Hi! My name is Anna and I am currently working as an European Volunteer in Malaga, Spain.
My adventure with European Solidarity Corps programme began when I decided to apply for a project. After my successful selection process I came to Malaga in October 2019 and started my work at IES La Rosaleda, which is a secondary, vocational school. I work with another volunteer from France. Our main tasks include: coordinationg ‘’speaking sessions’’ in English and French, so the teachers and students can improve their language skills. Secondly, we are in charge of posting content on the blog and documenting our activities. We organize presentations and events promoting european mobility and Erasmus+, we visit classes and give mini presentations concerning holidays and different events. Moreover we helped during the Erasmus+ selection process, as we run the English interviews and prepared info-packs for the students.
A big part of our project is hosting visits from the international partners of our school. We enjoy having guests at our institute, showing them our projects and mobilities. It is a good oportunity to make new connections and create partnerships.
The whole ESC experience is super international, as I live and work with people from various countries. I am fortunate to live close to the city centre with 4 great flatmates. We share a lot of our cultures and experiences. When it comes to the coordination of the project I am also satisfied, I haven’d had any major problems since arriving to Spain. I can count on the constant support of my coordinators at schools, who are very helping and understanding.
Living in Spain, especially Andalucia, is super different than living in Poland. The mentality and style of life of the Spanish people is something I had to get used to. The language barier was a problem at the beginning (I left Poland with the A2 level) but I quickly improved. Malaga offers many great opportunities to improve the language, like exchanges and language meetings. As ESC volunteers we also have an access to the OLS language platform.
Malaga is a very beautiful, historical city itself, but it is also a great place to live to explore the whole Andalucia. I am so thankful that so far I could have visited many nearby cities and villages. It has been a great opportunity to know the Spanish culture more.
So far I am enjoying my experience as much as I can!
After mentioned event it was time to relax and what else could be more relaxing than having a picnic at a lake enjoying the probably last warm rays of the late autumn sun before rain, wind and coldness take over the rule. We decided to meet all together in a park which is more or less next to Krakow. From our flat your able to just walk there, thus we did so or at least we tried. Emelyn, Kübra and I started our journey to Zakrzowek, a former quarry and now that it is filled with water one of the most visited places by locals and tourists. The reason for that is not only its perfect location but also the fact, that police won’t control that much over there who is drinking in public and who not, resulting in a gray zone where people gather and have a cold one together.
As we kept on walking, guided by our best friend if it comes to going some place you don’t know , called google maps, we must’ve taken a wrong turn because we ended up in front of a gate which prevented us from going any further. Behind this metallic construction which lacked paint while rust started to creep up it’s irony bars, we discovered a boulevard like street leading to a small settlement with houses which all looked the same. Not doubting that google maps was showing us the right direction, and let me tell you that if it would have said that we had to swim through the Baltic sea and conquer the south and north pole to arrive at the lake, we would have done it. Sometimes those advices make you some kind of blind, maybe out of ignorance or over trust, but also because if you go wrong and somebody is screaming that you should get off his yard or he will fetch his riffle you can say:
“ Ohh I am so, so sorry, I thought that would be the way, I guess Google did not update its maps for some time. Have a nice day.”
Leading to the neighbor complaining about the youth nowadays and that you should open your eyes next time. The fault though is now not directly yours anymore but Googles because they gave you a wrong direction.
As we stood there, wondering what to do, Emelyn decided to let actions speak rather than thoughts by grabbing the bars with her hands, her feet were clenched between the free spaces and she started to climb up the gate, because it was the right direction. As she proceeded to reach the top of the gate, observed by me and Kübra, thinking if we should return and take another path, we noticed that a car was coming towards our direction. We could not see which kind of or out of which reason it might come this way, because the part of the street we were standing at was surrounded by forest and right after a turn. While warning Emelyn and her panicking jump down from the gate, while she lost her package of cigarettes on the other side, we prepared to confront whoever was coming, practicing our lines, that we are tourists and don’t know where to go blaming google for having us led there. When the car turned around the corner, we were shocked. The blue stripes on the side, in it the word “Policja”, which decorated this sprinter made us swallow hard. It was our friend and helper the police. Of course all by itself we are lucky enough that we don’t have to be afraid of the police but it is still really shocking if you see this kind of transporter, in it for sure at least 6 officers, coming at you, in a small piece of forest. As they stopped the windows turned down and we started to see the face of one of the officers, asking us what we are doing here.
Thank the Lord that we practiced our lines, telling in the most innocent way possible who we were, and where we are from leading to the excuse of being tourists. The officer was really nice though telling us that we turned one turn to soon and gave us some directions. Until now they had no evidence that we even tried to get over that gate thus trespass this small settlement but then Emelyn thought that it would be a good idea to ask them, if they could get her cigarettes which lay on the other side of the gate. I mean the police is supposed to help you isn’t it? Then they might as well fetch your cigarettes.
