Here I am at the end of my journey as European volunteer. 1 year, 4 months and 2 days after everything started. It was the 1st of March 2020 when I landed for the first time in Hungary. If they would have told me that I had to stay abroad during a pandemic, I would probably have postponed my journey. But what a mistake would have been.
Being abroad during covid19 hasn't been easy. Especially at the beginning. Just 2 weeks after I started my volunteering abroad, in fact, every activity, including mine, was shut off. At the first moment, my mind advised me to try to find a way to get back home. But What if I would've gone to my country instead of staying? If I'd have left one year ago, on the 3rd of July, I couldn't be at the Budapest airport, with one of my the closest people I met in Hungary, Ali from Iraq and Alejandro from Spain or I wouldn't have learnt to appreciate spicy food or to take nice pictures etc. These are just some of the moments and experiences I would have missed but there is much more.
Before the Departure
It seems like yesterday and sometimes it feels like someone else's memory or even a dream, but this is exactly what happened to me. After several job interviews which always ended up with a negative answer, on February 2020, I was chosen as part of Hang-kép team, an organization, located in Debrecen (Hungary), which was seeking volunteers wanting to take videos and pictures during cultural events. So, on the 1st of March 2020, I was at the Milan-Bergamo Airport, ready to go to Debrecen for a new experience as European volunteer.
As you might imagine, it wasn’t exactly the best moment to decide to move to a new life in another country, especially from Italy. Just ten days before my flight, in fact, new covid19 cases were reported in an area really close by the one I was living In, Bologna. As consequence, events were shut off and people started to panic and grab everything they could in the supermarket.
In my case, I actually didn’t know what to do. For a while, I had been thinking to postpone that journey but then, I just stuck to my plan and when the virus was slowly showing its effects, I was sitting on the plane, direction Budapest.
First months of lockdown
The beginning of my journey in Hungary was quite smooth. I arrived in Debrecen at night and there, at the train station, I met for the first time the responsible of my host organization, Andrea and Akos, who lead me to the flat, where also some of my work colleagues were living already, Nathan, from France, Selina, from Germany and Lara, from Belgium. The day after we were in the office for our first meeting all together. During my first days, I just tried to learn some of the technical tools of the camera, get to know the city and also my flatmates and get used with that impossible language, Hungarian.
In that moment, in fact, there were no covid cases reported and life was going on quite normally.
But then, in a blink of an eye everything changed.
Being in a foreign country during covid19
Just one week later, Andrea, my responsible, said me that the new volunteers from Italy couldn’t come to Hungary because their flight was deleted but still gave me hope that they will manage to come soon. After some days, some covid cases were reported also in Hungary. Two Iranian students who landed in Debrecen from Milan on the 29 February, resulted positive to the covid test. On the 13th of march, what happened to Italy some days ago was becoming a reality also in Hungary. The president Orban announced in fact that all the activities were temporarily suspended. Only restaurants and coffee places could stay open till 3 pm. And so our office needed to be closed too. At that time it was impossible to realize how long this could have last, so my other ESC colleagues decided immediately to leave and wait beside their families.
And me? What about me? In my case, things were quite different. As my country was the first one hit by covid19 after China, it was already really difficult to go back. So, after checking again and again all the available options, I just stayed. When I tell to someone that I was living in a flat alone in Hungary during the lockdown, one of the first question is
“how did you survive?”, “you didn’t feel depressed?”
I actually still don’t have an answer to this or probably I have too many. For instance, life during covid19 in Hungary, for me, wasn’t so different from the one I was having in Italy before. I always spent most of my time at home, looking for a job or trying to write some articles and so on. And so I enjoyed the fact that I could do the same, in a place where I was also having a job and at the same time, I really had the chance to discover something new everyday.
Secondly, for any problem, I could count on Andrea, Akos, but also my mentor Szabi and, even if I couldn't meet a lot of people, before the lockdown, I still managed to find two points of reference, Noor and Nicola, with whom I've spent an evening outside, once in a while.
