I still remember that first of November when I arrived in Milano, more than six months ago, a little bit confused, a little bit curious, a little bit of every feeling one can have when faced with a life-changing decision. I have tried so many times to sit down and start writing these lines, but, every time one question crossed my mind, how can I put into words the emotions my EVS made me feel? Because, as the months passed by, I have realized that this experience is not about facts or activities, but rather about all those inner things that touched my heart and made me become a better version of myself. It was a rainy, cloudy day when I arrived in Milano, but regardless, that day was the starting point of one of the sunniest and life-changing experiences of my life…
I have to admit, in the beginning, it was a language challenge, because even though I understood Italian, I couldn’t speak it. But thinking of it now, I know it was part of a process, a process of active learning, an experience that made me grow so fast in a short period of time, that motivated me to have patience and take things at their own pace. We leave in such a fast-paced world that we expect results to happen at a touch of a screen, many times we think that we are entitled to get something even before we get engaged in the actual process of achieving it. I think this was the first lesson my EVS taught me: have patience, take things piano, piano, don’t try to rush, learn to enjoy the process and, one day, when you less expect it, you will get where you want to be.
In the end, all good things worth waiting for take time… And the most beautiful part is that every time someone was there: a tutor, a volunteer, a staff member, another EVS colleague, or simply a friend. Someone was there when my Italian was rusty, because as I have tried to have patience with my learning process, they have also had patience with me, they opened their arms and warmly welcomed me in their big family. They did not give me a set of rules and strict indications of how to instead they gave me the freedom to explore and discover, they let me be myself, they trusted me, sometimes even more than I did myself, they let me sculpt my own wings and step by step they let me fly and choose which way to go. And, undoubtedly, this is the second lesson my EVS taught me: trust people, love them, help them grow, because as Maya Angelou once said “When you learn, teach, when you get, give”.
And at the same time that I have started growing I have also started giving, but the power of volunteering stands in that the small things you give to someone will come back to you augmented. And you can give so little as cutting a heart-shape from a piece of pink paper while a six years old waits to glue it on their drawing or solving a complicated math operation that one kid received as homework, or teaching someone how to use a photo camera, or just your ideas and initiatives or just your presence and active listening or sometimes, simply, just your smile. My EVS is about all these instances that I carefully gather and keep them in the album of my life, my EVS is about being human, being strong and vulnerable, being an adult and a child, smiling and crying, learning and teaching, my EVS is everything that I am. And, to go further with the lessons my EVS taught me is to know that you are valuable, that your actions count, being as small as they are, that, there will come a moment in life when all those skills and competences you once acquired could be of help.
Not so long ago I had my mid-term evaluation, one of the two compulsory trainings for each volunteer engaged in the EVS program. During this formation we approached a concept called the Hero’s Journey, which is a diagram with different steps that shows the transformation process one experiences when he takes the decision to get out of his comfort zone and step from the Ordinary Realm to the Extraordinary Realm. And now my Extraordinary Realm is BIR, a place that in the beginning was unclear but which now is plenty of treasures. A magical place that taught me that you are not alone, that despite all the unambiguity and uncertainty of the ordinary, real world we live in, when people are guided by the same values, they will find a way to change something for the better. And change doesn’t always have to be big to be meaningful, change can be cumulative, change can start small and increase gradually, but change should never stop. That is why I know that my extraordinary world started with BIR will go on with me forever, because EVS and volunteering as a whole is not a position, is not a project, is a way of living.
Iulia Starcu, EVS Volunteer with BIR