Going abroad is always a challenging experiencing. Even if you are really excited about your adventure, it is possible that you also have feelings of doubt and insecurity. Those are very human and very natural things to feel. There are tones of useful articles on the Internet that will help you prepare for an experience abroad, being that an ESK volunteering experience, an Erasmus+ internship or a semester in a foreign country. Devoting some of your time to going over essentials and taking care of yourself before starting your journey is always a good idea, but... what about afterwards?
A volunteering experience will change you
Change is a constant in the life of human beings. Even when we think that our days are dull and static, changes occur. We may not realize, but we are constantly growing and changing, adopting new roles and developing skills and seeing life from new perspectives. However, there are some special moments and experiences that may well be described as a 180 degree change in our views and beliefs! A few months or a year of volunteering abroad does belong in this category! During your time abroad you will be faced with new challenges and opportunities that will sometimes (gently) push you and will put you in new positions and help you understand other ways of seeing the world. This is, of course, wonderful!
A change of perspective can be one of your goals when you start your period of volunteering abroad. But, although you may want to experience this change, it is also possible that these new perspectives and ways of seeing life and future come with feelings of uncertainty, doubt, disbelief or even disconnection. Maybe you come back home and you realise that you have grown so much during just a year, that you quite feel you have lived more than twelve months during your time abroad. Maybe you feel that people around you have not gone through the same experiences and thus are unable to understand what you are feeling right now. Maybe you miss this flow of contant experiences and novelty. Maybe you crave a pause, maybe you crave more movement and action. Change and growing are amazing human skills, but they are also tiring and scary things. Give yourself some time to adapt.
Changing your home town
It is very possible that during your volunteering months you have been involved with different projects and met amazing and active people. Were you dealing with sustainability issues and organizing workshops? Were you supporting migrants and refugees in their daily lifes? Were you working with people that have different mental and physical abilities? Were you maybe working with children in progressive and alternative pedagogical concepts? Whatever you were doing, you have surely learned a lot of things, soft skills like empathetic listening or intercultural communication, project management, how to organize an event, how to teach a language, how to... you name it!
Take some time to reflect upon your learnings and use these new glasses to look at your home town. Allow your experiences to inspire you. Maybe there are projects in your old-new home you were unawere of and this is the perfect time to get involved in them. Did you discover a new interest during your volunteering months? Try to pursue it in your home town! Do not understimate the power of everything you have learnt.
Local and international
Volunteering abroad is a direct, sometimes even shocking first-hand experience with intercultural communication and intercultural learning. During your stay abroad you have learned a foreign language (Polish? Italian? Spanish?) and very probably used English to communicate. Even if you have not realise, you have gained a lot of skills regarding communicating with people who have different cultural backgrounds. Check if there are events in your home town like international meetings or language tandems: through them you can keep meeting people from different countries and improving your language knowledge. Your town is very small and does not have such events... yet? This is the perfect opportunity for you to start something new! Get some support from local institutions or start a project in a more DIY way.
A network of volunteers
It is 2019 and staying in touch with people you have met abroad is way easier than it was some decades ago. Social media and messaging apps can help you remain in contact with those amazing people you have met abroad. Saying goodbye is hard and changing has often a shadow of grieving, but having friends all over Europe and the world is also quite a luck, isn´t it? If you have the time and the space, you can visit the people you have met and create new memories together. Your volunteering months might be over, but that does not mean your spirit of cooperation and your friendships have to be over too.