Already six months in Norway! I can’t believe it; time is running. During this week I had a lot of time to think about my European Voluntary Service while being sick, triggered by the mid-term training I just came from. I guess it is time to evaluate my stay in Norway after half a year, which is important for me and hopefully interesting for you. By the way I couldn’t report you something else this week – laying in my bed all day wasn’t exactly meant for experiencing thrilling adventures ;)
I will start my evaluation with the project itself, which is in my opinion one of the most important aspects during an EVS. My tasks still move between the local school (canteen, instruction (German), full-day care (cooking & playing games)), the opera (hosting, backstage), Frivilligsentralen (administration, knitting group, international cafe) and the community of Eid (dinner driving, events such as openings). As of late, I join the riding lesson at the local riding school (which doesn’t really fit into one of the above-mentioned categories) to assist the teacher if necessary (for example catching shying horses), but most of the time I don’t really have something to do.
Which is one of my main problems during this project – I’m at work, but I don’t work. Don’t get me wrong, I like every single task I have and their variety prevents the project from getting boring, but still I miss working hard while killing time during certain hours. I know that I also have to see the social part of it, being with people, talking to them and so on, but it just happens too often.
Moreover I want to be challenged and since I found my usual routine there is no challenge at all. Except from motivating myself to keep going – feeling useless makes it difficult to see the point of continuing. So on one hand I like my project, on the other hand it doesn’t challenge me enough. For that reason I was looking for my challenge somewhere else and found it in learning Norwegian.
The language aspect plays an important role too, though going abroad implies it automatically. In the first months I really focused on Norwegian, went through the whole online program during my spare time and wrote down pages over pages with vocabulary. But with my skills getting better and the class getting worse I totally lost motivation. Listening eight hours a week to things I already knew and filling out the same papers I already got just drove me crazy.
You know through how many discussions we went with the staff, the teacher and Astrid, but we are still caught in the vicious circle and I must admit, I gave up. After weeks of arguing I got to point where I accepted that some things won’t change, no matter what. Now I just go and wait for the time to pass and talk Norwegian to everybody except the other volunteers, as I did before. But that way my level of Norwegian doesn’t increase as fast as I wish it would, so I decided to read a Norwegian book during the mid-term training. I have to put myself back on track.
The same applies for my free time. During the winter I got lazy, darkness, rain and snow demotivated me in a way I never experienced it before. When I came to Norway I went outside quite a lot, which was a good balance for less satisfying work days, but then I stopped, probably because of the winter depression, which was not good – it only reinforced the general demotivation.
Now I take every chance to go outside again, triggered by the sun coming back and staying longer. Unfortunately it didn’t work out to join the local handball team because of my schedule, but probably I can find something else and join a club. It would definitely help to keep my balance again, but to improve my free time even more I should meet and talk to friends.
Which is leading us to the forth big aspect of my evaluation. Friends make the good times better and the hard times easier, everybody knows that. But how to find friends in a foreign country where people keep their distance? I mean it is not as if I wouldn’t have people I can talk to, I am getting along with most of the people I work with very well and I really like them, but all of them are totally out of my age. I can’t just call them after work to have a cup of tea and a nice chat as I would do it in Germany.
Instead I have my tea with the other volunteers, which is nice but not the same either. We stick together because we are all in the same situation, but we already spend a lot of time together due to our project and the housing, so we just can’t share all of our free time as well. But then who is left?
One huge problem is that you can’t find people in our age group in Nordfjordeid because after high school everybody leaves for university. Second is the Norwegian culture, which is characterized by isolation and distance. Probably that explains why my German students talk to me during the lesson, but ignore me in the corridors. It is the weirdest phenomena I have ever seen. How can you possibly act as if you don’t know someone you know for half a year now? If it would be one or two students, fine, but the whole class turns its back to me when I show up.
