I’m Maxime, I’m from Belgium and I did an European Solidarity Corps for 7 months in Palermo as a volunteer for “InformaGiovani”.
Even though my grandparents are from Sicily, it was the first time that I came here. I had this strange feeling of being in another country with a very different culture and at the same time feeling something very familiar. Palermo is like a family reunion with my Sicilian side of the family : loud and chaotic but warm and passionate.
Working in the office of InformaGiovani, with my colleague Iasmina (another volunteer from Romania) part of the job was administrative but this was far from being the case all along. With projects organized all around Sicily, I had the chance to discover different places through the work; going there to implement workshops and facilitate activities.
I had the opportunity to be team leader for a work camp in a monastery. At first, staying for two weeks in a monastery didn’t look very attractive but this gave me the chance to meet the monks in their everyday life, sharing meals.
Our task was to clean up their garden (which looks more like a forest) and we did that with one of the monks called Don Riccardo. Don Riccardo is a very fun young guy far from the stereotype I had on a “typical monk” before going there. Most of the monks were open minded and really nice.
I had some knowledge of italian but I didn’t really ever speak it. Working and living in an international environment, the language I spoke the most was english. But also with the help of a few italian courses at the university of Palermo, I could progress in Italian.
In the second part of my volunteering, one of our missions was to go to secondary schools to speak about the possibility of international mobility, where I could practice my Italian a bit more.
At the end I was even interviewed in Italian by the national television on one of our projects.
I was already used to sicilian/Italian food so it was not really a big novelty for me but I have to say that now I cannot drink a coffee other than an espresso.
Volunteering in another country is a big challenge, you have to adapt to the everyday life and the culture of the country/city, adapt to a new work environment and also, because I was sharing an apartment with 5 other volunteers from different countries, learn to live with people with other cultures/habits.
In the end, these kinds of experiences are unique and can really forge you into the person you aspire to be.