Remember, time flies fast
It takes time getting used to new place of work and residence. Especially if you are away from home for the first time. However, keep in mind that one year is not that long and it will fly by very quickly. I have to leave Germany in less than 2 weeks, but still have feeling that I’ve just arrived here.
Be productive from the first days. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, otherwise you can find yourself in a situation, when you need to come back home and everything is not done.
Also at the beginning of the project you should think about life after its completion. Would you like to stay in your host country and go to university? Start looking for educational program and collecting documents in advance, that’s how you will avoid deadline panic. Would you like to find friends among locals in order to be able to come back to your host country from time to time? Learn language and practice it with native speakers. Would you like to travel during your voluntary year? Start saving money from the first day.
German food, drinks, clubs, ways to communicate and even air are different from Ukrainian. There was a lot of new stuff to discover in this country and I was open to it. I don't eat bread, but I wanted to try it in Germany and compare it with Ukrainian. I do not sort garbage in Ukraine, but it's a custom in Germany, so it has become a useful habit that I will bring home. Say «yes» to other people's invitations, say «yes» to new places, impressions and things that are not available in your country.
Learn to coexist peacefully with other people
As a volunteer, you will live and work with many people. Not all of these people will be nice to you and maybe not all of them will become your friends. One of my mistakes was that I allowed toxic relationships to ruin my sense of absolute happiness. It all started with minor disputes and I regret that I overreacted to them. Remember, all people have different backgrounds, they grew up in different families, lived in different conditions and this has significantly affected their present life. Don't try to remake anyone according to your world view, just accept people as they are. And try to more calmly respond to the little things. When you have to communicate with "not your" people, follow the rules of non-violent communication. Try to decide together how you will share space.
Don't communicate only with other volunteers
Most likely, there will be other volunteers in your coordinating organization and you will share apartment or even work with them. If all goes well, you can become good friends, because you will be in the same boat and will understand each other's problems like nobody else. But being always among other volunteers is a risk – in this case you can never feel the mentality of your host country, it can be more difficult to find good friends among locals. Be friends with other volunteers, support each other, but don't limit yourself. Especially if these volunteers are from your country. Communicate with colleagues and inhabitants of the city or village where you live. When you will attend on-arrival and midterm seminars, try to become friends with ESC volunteers from other cities, later you will visit and host each other.
Learn the language
Now I regret that I haven’t learned German during my volunteering. Yes, there were some reasons for this (lack of money and time, other priorities), but I understand that I didn’t use such a wonderful opportunity to practice language with native speakers. Yes, I learned some grammar and a few new words, I better understand German accent. But when friends and family ask «Do you already speak German?», I'm embarrassed to say «No, I don’t». I not only deprived myself of the opportunity to understand Germans, to communicate with them, to make new acquaintances, to immerse myself in the culture and mentality of Germans, but also of the great career opportunity – knowledge of foreign languages has always been and remains a significant advantage in finding employment. Also, lack of language skills made my life very complicated, it was not easy for me to overcome bureaucratic difficulties, to communicate with colleagues. Don’t repeat my mistakes and learn the language of the country where you will do your voluntary service.
You will face the reality, when you will arrive in a new place, and it will be definitely different from what you imagined at home. Work with what you have, don’t look for problems, look for opportunities. Your colleagues don’t speak German, do they? Great, there will be a chance to improve your language skills. Do you have to work overtime? Great, there will be a chance to have an extra vacation. Do you miss your home, don’t you? Very well, there will be a chance to grow up and become more independent.
I can say with confidence that I was in Germany, because I went around 14 federal lands out of 16 and visited 23 German cities. If you want to immerse yourself in the culture of a country where you do your voluntary service, if you want to feel its atmosphere, to learn more about its history, you just have to travel across it.
Also my volunteering gave me opportunity to discover Europe. Germany was my first EU country. Thanks to the D visa, I was able to travel to neighboring countries without hindrance. When I was tasting the Czech trdelník, crossing the Baltic sea by ferry, admiring the Oslo-fjord, walking along the streets of Stockholm, I felt like a world citizen, and it was an incredible feeling.
Take the initiative
During the year in Germany, I have met many volunteers from different organizations, all of them worked and lived in different conditions. Some of them complained about the small amount of work and boredom. Don't expect that anyone will come and offer you the project of your dreams. As a volunteer, you have the right to put forward your ideas, especially if they can provide benefits for your organization. For example, you can apply for a grant and organize an international youth exchange, you can initiate an event about your country and its culture, you can teach others your language etc. It all depends on your motivation and your agreements with your mentor. During volunteering, you have opportunity to experiment, to try yourself in new roles. Thanks to ESC, I understood what I want to do in life. I also gained a serious professional experience that I can proudly add to my resume. I often worked harder than called for in the contract, but it was my conscious choice and now I feel that I made the most of the opportunities that my organization offered me.