Surprisingly the officer got out of his car, unfolding his baton to compensate the shortness of his arms. It was not enough though so he started to shout the name Hightower, like the one in the movie Police Academy (pretty sure that I was the only one who understood this reference of the three of us) and the door of the police car opened, revealing four other uniformed officers. One of them responded to the call, unbuckled and a 2-meter guy stood in front of us, making me understand why he was called Hightower by his colleagues. I don’t know what the other cop did with the package of cigarettes, if he pushed it further away by accident or because he was so worried about Emelyns health that he did it on purpose, but neither this huge guy, packed with muscles and wrapped up in his uniform making him an easy target for thoughts which lead to a slippery slope of them into situations which seemed quite inappropriate for the moment.
As he reached for the cigarette, unable to get them too, they decided to give up, announcing that it is better for Emelyns lungs anyway and they got back into the car as we commenced walking back to the street.
In the end we managed to reach the lake and meet the other ones. Everybody prepared something special for this feast, may it have been tuna sandwiches, lasagna or the offer of a beer. It was amazing and looking at the pictures now makes me wish back the time when we were at this lake. Though Theo was missing due to the visit of his family. The attentive spectator will notice that in this picture you can see a new face which belongs to Seyma (Sheyma) from Turkey. She arrived shortly after the senior’s eve and lives together with Rocio and Anthi.
Seyma is a really kind girl with a passion for Germany including its culture but also its language which is something you don’t get a lot as a German. Spanish, French or Italian are the languages everybody thinks of as most beautiful due to their sound and so on but if it comes to German which sounds like starting an engine or the rattling of marbles which are getting crushed in the washing machine, people usually step away and complain about its harsh sounds. That’s why I felt and still feel flattered, that somebody likes my language that much.
Though enough of the language talk and let’s capture some of our Guapas and Guapos in Emelyns camera, resulting in an extraordinary and funny photo shooting which its result is shown in the bottom of this post.
The following week we were invited to take part in a project of a special kind. Our organization Internationaler Bund Polska, yes, it is a German name due to it’s founding back in Germany. Of course, not the Polish office was founded in Germany, but the idea and the concept of the Internationaler Bund institution originates in Germany. Anyway.
Mentioned Project was about dancing with seniors. If you think about it the first time maybe adjectives like “Cute, slow or lame” might come to your mind, but believe me what awaited us there was everything but boring. This group of elders rented a place in Tychy a city near to Krakow but besides a factory for beer nothing seems really worth a visit there and the city by itself is also not what I’d call a beauty.
To get there we had to take a bus and let me tell that I absolutely love to go by bus together with friends, even though people might look at us for being to loud. I don’t know what it is, though being together in a vehicle for more than 1hour always lights up a spark, making me feel tremendously happy, thus laughing a lot. And as we all know laughter are highly contagious.
As we arrived in Tychy, we nearly missed our bus because Emelyn and me were late making us have a sprint to the bus stop at 10:00 am just to get it in the last second, we entered a kind of meeting hall equipped with tables, chairs and tons of food. The middle was free of any obstacles and on the stage, they put up a DJ desk ready to play the latest hits of 1955 we joked.
Our party “evening” in senior slang, or afternoon in Youngsters slang started with presentations of several dances of the seniors which were preparing themselves since a year just to show of the dance moves they learned in that time, making our mouths drop open of astonishment and envy.
Those grannies and grandpas were awake, for sure alive and had the energy even we were missing. There was no such word as “break”, especially not for us boys. As soon as you sat down one of the grannies came and invited you to dance with her, because such handsome young men must have all the energy of the world. I guess nobody can say, that they danced together with a group of maybe 30 seniors or more Macarena or the YMCA perfomance, neither to go down with them while listening Reggeaton.
Within these grannies were two which defined the word weird anew. Weird thereby is to be put into the context of amazingly entertaining and joyful but also graving for the male volunteers. It is for sure another experience which I didn’t expect to make during this year to sway in the arms of an 65 year old lady, which is looking at me with her moon sized eyes telling me stuff in Polish I don’t understand, while I am starting to sweat due to the heater which was turned up to “Finnish sauna” and made the room feel like you’d dance through the Arabic Desert with Aladdin’s Jasmin on your side after she divorced from her Husband 20 years ago.
Of course, the Dj also played some of the songs we suggested and putting up Becky G’s Mayores in which she is singing about her affection against the older ones of our society you realize that you are living her dream she is singing about. What a life and time we are living in.
After we left that party somewhat around 9 you could see the exhaustion of each of us, creeping back into the bus, trying to reach home as fast as possible to shower and sleep. This time on the way back we were laughing less, therefore the darkness and ever repeating monotony of orange streetlights and racing cars made you lose every kind of time feeling and started a long conversation between Fabian and me. Those are the moments when you are in a car which should never stop. When you wish to just go forever on that ride, so you don’t have to get out of this cozy seat.
But we arrived back in Krakow, safe and sound, knowing more about each of us afterwards.
What an amazing event- and they grannies were already asking for the next one.