It is hard not to take it personal, but sometimes I have a feeling they don’t even do it consciously and Oleksandr told me the exact same story about his woodwork class. He and Barbara assured me that I am not the problem. We want to have contact to people, especially students, but they don’t need it. They already have their friends and are too busy with their phones to care about what is happening around them. Moreover they are not used to international people in such a small place, which closes them even more like I explained you in my last blog.
Meanwhile I am not sure if I should give it another try because I already gave it several, but I don’t want to molest these students, neither my German students nor the Open skule participants, as long as they obviously don’t want to be friends with me.
It is incredible how different cultures can be. I became aware of that after comparing my brother’s whole bunch of friends in Portugal during his EVS, who took me in after only one week while visiting him, and the people in Norway. Luckily I found Lena, the Austrian au pair, and still have my friends from Germany to talk to. Otherwise I would go crazy because I don’t get to see the other volunteers from around Norway as often as I wish to. Hopefully I can change that in the last half a year of my EVS and improve the aspect friends.
What else? During the mid-term training we talked about our mentors too and they seem to be quite different. Some are more active and take the volunteer entrusted to their care to hiking trips or go kayaking, come over and talk to them every week while others are more passive. They exist, but don’t take any action.
I don’t know if you remember, but in my case my mentor is the German teacher whose class I join. That way we talk every week and here and then at school, but it is not as if we spend our free time with each other, which is totally fine with me. I don’t expect her to take me somewhere, because none of our mentors do, and as long as I know that I have someone I can turn to if needed, I am happy.
Sending organization (/receiving organization)
I am also happy with my sending organization (AWO Stuttgart) because the woman responsible for us, Tekla, is great and takes good care of us volunteers. She asks regularly how it is going, posts motivating stories in our group, sends us postcards we have written to ourselves during the pre-departure training and already organized the evaluation of the Activity back in Germany in September – as you can see I have nothing to complain about with regard to my sending organization.
By the way, the same applies for my receiving organization (Eid Frivilligsentral) in Norway – Astrid and Åse help where they can and try to do that as fast as possible.
Another aspect of that whole EVS thing is the housing. Like I mentioned many times before, I live with Artur and Oleksandr, temporarily with Barbara as well, in the third floor of an old business school, from where I can reach the school/opera, the supermarket and the office within five minutes. Moreover the house is located almost next to the fjord, which guarantees an amazing view out of my window. My room is also very nice, even if I had to get used to the 75cm bed. A peaceful sleep without too many movements and especially turns is recommended. Otherwise you will find yourself lying on the floor.
But while I am satisfied with my room, the kitchen could be bigger as well as the living room. We don’t even have space for a dining table, why we eat in our rooms most of the time, which is not very social. But the kitchen doesn’t allow us to cook at the same time either - two people are already too many and stand in each others way. But what is bothering me the most is that we always have mold and algae around the sink because we rinse our dishes – the place is too old for a dishwasher. We already clean it as often as possible, but still everything is covered with water every day.
Except from that I like living in Prestealleen very much and our landlords are just great, fixing everything in no time if needed. But sometimes I consider if living in host families wouldn’t be better for us. I guess the integration would be easier then, not only because of the life together with locals, but also because of the language. In our flat-sharing community we always talk English or the boys Russian, which is not helping to improve our Norwegian. But enough about the housing…
Instead I could think about my personal development during my time in Norway. You must know that I follow the aspects mentioned in the EVS wheel from the mid-term training and the personal development is something I would probably have forgotten. I guess because it is not as obvious as the other aspects. You develop yourself unconsciously and that is why I really have to reflect on that one.
But I guess I improved my intercultural competences after learning how to get along with people of a different cultural background, which applies for both Norwegians and refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria. In that context EVS contributes to young people’s respect for cultural diversity, to the development of solidarity and tolerance as well as to fostering mutual understanding among young people in Europe.
Moreover EVS should help to realize one’s ideas, but I am not sure how far I improved my competences in developing a good idea and putting it into practice. That is more Barbara’s part because she starts a new project with regard to the waste disposal in Nordfjordeid.
