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12 Q&As with Zofia Alka

  1. What did you do as a volunteer?

I was participating in the “Discover Yourself” project for 2 months (20.07.2021-20.09.2021). My duties as a volunteer included working on a sound project, providing help to the staff of a youth centre Hyvarila, participating in an international erasmus+ project – Back to the roots, getting involved in local youth houses and most importantly working with youth camps. Sometimes I had the opportunity to participate in youth camp activities, sometimes I was a helping hand for the instructors.

2. Why did you decide to do it? What made you pick this place/project over other ones? (the answer to all the questions is the same)

I chose the project due to the location. Finland was always a very sentimental place for my family since my father traveled there in his youth which turned out to be the adventure of his life. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and compare our experiences while doing something useful for the community.

3. What do you wish you knew before coming?

Finnish summer is cold, at least for a polish citizen. I’d advise future participants to interview locals about the weather before packing. Also as a city person I was surprised to find out that dressing up is totally out of the question at the Finnish countryside, so instead of cute dresses I’d take a warm down jacket if I could move back in time.

Photographer: Pietari Sänisalmi

4. What was the best thing?

The best thing was definitely taking an individual path when it comes to savuoring Finland. Of course volunteering activities and Hyvärilä Youth Centre made it possible for me to experience things I wouldn’t be able to on my own, but as I gained knowledge and confidence navigating through this foreign country I found specific peculiarities I wanted to look into. Therefore when I was off duty I started exploring local parks and museums which was extremely fulfilling. Also since I participated in ‘Back to the roots’ erasmus+ programme while volunteering here, I had an opportunity to challenge my perspective on life through comparing it with people of different cultural backgrounds, which in my opinion will stay with me for the rest my life. I find these experiences very valuable.

5. What challenges did you face and how did you deal with them?

Finnish ‘Sisu’ was a challenge for me to both comprehend and adjust to. No matter if it was raining or snowing there was no way Finnish people would surrender and postpone any outdoor activity. For a city girl a little walk in drizzle was taxing, let alone a forest hike during thunder. I felt like my concerns were misunderstood or even ignored but with help of some warm sturdy clothing I made peace with the Finnish way of tackling things, put my emotions on hold and got used to the weather. I also have to mention some social issues I’ve faced. I was one of the youngest people in the facility and sometimes I felt left out by my coworkers because of it. I wasn’t ostracised in any sort of way, but it was visible that people on the similar stages of their lives got along better with each other than with me presumably due to my possible immaturity. By no means I want to discourage teenagers or any young people from participating. Despite my hardships, coming to Hyvarila was the best adventure of my life, but to truly enjoy my time here I had to learn not to take things personally. I had to realise that everybody here wishes me well but I may not be a perfect conversation partner on every subject and that’s perfectly fine.

6. What was your living arrangement and how was it for you?

I was placed in a lovely 2 person room with a shared bathroom, which I didn’t mind at all. The house for the volunteers – Pehtoori – had a soul of some sorts and was able to create a homey and romantic atmosphere. It was close to the main hotel building and was very well maintained.

7. How did you interact with other volunteers/staff?

I had the pleasure to share accommodation with two other volunteers with whom I interacted mainly during the activities and social gatherings. Both the volunteers and the Hyvärilä’s staff were polite and considerate of me. Even if there was a language barrier we all managed to find a way to communicate and reach our goals together.

8. Did you interact with locals? How was it for you?

I was surprised by the level of English that the locals spoke. Even those who weren’t fluent speakers always tried their best to communicate with me. I got to hear finnish folk stories and get to know local traditions from the people of Nurmes. I felt welcome.

9. Did you reach your goals here?

I came here with no expectations or goals. All I needed was a volunteering experience to maximize my chances of getting into a university in Denmark, but as my time here went by I got to find out things about myself I wouldn’t be able to realize otherwise. I got to test myself under pressure in various conditions, spend time with preteens and get to understand them a little better, make friends and set new goals for myself for the future. I also found out about other educational options and volunteering opportunities.  So it seems this project was just the beginning of my journey.

10. What are you proud of?

I am proud that I managed to face my shortcomings and realise just how many things I need to improve about myself, without unnecessary pity party or self deprecation. I am looking forward to the changes I am about to make in myself and about the future in general, which isn’t common for me. I am proud I didn’t let my minor failures break me this time.

11. What do you wish was better / you did better?

Even though I think I already did find out a lot about the local culture and history I wish I could educate myself a little bit more. I also wish I had the time and energy to learn to speak the language a little bit or at least buy a Moomin mug.

12. What would you say to other youngsters who are considering doing an ESC volunteering project?

If you’re having doubts about doing it, I’d advise you to ignore them. Your attitude is all that matters and with a correct approach even a very uncomfortable experience can be extremely valuable. If while applying you get rejected time and time again, don’t let it bring you down. It’s nothing personal. There are so many talented, intelligent and interesting young people in Europe that sometimes choosing participants for those projects turns into a lottery.


Published by volunteersofhyvarila

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

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