Eventually we managed to get to Rocio’s and Anthi’s flat all together, loaded with pizza and other snacks, because sometimes you got to enjoy life to the fullest. It is always amazing, when we meet all together, at least for me and not having that one week made me realize that I really missed those moments. Emelyn will, in faraway future, say the same to me, that is that every time we are together, she is looking around into all the faces, seeing them laughing and arguing which makes her and me too unbelievably happy.
That was exactly how it felt like being there in that moment, sharing food and laughter not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow but just living into the moment by appreciating everybody’s attendance. You know that there is the moment when of course everyone has to return to his flat but until then you try to take in as much as possible of that moment, trying to burn it into your memory.
Though to say that we did not think of tomorrow at all would be a lie because on the next way was Marias birthday. I have never been a big fan of my own birthday, always trying to get somewhere else, avoiding the awkwardness of people celebrating you. If it comes to other birthdays though, I am all on fire, trying to let them know how much they mean to me and showing them how happy you are that they were born at this date.
However, Maria did not want that we make out of her birthday such a big deal which is fine and to be respected. Though at least something had to happen, so we decided to reserve some places in one of our favorite bars if it comes to birthdays. Domowka is in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz in Krakow and because of the sheer endless amount of table games they offer for free we always enjoy spending time there, talking, playing and drinking.
Furthermore, we decided to prepare a little something for her, meaning a small book containing some personal words of each of us as well as enough space to create some more memories and put them in there later on. We did not have enough time, or we did not manage to make more time because I don’t know why, so we had to buy a small cake from Awiteks.
Awiteks is a chain bakery and fairly common in Krakow. Pia is a big lover of Awiteks so-called bread while Theo and me, as the Germans we are, can’t even consider this more than a white fluff lacking any texture or low and behold fiber. We might not be proud of much but if it comes to bread, we are not taking anybody’s shit because we know we have the best one in the world.
Anyway, we decided to get a small cake there but as everybody knows we have a quite picky eater here and asking somebody what kind of cake he wants for his kind-of-surprise party would degrade the kind-of-surprise to a no-surprise, duh.
As we met in advance to prepare her book and the cake, sticking candles into it and lighting it up, I met another volunteer who I did not know before, called Pamela.
Pamela arrived in the beginning of the week, making the time Pia and I spend away into 7 days in which we welcomed all in all 4 new volunteers!
When Maria entered the café, we all sat there, screaming our best wishes to Maria accompanied by hugs, kisses and tons of joy, climaxing in the moment she had to put out the candles.
When the like childhood smelling, grey smoke arose in the room we handed here over the book and ordered the first round of beers, teas and much more. Though I guess we must’ve been quite loud, not that anybody said anything, but we always are and especially if we celebrate something like a birthday thus accompanied by loud laughter and screams expressing how happy we are.
Speaking of birthdays and parties lets focus on an inevitable part of these. Dancing.
Gvantsa found us immediately after we left Galeria Krakowska, a place that awakens panic in me. Always overcrowded, thousands of stores and in the end, you just hang out there because you are bored, watching people passing by while thinking of their stories.
It is quite an amusing thing to do and come to think of it, isn’t it fascinating to see a city less as a place far away from nature and older days, but a gathering of stories of thousands or millions of people. Somehow you are connected to a lot of them, playing just an unimportant role in the background, but for this time you shared the same story with a stranger. Maybe the woman who is running after the bus just had a fairly important job interview and now that she missed her ride is desperately thinking about what to do to be there In time, so she can pay the rent and someday travel to Jamaica because she watched a documentation once and now it is her dream to lay at one of its golden beaches while enjoying a cool drink. But life hasn’t been nice to her and she is struggling to even keep her head over water, living from day to day thinking of how to spend her money wisely.
Of course, we will never know, though it has something magical, to see a city as a place were dreams come together and you never know if you are the reason somebody is achieving it or not. Maybe you are the one person which has a blue jacket and this guy says to himself, that if the next person I see wears a blue jacket than I’ll tell her that I love her and by doing so, he sees you wearing your brightest blue, giving him the signal, that destiny seems to favor his plans. You will never know because he won’t tell you but maybe you are the reason somebody else married, later on, had kids or just had an amazing relationship for a while.
Speaking of colors. It is really hard to not see Gvantsa in a crowd as a result of her neon orange jacket. This girl is somewhat of a model, with her beautiful brown eyes and curls, falling down to her shoulders. Usually wearing her slightly bright chestnut-colored coat and her black glasses, if itis not raining. I have to say though that I kind of pitied her a little bit, due to my mood which was explosive and loud, going from one topic to the other in the speed of Eminem’s “Rap god”, out of joy and relief to see the other ones, after one whole week.
While we all saw each other again, falling into their arms and hugs, not planning on ever leaving them, I realized how precious those people already became to me and I had no idea how even more important they would become to me over the next months. While embracing everybody’s attendance, though we thought nobody was there in the beginning, a new message popped up in the group chat, creatively named “The Shitty Ones”. I don’t know why or what drove us to choose such a name, only that it was not going to be changed for a long time.
