The First Lesson
My story begins as a typical story of a third-world kid. I was born in a low-class family living in a small town that you most probably have never heard of. My family used to travel to the Black Sea once in two or three years, but they could never even think of making it to Europe. My native town lays on the border between Europe and Asia, in the middle of a rich country inhabited by millions of poor people. Add to that the hardships of the 90s when the country was undergoing a massive change, and you’ll see that it was impossible for me, as a child, to see other lands.
In 2005, I was sixteen and I had no idea what I was going to do in life. I could play guitar, but I knew that this wouldn’t have paid my bills unless I played cheesy radio music. My parents had their best days back then, and, because I’ve always had a head for languages, they put me in a private college to learn linguistics and translation. Two years later, I met a German girl on the Internet who told me about the European Voluntary Service. I applied for a project in Leipzig aaand... they turned me down.
Meanwhile, I graduated and began to carve my way through the thick forest of adult life. I left my parents, moved to the region’s capital and worked many weird jobs, that had nothing to do with my diploma, even played in a theatre. But the thought of the EVS was still bugging me. I couldn’t just miss this opportunity to see the world, to practice German, the second foreign language that I studied, and to gather new unique experiences. I had failed once, but I decided to apply for the program again. I sent many applications before I received a positive reply from Jena. And this is when the EVS started to change me. It motivated me to stay persistent, and persistence paid off.
The EVS began with new experiences right away. I had never applied for visa and never flown before that. The world started to unfold before my very eyes. I learned how beautiful the Earth looks from the illuminator, and how terrible international bureaucracy is.
The first big change in my view of life happened when I arrived in Jena. I had seen TV shows about beautiful old European cities, and suddenly I found myself on a narrow street among cosy fairy-tale-ish houses. I immediately felt like a child because the place was so new to me and so marvellous. At that moment, my world became much bigger, and it was going to grow during the year of volunteering.
Real changes which have a life-long effect always happen through some kind of a challenge. Language barrier was the first such challenge to me. I had learned German at the university, but talking with native speakers on their soil is something else. They automatically expect that if you can say “hello” and “how are you” then you can easily follow a fluent conversation, and, suddenly, you don’t meet this expectation. You feel so bad about yourself looking stupid, and they simply don’t get it. I had never been in these shoes before, and that’s how I learned to be more patient and careful about others.
The second challenge was homesickness, a feeling that I had never experienced before. It is hard to explain how new and how overwhelming it was. Now that I have gone through this, I know exactly what I love about my home country and its culture.
Everyone has their inner demons, or internal conflicts, and I’m no different. You can sail all the oceans and cross all the seas, and the demons will always be there, until you find a way to make long-lasting peace with them. This was a discovery, and the third challenge which I had to go through to become a different person.
The Rolling Stone
I saw the year in Germany as a great chance to travel. You may go hundreds of kilometers from my place and you won’t even reach the country’s capital. Meanwhile, Europe seemed to be a very small piece of map to me, where you can quickly visit many countries. I travelled with a shared car, hitch-hiked and even did a tour with a Russian-speaking travel agency because I wanted to learn more about cultural and historical ties between Europe and Russia. Travelling on my own was very stressful for me at first, but I finally learned to be more courageous and more self-aware.
Another interesting thing about travelling is how it changed my perception of distance and my self-perception. Europe might look small on the map compared to Russia, but I discovered that I can’t just, figuratively speaking, cross it on my feet in a day or two. I am just a small man!
It is hard to tell now what I have learned more about during my year-long stay in the foreign land, the world or myself. And it is even harder to tell how many lessons lie ahead because, you know, life has so many ways, wins and failures. I did a lot to come back to Germany and settle there. I improved my German and proved my C1 level with the Test DaF exam, but knowing the language hasn’t been enough so far, and I haven’t found a way yet. At the same time, I’ve been learning global digital marketing in practice, and I believe that I’ve made a tangible progress. I’m about to start my own small PR & marketing business, and I'm still working on my music project, Zoophagous Patient.
So, where am I now? Some place I never expected to be! Honestly speaking, I can’t tell the role of the EVS in that. But I know for sure that doing a year in Germany has changed me. This was the right thing for me to do, and if I regret anything about it is that I’m now so far away from the amazing people I have met during my stay in Germany.
P.S.: When I was in Germany I wrote a song about the EVS which was called Do Your Best. Later we, my fellow volunteers and guys from the affiliated organizations, recorded the song and shot a video clip.
It’s all about the change.