30 years old to go abroad for a short or a longer period of time from 2 months up to one year. And all the basic costs (travels from and to the project, accommodation and food) are covered. After I created an account on the European Solidarity Corps page I started looking for projects. It took me some time to find the right project because I wanted to go in a certain period of the year and I wanted to go for maximum 4 months. Then I found the project Imagine Karelia – camp schools in Hyvärilä. When I read the project description I instantly had a feeling that this was really something for me. It was during the period I wanted to do a project, it was for 2 months and in Finland (I always wanted to visit a Nordic country). So I applied for this project with my CV and a motivation letter. Then I got invited to have an online conversation with the international coordinator of Hyvärilä. During this conversation we tried to figure out if I was the right person for the project and if this was the right project for me. After this conversation I received very good news: I got accepted for the project!

I started preparing for my trip with the help of the international coordinator of Hyvärilä and my sending organization. Especially the rules about covid 19 were very confusing so I was happy that there were people who could give me the right info. Then the moment was finally there for me to leave! I was very excited but also very scared. I had never gone on a 2 day travel to another country alone. But I was aware that this was a part of the journey so I went despite being scared. I was glad that everything went well during my trip. It made me wonder why I was even scared in the first place. Then after 2 days I finally arrived in Nurmes (town where Hyvärilä is based). The international coordinator picked me up at the station and gave me a tour around Nurmes right away. After that I arrived in Hyvärilä and I also got a tour there. I was amazed by how big it was, how many options there are to do activities but most of all I was impressed by the beautiful nature. It made me look forward to the next following months. For the first 2 weeks there I stayed in a studio with the other short term volunteer. This was a good way to get to know each other quickly and to bond. Although it’s also a challenge to share a room with someone you don’t know for 2 weeks. After those 2 weeks we moved to a house that we shared with another volunteer and an instructor. We each had our own room and shared the living room and the kitchen. This felt very homely and we also had our own space which was lovely. I really liked living together in the same house.

Of course, I should also tell you a bit more about what I did in Finland as a volunteer. The first month I worked in the local community for example helping the local museum, helping out during the open doors day by organizing workshops etc. I also got the opportunity to participate in Erasmus + projects that were happening in Hyvärilä that month. First, there was an online Erasmus exchange with people from Finland, Portugal, Cyprus and Egypt. It was really interesting for me to see how they go about to do all these activities online. We even did an online party the last day. It opened my mind to see what you can do with a group during online meetings. Together with a group of 4 people I also set up an online campaign to reduce plastic and food waste in supermarkets. The goal was to encourage people to shop more consciously. I didn’t know a lot about sustainability before I participated in this youth exchange. I learned so much during these 4 days and it broadened my view on environmental issues.

After this online youth exchange we had an international training course in Hyvärilä for youth workers called ‘Back To The Roots’. This was one of the highlights of my volunteering experience. There were 17 people from Ukraine, Poland, Cyprus and Italy staying in Hyvärilä. For 10 days we did a lot of activities like visiting an ecofarm, canoeing, rowing with a churchboat, a hike in the pouring rain, learning how to make fire, visiting Koli national park etc. It was so much fun to be around people from all over Europe each with their own story and view on life. It’s crazy how you can bond so much with people you didn’t know 10 days before that. This experience enriched me and I want to participate in more Erasmus+ activities.

Participants from Back to the Roots before hiking to Ellunkalio.

The last month of my stay I mostly helped with camp schools. Students from primary (and sometimes secondary) school come to Hyvärilä to participate in activities such as basket climbing, bouldering, tournament with their class, practice their nature skills, wall climbing, playing frisbee golf, upsailing etc. They stay in Hyvärilä for a few days. The activities are instructed by an instructor and we as volunteers help the instructor. I was surprised to see how brave Finnish kids are when they are doing all these activities. With wall climbing or upsailing they climb up to 10 meters! I also saw how independent they are and how much teachers/parents trust in their abilities. This was inspiring to see. I also enjoyed cooperating with the instructors. Each have their own style and way of giving activities. After some time I could also cooperate with other volunteers to instruct activities to the kids. This was a lot of fun and also nice to feel that they trusted us to give these activities.

Tensile tent adventure in the forest

During this last month I often got homesick and also had a culture shock. Because of this I felt misunderstood, sad and frustrated. The language barrier was a big part of this. I had the feeling that I couldn’t convey a message as I would like to. I also noticed that Fins are more shy and introvert, this made it difficult at first to connect with them. But giving myself and the people around me time to get to know each other really helped. And about dealing with homesickness: just taking the phone and having a videochat with people you’re close to at home really helps. If you are also planning on going abroad for a couple of months/a year: just remember that this is a process. You are getting to know this other country and finding your way there. This takes time and you should be kind to yourself in the meantime. For example, I went to Joensuu on the weekend with another volunteer. It was the first time in one month that I was in a big city again. It lifted my mood a lot, we both enjoyed this trip so much. It helped me to overcome the feelings of being misunderstood and feeling homesick.

Living and working together with the other two volunteers was fun. There were not that many people around in the area so it was nice to have each other to lean on. The staff were also very friendly and ready to help when I had questions. This meant a lot to me. I even made friends, which was beyond my expectations because 2 months seemed so little time. I share this adventure with them and this will always bond us. I feel so grateful to have met all these incredible people who made this adventure for me even more meaningful and awesome. THANK YOU!

When I think about what I wish I knew beforehand there is one thought that pops up in to my mind: it’s going to be okay! You are going to be fine!! All the things you are worrying about won’t be a big deal when you look back on them. Worrying about things and dealing with uncertainty often takes up more energy than the thing itself. Just relax and try to accept that you won’t know everything beforehand and that’s okay. Enjoy your time abroad while it lasts. You are going to make memories that last a life time. So for everyone who is considering on doing an ESC volunteering project: JUST DO IT! You won’t regret it and you’ll discover so much about yourself along the way. You also get to know another culture and another way of life. This is so enriching AND it also looks good on your resume. For me I’m so happy that I jumped in the unknown and went to Finland to be an ESC volunteer. And also to see how much I’ve grown, discovered things about myself and pushed my boundaries in a good way.

Lies in the top of Nurmes

Last but not least I would like to give a special and huge thanks to Laura, Katya, Zofia and Johannes. For making my time in Finland so wonderful and exciting. I hope we meet again. 

PD.: We love and miss you Lies ❤


Published by volunteersofhyvarila

Hello! We are volunteers at Hyvärilä Youth Centre, Nurmes, Finland sharing experiences and projects.

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