The message was from Asser, the volunteer from Egypt, who arrived 1 day before and was now waiting for us at Poczta Glowna. We decided to pick him up and then go to the flat of Anthi and Rocio, because they have a living room, and believe it or not but to have a living room is a real rarity in volunteer flats, making the kitchen the new living room normally.
There we were supposed to meet with Kübra too because she would come directly from my flat to this one. Turning around the corner at Poczta Glowna we saw an Arabic guy standing next to the tram stop. His deep black and madly curled hair were held in form by some spray I guessed, while his dark eyes found ours.
Asser is a fun guy who always has a story to tell dealing with him or his country. Also, his English is perfect so that there were absolutely no communication problems from his side to ours. As a matter of fact, nobody of us speaks Arab, and the ones who think that Turkish and Arabic have anything to do with each other, let me tell you that they absolutely don’t.
They might have influenced each other through lending words but the grammatical structure as the use of sounds is way, way, way off from Arabic.
Being sick is always a pain in the ass, even more when you are participating in a project which is supposed to be quite entertaining and active, so there is only one solution for this problem. Mama did not raise a weakling, we got to go through it and give everything we got.
The first real group activity was a tour through Warsaw by a former ESC volunteer and his dog. Saying dog might let some hearts beat faster, but this precious little fur ball was not in the mood of being touched and frankly I totally understand it. Imagine you do this tour every freaking week with your owner and then all anew a group of wild volunteers appears, and 20 pairs of hands try to pet you. The tour was fairly interesting, and we learned a lot about the city and how destroyed it was, while constantly getting told that Warsaw is nicer than Krakow. It Is definitely not and every person living in Warsaw knows that.
While the week kept on, we did some workshops about the Polish language, being a volunteer and what to do when you start feeling homesick. On day though was more special. Botan, a Kurdish volunteer, had the anniversary of birth, so called birthday. For that Pia, Yolanda and I went to a bakery in the morning, buying a muffin while desperately looking for candles to stick on top. After a while we found them, entering the room cheering and screaming, wishing all the best to our fellow, resulting in a joyful cheer when the smoke of the blown out candle filled the air of them room, recalling memoires of own birthdays and cozy Christmas afternoons.
One memory which I will probably never get out of my head for it is way to amusing is when Guilia, Pia, Iliana, Yolanda, Maria and I stood at the subway stop in Warsaw, putting the phone into video mode and tried to sing the Chorus of the song “Miłość Miłość w Zakopanem” which goes: “Miłość Miłość w Zakopanem”- duh- followed by: “Do dodo Doo”.
Six people means each of us one word. After trying several times to get this right we finally managed, ignoring the weird looks some of the other people gave us.
Concerning Warsaw’s Subway system let me just say that it is amazingly cute, like coming back from a trip to a certain big US-American city this summer I was used to endless stops and even though you start in the city center it takes you at least 45 minutes to the end of the train stops. Warsaw is a little bit different and way smaller, so the most lines had somewhat 10 stops and it took us 15 minutes to go from one stop to the nearly end.
In our last night we actually prepared ourselves to go out and have some fun drinking and partying but nope we did not. While seeing the pictures of the other ones in Krakow having fun with the new volunteers who arrived in our absence, we were in Warsaw, sick and tired sitting in the cold in front of a certain establishment our beloved boy visited as their whole On-Arrival group.
This does not mean that we didn’t have fun in this night, actually we had a lot, playing the game 21 and failing so hard every time that each one of us has been constantly drinking. We finished our On-Arrival with the feeling of having spent a nice week somewhere else but the knowledge in our heads that it might have been more exciting to stay with our amazing group of friends in Warsaw. At least we made some new friends in Wroclaw and Lodz which came in handy later on.
On our way back from Warsaw I realized that I run out of tissues, making it really hard to breathe if you are having a cold, resulting in the usage of my big towel to clean my nose. Disgusting I know but if you are going to be in the freaking bus for 5 hours you ain’t going to soak in the already way to dry and warm air of the bus trough your mouth.
I don’t know why Pia had this negative conviction, that none of our friends would be waiting for us at the bus stop, making me say all the time that they are going to be there to pick us up for sure. When we entered Krakow, I was already desperately looking for the other ones. First with a smile and the convinced knowledge that they will be there. After searching for a while this smile turned upside down and the ones so powerful and strongly build thoughts began to break down as nobody was there waiting for us. But we didn’t have time to be mad, not yet. Due to the closure of the toilet in the bus Pia and I had to follow natures strong call first before anything else could be discussed or one.
While I was standing in line a message popped up in my phone. Theo was asking where we are because they were here, making my heart jump out of joy and happiness. They were there, just late. As we left the toilet area and met Theo and the others at the entrance of Galeria Krakowska, hugging each of them for a long time because hugs are healthy and one of the most beautiful ways of expressing love towards other people, we met a girl we did not know before. Gvantsa from Georgia and Kübra from Turkey, Emelyn’s and my new flat mate.