Moreover, my life was actually better than the one I could have at that time in Italy. Talking to my friends and family, who were stuck all day long in their houses, without even the possibility to go out for a walk and having to show constantly a paper to justify their movements, I felt that kind of lucky to be in a country that didn’t do a similar control. Last but not least, my friends. Having an online interaction is not the same as meeting in person, but even receiving a message from some of my friends or calling every day with my best friend uncounsciunsly helped me to get throught those months, without feeling depressed.
And so I just enjoyed that new country, new flat in the best way I could: going out for a walk to the park, experimenting my cooking skills, getting to know some amazing hungarian dessert, studying one of the most difficult language I've ever been exposed to and trying out, with the help of my organization, to create my first photo albums.
Of course there were also some negative sides and moments. Being in Hungary during covid19, in fact, I couldn't exploit the experience in the way the previous generations did. Especially at the beginning I couldn’t meet many people. I also couldn't travel a lot outside Hungary and going to places like Vienna, Prague. Or i couldn't do a lot of activities in Hungary, because those were closed for most of the time. Last but non least, the job. I was supposed to participate and take pictures during several events but this happened only during 3 months out of 12 and I could do that just from august, when I was already at the half of my project.
I don't deny that, for a while, I though that this was unfair.
Being landed in Hungary in March 2020, I had actually to wait for months before being able to work with the cameras, go to events and also meet people. But at the end I still gained a lot, in terms of skills and especially of meetings.
Meet new friends
On may 2020, in fact, slowly the government started to open up everything again and people also seemed to be less scared to meet up. So this was when I had the opportunity to hang out more with Negar, Wiktoria, Rojesh and their group of international people living in Debrecen. Some of them were also volunteers like me, the others are studying for a phd or a master. The greatest part of the group was that they were all looking forward to traveling, discovering, sharing food and organizing meeting and that’s how I had the chance to go for the first time to Budapest, discover the beauty of Lilla Fured (an amazing lake in the north-east part of Hungary), Tokay, Eger, Balaton and tasting some new food (Indian, polish, Brazilian, Iranian and so on). Having them really helped me not to feel lonely, all time long but especially when the Hungarian government decided to close up again in November 2020. Despite the curfew, which was at 8pm, I still had the opportunity to meet with them during the day or to stay at someone’s place for the night.
Just being there, listening to their different stories and approach to life, was like being in a trip abroad every day, even if just with my imagination. Sometimes, I was in a really familiar village in Ethiopia, talking to every person like we knew since forever, sometimes, I was driving a Tuk Tuk across India, or having a party in Brazil. Sometimes I was feeling the bombs coming over Baghdad etc. So sad, but at the same time so interesting to know from a person who experienced it.
Summer vibe in August
But the best arrived when I could also have new colleagues and flatmates. I really enjoyed staying in the flat alone, but when I started to take pictures for the first time, I always missed someone I could share with the job I was doing. So I was grateful when Andrea announced me that new people (Mahdi, Mehdi, Meriem) were joining the team but especially when the new volunteers Alessia and Giulia (Jules and Lele) could finally arrive to Debrecen. When I met them, my honey moon in Debrecen started.
They really contaminated me with their ideas, their willingness of always doing but also their really positive vibe.
I actually don’t know how I would’ve done without their valuable advices about photography and company, but also without my new flatmates who arrived in September (Sonja and Helena, from Germany, Alejandro, from Spain).
My life alone in the flat and outside wasn’t bad but with them and then with Sonja and Haseeb was just better than the one that I could ever have alone.
Being in this weird, semi lock situations we in fact spent a lot of time watching movies, preparing food and going out all together. I still hope that this virus will leave our life soon but at the same time I feel like the covid situation somehow helped to tighten the relationship with the volunteers and friends I had the possibility to meet in Debrecen, Nyireghaza, Budapest but especially with my flatmates.
The best flatmates
Before coming to Hungary, I always underestimate how much living with the people who most suits you can be a life changer but in Hungary I really discovered it. Whenever I had a problem or I just wanted to talk, I knew I could do that with Alejandro, Helena, Ali (who for a while host me, giving me the opportunity to still enjoy Debrecen and to learn how to play videogames), Haseeb but especially with Sonja.
