OUR VOLUNTEER – Viola Brueninghaus

Labdien Latvia!

I am Viola I am 20 years old and come from Germany. I grew up in a small town with 15.000 inhabitants called Erwitte. I finished my school with a high school diploma and an apprenticeship as an educator. For a long time, I had planned to work abroad for one year, so I decided to do a European Voluntary Service. I do this in Latvia in the NGO Klubs “Māja”.

In the days before I came to Latvia I always calculated in my head “Still 2 weeks until I am in Latvia”, “In 7 days I am in Latvia”…., “Tomorrow I will wake up in Latvia”. Time passed quickly and suddenly I was standing with my family at the airport and had to say goodbye to them. I felt the excitement in my stomach. And when I saw the tears in the eyes of my parents I would have liked to cry too. But I didn’t want to stand in line crying, so I said goodbye quickly and went to the security check.

Arriving on the plane I knew that from now on I had to get over myself and talk to the people in English, which is absolutely not easy for me. Concentrated I tried to understand every word the flight attendants said (of course I didn’t understand more than half of it). I thought that the first months would not be easy for me. I wondered why I don’t stay in my country like most people and make it easy for myself. I also wondered what people would think about me, if they thought I was dumb because I don’t understand everything and can’t answer properly in English. After some time, I decided not to think about it anymore, I wanted to do a year abroad for a long time and now my dream is coming true and if all the knits were torn, I could still fly back home and work in the kindergarten.

When I arrived in Latvia, I saw Raivis and Alexandra from the organisation where I would work now. Also, Onur, with which I will work and live together from now on, was there. They greeted me friendly and I tried to talk to them a little bit, but I noticed that will not be easy with my knowledge of English.

On my way to my new home I was rather quiet and concentrated on the city Riga, the old and new buildings, the bridges and the river. I enjoyed the thought that I could stay here every day for a year. Before we reached my new home, we bought something to eat.

Then we went to the apartment. I was asked to open the door and saw some other girls inside. Together they had organized a surprise welcome party and decorated the living room with beautiful balloons and other things. I guess I couldn’t really show it, but I was very happy about it and felt welcome. Raivis showed me every room in the apartment and I brought my luggage to my new room. Then we ate pizza together and played a game.

After all the guests had gone to their home, Onur and I stayed “home”.

I couldn’t sleep yet so I unpacked my suitcases and took a shower. It really didn’t feel like home, a lot of things were sticky and dusty and I had to get used to the traffic noise that can be heard all the time. Unexpectedly, I could fall asleep quickly.

The first two weeks passed quickly, we cleaned the apartment so that we felt at home there, we met some people from the organization, went to work and got to know the city. At work we designed a banner and decorations for an upcoming event in the city Ikšķiles.

Among other things we went to the cinema (Lion King), took a boat trip on the Daugava, ate at Ezītis Miglā, organized an movie evening in our apartment and took a lot of walks. Towards the end of the second week I felt like I was at home when I came into the apartment.

In my final examination as an educator I dealt with the topic of bilingualism with children. I learned that children who come to a new country and don’t speak the language develop strategies to make friends. They pretend to understand the language and with a few words they can speak, they try to make it seem that they speak the language. Of course I am not in the same situation, but I have sometimes found myself nodding or laughing although I have not understood what the other person is talking about. And what should I say it works.  Because I am regularly surrounded by people, I am forced to speak in English and in retrospect my understanding, vocabulary and grammar improves every day.

In the third week we took part in a Youth Exchange in Krimulda, which was planned by the organisation I work for. There a total of 40 people from Romania, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Latvia came together for 10 days to discuss health and sport. I really enjoyed meeting new people, consciously thinking about my own health and seeing the beautiful nature of Krimulda.

When I drove back home for a day during the Youth Exchanges, I felt homesick for the first time. I was alone for the first time in a long while and had time to think in the bus, realizing that I wouldn’t see my family and friends for a year and that a year is a long time. I felt better when I talked to my friends and distracted myself with work in the afternoon. I think it will happen again that I feel like that but I think that’s part of it?

On the weekend the festival in Ikšķile was on the agenda. My task was to take photos and videos and a singing competition. I was a bit nervous whether I would succeed in this task. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun making the recordings.

After enjoying two days off I started editing a video of the dance competition. It was a big challenge for me to find the right music and to make it look like the dancers are moving in rhythm. But in the end, I managed to finish my video.

Full of anticipation I drove to the On-Arrival Training in the fourth week. I’ve been looking forward to meeting other volunteers all week. On the first day we mainly got to know each other, which means that we more or less only played games. During the week I learned a lot about self-education and the Youthpass and I set goals for my Year in Latvia. In addition, I enjoyed the time with the other volunteers.

After we had left the training Onur and I prepared a Turkish/ German culture evening. At Maxima I bought a lot of German sweets. In the evening we drove to Ādaži. There I reported to the participants of the summer camp of the German culture, we watch videos and played games like. “Pumpssack” and “Schaumkuss Wettessen”.

After a month here, I can say it is not always easy to live far away from home, without family and friends, but it is worth it. I have learned a lot in this short time, met over 80 new people and spent many nice and funny days.