The first introduction of the volunteers took place in a big circle in which each person said its name and where he or she was from. Names like Pia, Sebastian or Francesco are quite easy to understand, and I guess also to memorize but if it comes to names like “Garcien” it gets way harder! First of all, French people tend to speak less clear I’d say than in other languages, mumbling away endings and conjugations in their language. When Garcien said his name the general reaction was a raising of the eyebrows and an impulsive movement of the upper body into his direction, reaching with your hand to your ear to make you understand better the said name and accompanied by the question if he could please repeat.
But actually, not even that was really helping and after the third try we just stopped asking and kept on with the next names. The ones who instantly stuck into my head, due to the character I connect with them were Martha, a livable and expressive Spanish girl. Guilia from Italy as well as her friends Iliana and Maria from Cyprus and Greece and last but not least Moritz.
Moritz is actually a really nice person if he speaks in German but as soon as he is speaking English it seems like somebody pressed a button into “mean mode”, making him complain all the time, coming with a certain flair of arrogance because one is not doing what the others are doing because that is embarrassing or to childish or whatever. All by itself this kind of behavior is not always bad, but it is not that we were behaving like 12 years old, more like we just wanted to have some fun and a good time. You will reach this goal by changing your mindset into not taking yourself too important and letting yourself go, we had that once in the beginning but anyway.
As we went to dinner, my attention fell onto somebody else. Her name turned out to be Yolanda, and don’t judge me. Just because everybody said their names 30 minutes ago, does not mean that I instantly remember all of them, especially when you have to focus on names from tons of different nations! Anyway, as we stood in line to get our well-deserved food, she was asking me where I was from, followed by my answer that I’m from Germany. The next answer to that was, quite frank as Germans are, that she is also a fellow citizen of my state and yeah, she could hear that I’m from Germany. It is not, that an accent would be something bad, it is in fact enriching and if you start talking with somebody you instantly have a topic to talk about. BUT I would not say, that telling somebody that he has an accent in the first two seconds of conversation is a really helpful and sympathizing thing. Though what did I care she was really nice, and I did not think too much about it. What is amazing is her talent for drawing, like guys that girl is amazing at what she is doing.
The best thing about this training is the evening when you are allowed to do whatever you want, as long as you are more or less fit enough on the next day to participate in the program. Next to Agrikola is a small bar where you can buy cheap beer and food like burgers and other fast food. This place eventually became our second home during this week, playing games, drinking together and having interesting talks about all kind of stuff which might be to intense to discuss right now. One of the most eager participants in those conversations has been Amanda. Beautiful hair and an ever-happy expression on her face made her a much-liked part of the group. I have to admit that we had actually some really neat moments in that place, protected from the rain and the cold fall weather which made it fairly unpleasant to be outside for to long.
Ans guess what happens, when you are a group of more than 20 people, already 2 arrive being sick and the weather around you is more or less supporting your body to stay healthy? Yes you get sick. Usually I’m that kind of person who never gets sick. I am running around in sweater 90 percent of the year, am pretty much resistant to cold and I think it comes from that toughness against cold weather and the fact that my parents probably fed us with dirt when me and my five brothers were children, that I can say that my immune system is pretty well developed and strong. But during and after this training? I think everybody had a cold or even more with on exclusion. My precious Pia. Intolerant against Fructose, Lactose and I guess food in general but a cold?! Not for her….
The next morning Pia and I met in front of Galeria Krakowska. Met in that case means, that I was waiting for her. I don’t know if it is a cultural thing or just me, but if there is an important appointment or meeting, I’m always at least 10 minutes before the agreed meeting time there. It is just to be safe, to get to know the surrounding maybe or to prepare for the next steps. In that way it is already guaranteed that you’re not late and that you won’t have to stress out because the bus is stuck in traffic because you took the Bus 40 min before anyway, in case you will be stuck. Organized through and through, prepared for every situation.
As Pia arrived I saw her the first time wearing glasses and they look amazing but you can tell her that a hundred times (in fact I did), you will always get the answer: “Oh no, I don’t like them”. The next steps were quite easy, I mean everybody should be able to handle the check in for Flixbus. During the trip the sky went from an inviting and calming blue, sometimes interrupted by a flock of cloud which run like sheep over the sky, into a threatening grey. The once so purely white sheep turned now into a grey tsunami which rolled over us, bringing wind and rain within.
Nevertheless, we thought, that the rain won’t get us down and that we just have to keep up a positive attitude. If there is no sun which shines, be the sun and shine. Even though destiny, fate r karma, call it whatever you want, decided to prove if we were worthy of being two suns shining in the midst of rain. To get to Agrikola, the place in which we were about to stay for the next week, we had to go by bus. It is not far away maybe three or four stops, but due to our moral standards and the fear of being caught we decided to get the tickets first before entering the bus. So, we stood in the rain, in front of the automat and waited until the person in front of us finished buying its ticket.