If EVS helped me identifying future opportunities for my personal or professional future I can tell you soonest back in Germany, but I know for sure that it improved my ability to manage my personal finances – probably too good, whereby I was already pretty good at planning my expenses and spending my money in line with my budget before.
In addition I became more confident in moving around on my own in another country/in other countries (travelling, working,…) and a better team worker too. I am not saying that I haven’t been one before, but at school I often preferred to work on my own and get things done the way I wanted them to be. During my EVS I learned how to cooperate better in a team, especially in an international one, which is even more challenging.
According to the internationality (due to the other volunteers and the foreign country) all of us have become more aware of common European values (as well as the differences) and in my case especially more interested in European issues. Before my EVS I was barely interested in such things as elections and sustainable reforms, now I am and check the news every day if possible.
But I guess that’s it about my personal development, I don’t know what else to mention except maybe for the usual improvement of characteristics such as self-awareness, self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and skills or rather learning new ones. Probably I will come up with more ideas till the end of the year, we will see.
One of the aspects left is the physical health, but I don’t really know what to report you about that. I mean as long as I don’t fall off my bike or over benches and injure myself, I am totally fine, except for a few colds like the one this week. But it always had a reason such as opened windows and doors at sub-zero temperatures or too less clothes while being outside. The main thing is that I always got on my feet again, so no more talking about my physical health.
More important could be the aspect mental health, especially in Norway during the winter time, but I guess that is a consequence out of all aspects, which describe how comfortable I feel with my situation of being a volunteer abroad.
Family and friends at home
In that context I should keep in mind how it is going with my family and friends at home. Probably I have too less contact to everybody, but I have never been a fan of communicating through social media or Skype. Moreover I don’t see the point of calling every day like the other volunteers do. I don’t want to be that dependent. And I actually have a life here as well as my family and friends have theirs, so why would we be in contact during our whole spare time then?
It is only a year, after that we will see again and have a lot of time to talk. And the most important thing is that I can always reach my family and friends if needed as well as the other way around. And as long as we all know that we can count on each other, we can cope with the current situation just fine.
Country and place
Normally I would have reached the end of my evaluation now, but I added the aspect country and place because I thought it is a big part of EVS too. Originally I wanted to go to Spain, but finally I ended up in Nordfjordeid, Norway. Which is the total different direction, but actually very nice! I love the country and its landscape, especially the fjord scenery in front of my window. Of course you have to get used to the rain and darkness, nevertheless it is beautiful. Nordfjordeid itself is very nice too – not too big, just a little bit too small. But I could cope with that, if the isolation and its negative side effects wouldn’t be…
My town in Germany is not that much bigger and you can actually find more shops in Nordfjordeid than back home, but there we have towns (and appropriate cycle paths) and bigger cities all around. You don’t feel like in the middle of nowhere, even if I live in a more or less quite place. That is what is bothering me and makes it difficult to be a volunteer in Nordfjordeid: Being stuck here with only busses as means of public transport, barely cycle paths (only within Nordfjordeid, not to neighboring towns) and no cities around, which could provide a more international and open-minded environment.
From time to time I ask myself what would have happened if I would have chosen a project in Spain as I planned to do, or just in another and less isolated country or even city in Norway. But I don’t want to pity myself or even regret my decision, it is just a lesson learned. Cultures are different and now I have to make the best out of it. And I will.
Thanks for reading until the end of my evaluation, I didn’t plan to write that much, it just happened. I hope you enjoyed at least a bit of it, I just had to do that for myself and why not sharing my thoughts with you? All in all I am passing a good time in Norway as an EVS volunteer, I chose a nice country and project, the conditions of my stay are fine as well, I am just lacking some friends in my age and respite from everyday life, which are not too easy to find. But who knows if it would have been easier somewhere else? I wish you all the best wherever you are and what you are doing right now.
Ha ein fin dag! Ha det bra,