OUR VOLUNTEER – Onur Obekcan

Čau visiem,

I am Onur from Turcija. I am a 21-year-old English language teaching graduate. You can also call me a tech enthusiast and a language nerd. Throughout my senior year in university, I’ve searched for opportunities around Europe, especially regarding Solidarity Corps projects to experience living abroad and to look for new adventures. And here I am in Latvia.

My first ever month abroad… It was truly an adventure. In a country which I had little knowledge and basically no idea about what kind of a place it was until I got accepted. So, it was the right decision, in a way, to fully experience a different world.

My first perceptions about Latvia and Riga, where I work and live, started to form in the very first days and developed ever since. For me, Riga was small but sometimes felt big at the same time. As for the people, majority of them seemed unhappy or quite neutral emotionally and I could feel the distance between people. As the time passed by, I saw that not everyone is like that and thankfully, I was surrounded with that kind of people. I can say that it is very different from my culture but I started to adapt how relationships, human connections and daily life work in general.

I had a very packed first month which helped me go through this period with maximum interaction in local and international level. It was very hard to take in all the experience and learning sometimes. But, after a month, I look back and see how many things I have done and how many people I have met. It always takes some time for me to adapt to a new environment but adapting to a new country… That’s a whole different process for me. Let’s go through this month together:

I spent my first few days with getting to know people in my organization and my work partner Viola. I also had the opportunity to get to know Riga with the help and friendship of the members of my organization. They welcomed Viola and me with a homecoming party in our new apartment where we will spend 11 more months. We had dinner, played board games and had a lot of fun. We spent the rest of the days exploring different parts of Riga with different people until our first working day. We walked around the Old Town, went to Ala, took a boat trip, and went to see a movie.

In our first week, besides discovering Riga and getting to know people, we cleaned our house and learned some fun facts about our house, such as our kitchen being actually white and not beige. It was a messy experience. But at the same time, this cooperation also helped us built a nice friendship. Then, came the “volunteering” time.

I remember our first day at work and first task like it was yesterday. We were given the task to design the concept of a tent we would have in a festival in Ikskile. We also had the responsibility to take pictures of the festival and film two contests which were about singing and dancing as well as editing the footage to promote the festival on social media. I was quite nervous as it was going to be my first filming experience.

At the same time, we also prepared some workshops for the upcoming youth exchange we organized, called “Health is the New Wealth”. It was about gaining a healthy lifestyle and investigating why we need to have a healthy lifestyle, how we can accomplish this, what are the reasons effecting our health and many more through non-formal learning methods. The exchange was held in Krimulda with 40 people coming from Romania, Italy, Poland, Hungary and of course Latvia. As volunteers of Klubs Maja, we were also a part of the Latvian team and participated and conducted activities. The exchange itself was good but I had problems connecting with the people and the cold weather there made me even grumpier. Also, the fact that I was in a youth exchange without my national team for the first time affected my mood greatly.

Before the final day of the exchange, we went to the Ikskile Festival. There, I had to do my best because I only had one shot at this. I was constantly changing angles to get the best shots, trying my best to stabilize them. I tried to be all around the stage, totally experimenting with my task. I filmed the dancing contest and Viola filmed the singing contest. At the end of the day, I hoped that my shots were good enough.

After the exchange, we had our first editing task which was quite hard to accomplish as my experience in this field was not more than having an Instagram account. We also had another challenge. We exchanged our footage from the contests and edited each other’s videos. I took the challenge and worked on my project 2-3 days, structuring what I can I do and how I can do it better with feedbacks from other people such as my coordinator and people who ran the festival. Most of the time, it was quite frustrating since I had no idea how to put a video together. Also, currently, I am using a 10-year-old computer which makes everything 10 times harder. But I managed to do it in the end.

After successfully delivering my project, it was time for us to join the on-arrival training for volunteers. The training is organized for every volunteer approximately at the beginning of their voluntary service by the National Agency. For us, it was our third week in Latvia. It took place in Riga for 5 days with 17 people from 8 different countries which were Turkey, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania and Russia. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any other people from Turkey, but there they were. Two other Turkish people than me volunteering in Latvia… It was a relief knowing that I wasn’t alone and I enjoyed the fact that I was sharing the same background with those people. With all the other volunteers, we became a huge family during those five days. We learned about European Solidarity Corps, Youthpass, how to cope with problems, what are our rights, ways of reflecting on our learning, how to develop a sense of initiative, commonalities of our cultures and much more.

On the final day of our on-arrival training, we went to the summer camp which was held in Adazi by our organization. I went there with Viola before the last day of the camp to present our culture to the participants of the camp. This was the first cultural night we organized in Latvia. Together, we created a playlist which was a mixture of Turkish and German songs. For the rest of our presentation, we used videos and Kahoots presenting our countries and culture in a fun way. We also had traditional food and sweets to present our cuisine and help the participants explore the culture deeper with flavours they have never tasted before.

Next day, the camp was over as well as my first month in Latvia. It was full of people, experiences, feeling of differences, fresh starts and new adventures ahead. Hope to experience more here. Until next time, have a great month!