You know those people, who think of the ice cream flavor they want the moment they stand in front of the cashier. In that moment something must go wrong in some people’s heads, maybe an enzyme is released which prevents them from making a quick decision. This leads to a ten minutes showdown of how they don’t know what to take, maybe the same as always or a new flavor, cup or cone, one or two scoops. Yeah, we had a person like that in front of us, but just for the ticket automat. When he finally managed to get his stuff done, we approached the machine, just to be penalized by karma for making jokes about this man and comparing him to that kind of ice-cream-persons. It felt like 15 minutes in which we tried to manage to get our tickets but nope not for us. Standing in the rain, trying to work with this advice gave us the cramps. I mean we laughed a lot, but you are not drying through laughing. In the end we bought the tickets in a small kiosk which sold besides tobacco and small snacks also passes for the buses and trams. Now we started our training. Wet, tired and cold but happy and at least together.
Agrikola is a big sports complex with a soccer field, enclosed by a track cycle for athletes. The building next to it offers besides locker rooms also a whole hostel like part in which we were accommodated. Due to the experiences of the other volunteers which went there before us Pia and I expected to be in shared rooms, with their own shower and toilet. As we got the keys to our rooms, because we don’t do unisex, we got some instructions how to go there. Being me I only listened to Pia’s description to her room, in case she would forget, leading to the situation that I went to her room and as soon as she entered I tried to figure out where I’d be supposed to go, walking like a lost child in the aisle of Target looking for a grown up to help me. In the end I went downstairs again and asked the receptionist, though I thought I would get a snack like you do when you’re lost at mentioned Target to stop you’re crying, but no apparently with 19 years one is too old for that.
Speaking of snacks. In the On-Arrival training one of the main things you are going to do is to eat. 08:00 am breakfast, 12:00 am lunch, the there are 2 breaks during the afternoon in which you are provided with coffee, fruits and usually some biscuits or cakes and at 06:00 pm there is supper. You might dare to thing that there could be another snack around 08:00pm but well NO. For me as a German it is fine to eat supper at 06:00, though it should be mentioned that we eat supper usually between 07:00 pm and 08:00pm, sometimes 06:30pm. The Spanish and French had more problems with that. Resulting out of their culture they are used to eat supper around way later times, which makes it possible to start sometimes around 10:00pm and finish at 00:00 (an extreme example as I think but yeah go and ask Fabian, he’ll confirm that).
After a quick lunch, in which we already got to know some new people and volunteers from Kielce, Rzeszow and Wroclaw the introduction began. We met in the project room and final got to know our two coordinators which would lead the workshops and accompany the whole training for this Week. Kasia and Wojtek. Wojtek is a tall man with long blond hair, he likes to listen to metal music and sandals are for sure something he enjoys. Saying that without any judgement but just to give you a picture. When he wanted the attention of everybody he always screamed: “Uwaga Uwaga” meaning, attention attention (duh). Kasia was a little bit quiet but definitely not shy. With brown hair which reached until the top of her shoulders.
The next day, while Ania was already in the bus, we met at Anthis and Rocios Flat, I mean they have a living room, so its optimal to meet. We decided to try something like food evening again, because our newly established tradition became, due to the absence of several people and the lack of motivation, more a wish than something which actually happens. Anyway, on that day, Theo and I decided to cook something typical German, especially for the east.
If you like history here we got something for you. As everybody knows Germany is responsible for the world wars. After losing both of them, the allied forces parted the country in several zones, resulting later on in the Partition of Germany into the capitalistic west and the communistic east, separated by a wall ( though only Berlin had literally a real wall standing in the middle of the city, the rest of the border was more like a huge fence with heavy armed guards and mines hidden in the ground). In those years East Germany was influenced by the east European culture, may it be the way of thinking or the food, leading to a mish mash of the Slavic and German cuisine. One of those dishes I’d say is eggs in mustard sauce. I know it might sound weird but done right this deliciousness can be a real pleasure for your tongue. Of course, we wanted to show the other ones what we eat and let them experience that. Therefore that it has been our first time to cook that I have to say, that it did not taste that bad, though the consistency of the sauce was more like pudding, as we weren’t patient enough to wait until the sauce thickened thus we put in way to much flour. The result looked like a weird abomination and every grandma probably would’ve killed us for dishonoring the imagine of the dish BUT as we went on and tried it, even though the other ones were quite suspicious and hesitated, it tasted quite well. So, what do we learn? It is the inside which matters, not the surface.
Filled with eggs, potatoes and mustard sauce we decided to go out have a little party and two of us had to prepare for their On-Arrival Training. This time it was Pia and me. Before we started this adventure, we picked up Emelyn and Maria from the bus stop. The day before I bought a certain brand of yoghurt which gives you one of those cheap tattoos for free, which at least I always connect with chewing gum and a long session in the bathtub, trying to get rid of it, before Sunday morning, so that your grandma is not freaking out about the thing you have on your arm while being in church. But now that I’m older and not at home, I thought it would be the right moment to start a rebellion, putting on a cheap, angry birds themed tattoo, showing one of those green pigs, joyfully cheering. Directly onto my shoulder, so I can lift up my sleeves and present it to everybody. New country, new me, I guess.