Talking about her, I still don’t know how our friendship started, probably it was when we were cooking Christmas biscuits together or when we interviewed each other, but from the moment it did,
it was simply one of the best thing it could happen to me during my year in Debrecen.
When we met for the first time, I didn’t think we could get along so much. Being born 9 years apart from each other and coming from different countries, (me from Italy and her from Germany), I thought we couldn’t share a lot, but this experience really proved me wrong. As, without even noticing, that smart girl just became a second sister, my best friend and also my rock. Every time I felt like going out for a walk, a coffee, sunbath but especially talking, I knew I could do it with her. We could talk about anything, anytime, anywhere and sometimes I still wish I could do the same.
What I miss
I hope that I can go to the kitchen or to the next room and have a nice and long morning talk with her, or that our friend Ali show up and bring us to eat some iraqi food near a nice lake again or that I can stay a bit more in his amazing flat and listen to some of his jokes and stories.
Sometimes I also hope that going outside from my building for a walk, I can knock to my friend Negar door, just to say “hi” or to go and do some shopping or that I can call Jules and Lele for having a pizza or some delicious food together. Moreover, I wish that I could taste some Birany, homemade from my flatmate Haseeb, or that I could split a beer with my Italian friends Lorenzo and Nicola, or go to the park and meet with Julie for the french conversation club and then, in the evening preparing some carbonara for Rojesh or for Ali (who just doesn’t want to admit that he loves it).
Sometimes I also wish I could still go to Nyiregyhaza and spend time again with Alejandro, Joele and the past and present volunteers of the Mustar fm radio or also I could go out and dance in Roncs with Wiktoria and all the people that really made my life great in Debrecen.
Among them the ones I already mentioned but also Gabriel, Maw, Laura, Jorge, Thibault, Samantha, Andy, Brigi, Anita, Yousif, Ketki, Kev, Lara, Mehdi, Nora, Kubra, Kalheel, Nehrin, Alireza etc. Sometimes I also wish that I could still participate to the evaluation meeting with my colleagues and our supervisors, Andrea and Akos, going out for creating a new album and then, at the end of the day, just sitting in my room, looking at the window once again and seeing one of those amazing sunset who brought me right till the end of this journey in Debrecen.
After my Esc: what I do and what I bring with me
But here I am, in a new city, in the south of Spain, Sevilla, and in a new flat, still waiting to meet new flatmates and still full of memories from Debrecen, but also ready to take the best from this new adventure as Interreg volunteer because this is how life goes. Even the greatest time comes to an end, but what is the most important are the things that we bring with us. I'm not talking about material stuff, but about experiences, competences, personal growth and especially new and amazing relationships.
I feel like that being in Hungary during covid19 really strengthened me much more than being there during a normal situation. I also got the chance to recover a bit of the months I spent in lockdown. Thanks to my organization who gave me the opportunity to participate to a team group project, I could extend 3 months more my stay in Hungary and get to know more about Hungarian traditions and people, living and working in the small village of Hortobagy and, in the middle of this, also participating to a really deep and helpful training about social inclusion in Bulgaria.
But mostly, I feel like, even during covid19 time, I still managed to do and learn much more than what I would've done staying in Bologna, for instance. From the hungarian lesson, to every photo album and video I created, or every single meeting with my colleagues and supervisors or even every evening out I had so far, I've really learnt a lot about my job, myself, but especially other cultures. I had the chance, in fact, to exchange ideas with locals, but also with people coming from all around Europe and some other countries in Asia (Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India), South America (Brazil) and even Africa (Ethiopia and Tunisia).
I’m sure that in months or years I will meet some of those people somewhere again.
Meanwhile I just wish to all those, who read till the end and are leaving out right now or are in the middle of their experience, just to take the best they can out of it.
To my new friends, instead, I wish all of them to fulfill their life with the same joy they gave to me and once again I want to say them and to the organization who gave me this opportunity "thank you"
for believing in me and making my experience great, even in the hopeless time.
ps. A small video dedicated to those that are seeking a bit of hope in this new and difficult situation