My name is Maria Pavlova. I am from Russia and I am a volunteer in Palermo with program “Erasmus+”, and I want to say that this project for me is a waking dream.
A very long time ago I carried a secret dream about travelling, about the volunteer work. But the concept was so vague for me. Every moment when I were free from studies and I started looking for some volunteer project, I couldn’t understand anything on foreign websites and couldn’t imagine how to cover the whole scale of the work. So the dream was distant and unrealistic, until one day.
Once in a social network I found an announcement about a meeting dedicated to volunteer projects abroad. There I met the guys who already participated in the projects and told in detail how they got there, what they did and what they saw.
Everything seemed so clear and simple – just do it. So I had only one question – “why don’t everybody participate in such projects?” – everything pays, you live in another country, etc. So I finally decided to try, because I was already 29 years old, and you can participate in “Erasmus+” projects only up to 30 years old. It was my last chance.
After browsing the site, I chose for myself the projects that interest me, wrote my CV and wrote motivational letters. For each project, I wrote a certain motivation letter, which outlined all my skills, projects, experience and unlimited desire. In total, I wrote about 10 letters. It was impossible to leave an application on the site at that time, since Russia was not in the list of countries, so I wrote directly to the organisation, by mail.
I got an answer about three months later, only from Italy, from the mysterious city of Palermo, in Sicily. At that time, I had already forgotten what I wrote to and where, so getting an email from a school in Sicily was not only surprising, but incredible.
After the letter, we agreed on a skype interview. At the same time, I already contacted the organisation that is involved in the preparation of volunteer documents – the sending organisation. They inform what documents need to be done, contact the host country, reassure you if you lose your nerve when you apply for a visa, etc.
I looked through all the materials on the Internet, where the volunteers talk about how they had a Skype interview with them, I got ready for mine. I was surprised, but everything was very comfortable. I spoke in English with the teachers of the school where I had to work.
I was a little worried about the language and not in vain. You need to know English well. If you speak English well, everything will be easier – in communication, preparation of documents, etc. I did not know Italian well. I could only read a little and say a few phrases. I studied Duolingo (foreign language study program). When I first arrived, sometimes I had stress about misunderstanding. At the school where I work, only about three people can speak English. Children speak only Italian and teachers too. So at first it was difficult. My program included Italian language courses at the university, after a couple of months I was able to understand Italian and speak.
So, what am I doing.
I am a volunteer at a school in Sicily. This school has a Waldorf education system. This type of education is from Germany and there are such schools everywhere and in Russia as well. Features of this education: the emphasis is on art, mobile phones during classes are prohibited (both for children and teachers).
My main task is that I help a girl with special needs – she has down syndrome. She studies with ordinary children. I help her in the lessons, play with her in breaks and so on. Also, for two hours every morning I help in the kitchen – I make coffee, salad, cut bread. And then I go to the class.
Since the school is creative and I am a versatile person, that is, the opportunity to participate in school activities – at Christmas, the feast of St. Martin, the Christmas market, summer school activities. We sang at a Christmas concert with a music teacher, during the fair I painted portraits of children. So a lot depends on you – if you don’t want to be limited only by your immediate duties, you can ask to organise a lesson in additional education or to do some work, which, of course, will be an invaluable experience.
At the end of summer activities, when there were no children in the school, I was preparing the school for the new school year. I tended the garden, washed the classrooms, and painted themed pictures on the walls. One of the features of the Waldorf school is the thematic design of the class. It all depends on the future topic. For example, I painted a 7th grade wall on the topic of geometry and astronomy. In the fifth grade, the year will be devoted to the legends of the North and the world of the Vikings and their mythology. On the wall, the maestra and I depicted a mythical tree with eight worlds. So I tried another profession during my volunteer experience.
For myself, I understood that volunteering is probably a profession of the future. This system: “work is not for money, but for the idea” has opened for me a new world, new opportunities.
Volunteering is a knowledge of the world and of yourself in this world. This is an opportunity to live a completely different life, in a different country with other people. To discover the qualities that you did not even suspect about, to develop communication skills, responsibility and fall in love with this beautiful world.
Where and how I live.
In school, besides me, there are two more girls volunteers. Vanessa came from Germany, Clemence came from France. I live with Clemence. We share a room in an apartment, and we share an apartment with the family of one of the school’s teachers. This is not very unusual for me, because I have always lived with someone. I try to avoid domestic conflicts, and it’s not difficult for me to wash the dishes and the floor. But, of course, we are all human beings, so it’s not easy to come and live with a big Italian family. Everywhere you need time – to look at each other, to understand how comfortable it is for them, to join the team. Our family is big – four children – two teenagers and two kids and parents. But there is enough space and, to my happiness, there are no conflicts. Sometimes we arrange dinner together, prepare traditional food. I cooked borscht and looked for sour cream everywhere, Clemence baked crêpes, Emanuela (the hostess) prepared pasta and we had fun talking or playing games.
Mostly, I spent all my free time walking around this magical city: gardens, parks, museums … And of course, discovering the amazing nature – mountains and the sea. But also after a hard working week, I sometimes succumbed to nationwide classical Italian relaxation and spent the day in a nice cozy cafe, enjoying tart hot coffee and listening to the incessant conversations of local residents.
I really fell in love with this phrase “Dolce far niente”, which teaches us to relax and slow down in a constant cycle of life’s problems.
About the opportunity to travel during the project.
Since you have a visa and free time, you can travel. The distances between the countries are small; you can find very cheap tickets. Two hours and you are in Rome or in Milan. My program provides for such an event as a meeting with other volunteers from all over Italy. Our meeting was held in the suburbs of Rome, where we shared our impressions for a week, made joint projects and, of course, discovered wonderful Rome.
During the school Christmas holidays, I went to France with my neighbour. We became good friends and I lived at her house in Nantes for several days. Then I went alone to Paris and Lyon. There I lived on coaching. So I spent surprisingly not too much, and got enough impressions.
So, I want to say that everything in this life is possible. This project gives a lot – indescribable impressions, experience, acquaintances … Laughter and tears. My little and big life – new and beautiful!