As I showed it to Maria, confidently inventing a story of me being drunk and getting that tattoo because I randomly walked into a studio and decided to get that one, her eyes went big and her mouth opened wide, releasing a phrase we’ll hear a lot for the next 9 months: “SHOCK MAXIMO”. I couldn’t believe that she was actually taking everything I said for real, neither did Pia, passionately explaining to Maria that it is a freaking joke and that the green pig comes from a package of yoghurt.
It is one of the first things I learned here in Poland, when joking with the other volunteers, especially Spanish ones. The German humor seems to be way more sarcastic and ironic, thus every time I’m doing a joke, Theo is smiling and at least one of the Spanish people is like: “Really?!”. Though by the time the people got better, detecting if I’m being ironic or serious.
When the sun rose on the next morning, I grabbed my suitcase, said goodbye to Emelyn and left the flat. On-Arrival training was going to happen, and its dawn was breaking over me and Pia. Off to Warsaw
I don’t know why the thought of somebody peeing next to a car disgusts me that much for it is nothing more different than peeing next to a tree. But anyway, we won’t lose time by talking about who pees how and in which way.
For their return of our three beloved group members we had the idea of baking some muffins and then afterwards going to their flat and hang out together, which worked out perfectly and seeing them again made clear that the whole group was completed again, resulting in joy and the long wanted moments to spite out mentioned tasteless gum.
But this deceiving happiness kept only on for 1 day, due to the fact that Emelyn and Maria were the ones which would go next to their On-Arrival training, leaving me this time alone in my flat, without anyone else. Most of the former volunteers might say, that this is one of the best things to happen but let me tell you that I am totally disapproving in that one under the condition that you like your flatmate. I enjoy every minute of being with Emelyn in our flat and knowing that she is not going to be with me for the whole next week made me nauseous. It was week celebrating kind of the return of your old gum, this time it sticks on your shoe and every step you take feels weird so you somehow have to change your pair of shoes or get rid of the old gum for good.
While Emelyn and Guapa, her new name in my contacts, were in Warsaw we had one last shooting with Ania, making us forget about the disgusting gum on our shoes and making clear, that the first volunteer was about to leave. The whole shooting was a blast and I guess Fabian went again out of his comfort zone. It was during this session that we realized that in one of Krakow’s parks, next to the Wawel-castle in fact, stands a statue of a dog, honoring its loyalty to his owner in Hachiko styled manner. It was the fairly sad story, nevertheless beautiful, of a dog waiting for its never returning owner, ending in the death of the dog (Yeah, I know we all wish our pets would live forever but we gotta face the truth here).
Surprisingly Ania is not only an expert if it comes to photography but also if it comes to making people laugh, meaning she is a laugh yoga trainer. Before everybody freaks out and asks now what laugh yoga is supposed to be, let me teach you something: Use google we are not here to explain you everything like come on.
But we are nice people, so I’ll explain it briefly. It is yoga for laughing, meaning you do exercise which are supposed to make you laugh #fun. In that hour of yoga, we celebrated the farewell of Ania.
Now it might sound way more like we were laughing and happy that she had to leave but no, totally wrong way of looking at it. We celebrated the time we had together which was filled of laughter and joy instead of this one moment of goodbye and sadness which was about to happen. Therefore, laugh yoga was the first part, going for a beer the second one.
Before I came to Poland I liked UNO, not the organization (it’s nice too though) but the simple card game with the colors and numbers, malicious “take-so-and-so-much-cards” and direction changers, turning the whole game inside out showing who was attentive during the game and who not. But let me tell you that you can differentiate countries only buy the way they play UNO, their way of frying eggs or their diner time, making it nearly impossible to find a all-satisfying way to play the game together, acquiring amazingly well developed skills in diplomacy and patience just to be crushed by the beer Ania spilled accidently over all of the cards when we were 2 rounds into it. I mean that was not bad and we did not care much but it was the first moment when I realized that this game is too exhausting and that people can be really weird if it comes to playing after new rules.
The rest of the night was really fun, topped but the waffles we got from the restaurant as a gift of the house. It is not difficult to make one happy by giving him just food, especially if he’s an always-hungry volunteer, living from its poor cooking skills, consisting out of noodles, eggs, bread and bought tomato sauce. Only one person would argue with that and that is Guapa, the pickiest eater in whole freaking Spain, Poland and maybe even Europe. But you know what? She was in Warsaw, so it is not important. At that day we also met a new volunteer from another organization here in Krakow. Martha. Martha from Germany, first appearance made in Theos, Fabians and Dylans On-Arrival.
While Fabian, Theo and Dylan took off for their on Arrival training we tried to fill the grid they left, making it one of the longest weeks of our project, t least for me and Pia. I finally understand now how a dog must feel seeing the person he appreciates the most leaving for something to buy. You know it might’ve been only 10 minutes but for it, it feels like one week. So, this week without our three boys felt like at least a month.
During this time two new volunteers arrived. Rocio from Spain, best compared to snow-white with her deep black hair and snowish bright skin and Anthi from Greece, easily to be detected by her hair which always is put up into a bun and with her perfect nails, which she knows how to do by herself by the way. The special thing is, that Anthi already knew how to speak polish, due to studies she completed here.
If you have been attentive you may have realized that we got three new volunteers in one week, two of them from Spain, one from Greece, making Spanish now the most spoken language in the group, though they always try to speak English if we are around. If you are together with so many different people from different countries each speaking another language you have to set up some rules for the social interaction. First of all, you have to find a lingua franca, helping you to make information and personal exchange possible, in that case English. Furthermore one should try to speak as less his own language as possible when others are around, nobody has problem, when you speak in your language if it is a conversation between you and the significant other, but if somebody would like to join, don’t exclude him from doing so.
The week drifted by, tough as an old piece of gum in your mouth. You chew and chew, but it is kind of tasteless and you want to spit it out, because something is missing. Though there is a little something which makes everything a little bit happier and we discovered that on Friday night for us. She calls herself “Partying” and always comes with her best friend “booze” aka “Alcohol”. On that evening we went out for the first time, entering a certain establishment which favors especially the equality of gay and lesbian people. Guess what we had a lot of fun in there. Gay clubs are something totally different, somehow everyone is totally accepted in there and none cares about you or who you’re kissing. All of the just want to have a good time and maybe meet somebody and that is what really fascinates me about those places. The LGBTQ+ community had to fight for a long time against homophobia and discrimination, even worse it still has to fight against it, making these places a safe piece of heaven for each person. In comparison to normal clubs which treated the community quite bad back in the days, Pride takes everyone as he is, celebrating life and diversity together and focusing on a with-each-other policy, instead of an exclusion of straight people for the things they’ve done or still are doing. At least that should be the intention.
The girls and me had an amazing time there until the moment a certain smell started to develop. Out of respect for maybe minor readers let me say that it smelled like a mixture of sweat and the male private parts, perfectly synonymized by Pia as the smell of Ketchup.
Leaving the club one of the most normal urges emerged in the girls, the need to pee, letting them wonder where to go in the center of Krakow, leading to the idea to just pee next to a car, resulting in a small cultural shock for me, the German.
Starting over. Closing a chapter of your life and beginning a new one.
When I applied for the ESC in Poland, I didn’t think I would get accepted. I applied mindlessly. Just because. I applied because the idea of the future was weighing on me and I wanted to show to myself that I was doing something about it. Also, because volunteering has been on my bucket list for a while. So, when I got the mail that I was accepted as a volunteer, I couldn’t believe it! I was beyond excited.
I have been living in Krakow for two months now and I already feel that this experience is going to be completely different from everything I’ve experienced before. At the end of the day, this is exactly what I was looking for: an adventure.
I landed in Krakow on the 1st of October. Sunny, warm weather and no clouds in the sky (only for the first hour, then it changed, as it is normal here). I was picked up from the airport by Anja, one of the coordinators. In the bus, from the airport to the main station, I could see multiple billboards, written in Polish (of course) and I quickly realized that I didn’t know the language, so it was like reading gibberish. It is pretty weird to move to a city where, when you go to a bar you don’t know what to order, because you simply have no idea what it’s written on the menu – though be sure that this is not going to be a problem anymore once you start learning Polish. Anja brought me to the apartment I am staying at and I met my flatmates. I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed by all the information I had acquired until that moment. My roommate told me she had cooked something for me and that made me feel welcomed. What a nice gesture for someone she doesn’t even know, I thought. She then told me the other volunteers were waiting for us in a bar and were curious to meet me. Though I was pretty tired, I decided to go because I was curious to meet them too. The meeting was pleasant, and I felt welcomed in the group. That evening, before going back home, I went grocery shopping and two volunteers were kind enough to come with me. In the grocery store not only, everything was written in polish but the prices were different because in Poland you pay with zlotys instead of euros. That was so confusing (and after two months it still kinda is) but I managed to buy the stuff I needed and took the bus home. When at the end of my first day in Krakow, I finally laid my head on the pillow, I was exhausted.
Starting over is hard. That’s why a lot of people like to stay in their bubble of comfort and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Though if you choose to get out of your comfort zone, you should be proud of yourself. In my opinion only like this, you are able to grow and get to know yourself better (besides other wonderful things such as: meeting people from all over the world, learn a new language, experience a new culture, become more independent etc.).
My first two months in Krakow were amazing, scary, exciting and confusing all at the same time and I couldn’t be happier with the way this experience is going. Surely, I am thrilled for the next months to come.