What are the European Solidarity Corps projects and why did I decide to volunteer in France?

Nowadays there’re lots of possibilities to discover Europe by participating in different types of projects and initiatives. European Solidarity Corps is an EU mobility which was created in order to improve people’s competencies thanks to informal education. It gives a chance to young people age from 18 to 30 years old to acquire new experience, live in a new country and look at life from a different perspective.

The projects can vary depending on their type. Participants can volunteer on the topics of education, social inclusion, environment, culture, refugee crisis, etc. Volunteering usually lasts between 2 and 12 months and lets young people engage in the daily work of the organization of their choice. The costs of accommodation and food are covered. Also, participants receive a small allowance for personal expenses. Thus, it is possible to acquire new experiences with a small budget.

I decided to change the environment I live in and engage myself in the ESC mobility project for a couple of reasons. After finishing my studies, I worked in a corporation in Krakow in Poland and then in a small company in Lviv, Ukraine. I did my bachelor’s studies in the field of international relations and my master’s in Economics. After finishing my university and working for almost a year at a couple of companies I still wasn’t sure if I am on the right path. I realized that working in corporations is something distinct from what I expected, so, I decided to look for the possibilities to volunteer abroad and refresh my thoughts about career, studies and work. Before, I have volunteered at similar short-term projects in Brazil, Morocco and Italy and know that this kind of change gives a lot of impressions and inspiration. This time, the mobility lasts 10 months and I have a possibility to immerse myself in the society I live in more deeply and get involved in the project at a different level.

The school I volunteer in is called “MFR Bournezeau”. It’s a type of educational establishment (half lycée and half collège) where students make an apprenticeship in horse riding and grooming. After finishing the studies and passing the “bac” in “MFR Bournezeau” the students either continue to study at school or start working with horses on a professional basis. People here are in love with horses! You can notice it everywhere: from the photos on the corridor walls and horse’s grooming journals to the big statue of a horse at the main entrance. If you ask the students what their favorite kind of sport is, they will certainly respond “horse riding”.

One of the days I was able to go on a horse competition with students, Marilyn and Jean-Philipe, the teachers from the school. While my role was rather observative, the students had important tasks to fulfill. The competition was composed of three rounds (tests): dressage, jumping and cross-country riding. As far as I have never been to horse competitions before, it was quite entertaining to me to find out the way it works, and, Marilyn, as well as Jean-Philipe, had kindly agreed to explain the specifics.

So, I found out that during the dressage the riders had to perform a series of figures memorized in advance, in front of judges. What comes to jumping, it was held over a raw of double, triple or other combination of obstacles, including many changes of direction, in a timely manner. Cross-country riding includes overcoming lots of obstacles to measure speed, endurance and jumping ability of a horse as well as the rider’s knowledge of pace and the use of the horse across the territory. It’s where the students had tasks to fulfill.

A couple of students had to stand near each of the obstacles to observe a rider and report by talkie walkie whether the riders had successfully jumped over an obstacle or not. Even though it may seem like an easy task, it was quite demanding to stand in the heat all day long and pay attention to more than 100 participants. The students did their job well and by the end of the day, they were totally exhausted. Nevertheless, they learned the way horse trials are organized and were able to join the competition from the inside perspective. I believe that this kind of education brings them lots of benefits and that they enjoyed it too. What comes to my side, I found out that organizing a horse competition is not an easy task to do. It’s very educative that European Solidarity Corps projects open a gate to informal learning that allows discovering things we never expect to see in our everyday life.

After finishing my European Solidarity Corps experience in France, I plan to do my second master’s degree in International relations and start working in NGOs. Those are usually non-governmental and non-profit organizations aimed at overcoming different barriers on the way to sustainable development and growth. NGOs enable citizens to work on specific complex topics and thereby contribute to certain society development. The types of NGO’s are different: from the big ones like UNICEF, UN, and UNESCO that take care of global international problems to the small ones, like “Maison des Citoyens du Monde” in La Roche-sur-Yon, which promotes citizenship, participation and help expats to integrate at a local level.

As many people of my age, I don’t know what my life is going to be like in 10, 5 or even 2 years. The contemporary conditions are quite unexpected and sometimes it’s impossible to plan or predict anything. Nevertheless, I would like to participate in as many different programs as possible, take my second master’s degree and come back to Lviv, Ukraine. Of course, my plans may change as life is full of surprises, but at the moment, I’m glad about being able to benefit from the project I am on. Acquiring new competencies and skills, exploring a new country and meeting interesting people is something I decided to change my comfort zone for. I Hope, my project will go well, and I will be able to integrate with students more and more. 🙂

Oksana Zokhniuk, 23 y.o, Ukraine

Poland on my mind – Back to the country

Have you ever thought about volunteering? Have you ever seen yourself as a volunteer in a foreign country with different people and culture? Maybe yes, or not. But being a volunteer is an opportunity to help others, to use your knowledge and experiences for involving in activities which give you pleasure.

4 years ago, I came to Poland for studying, and I discovered beautiful people, delicious food and impressive culture. Watching beautiful buildings, exploring the old towns in different Polish cities and eating Pierogi and Zurek inspired me to come here again.

On the 15th of September 2020, I saw a post on Facebook about a Polish organization who was looking for a volunteer from Georgia and I immediately applied for it, because I realized that it was a chance for me to come here again and to do the job which gives me pleasure and to get new experiences from a new organization. After applying an application, I had a skype interview with a representative of the organization and they, fortunately, accepted to my application. Leaving everything and becoming a volunteer is not easy – especially if you have an active life, but when you want to improve your skills, meet new people and help others, it is a good opportunity to go abroad and spend your several months with different people, where you will be able to discover a new culture and get new experiences. Now, I am here in Krakow and work at NGO Internationaler Bund Polska. I involve in their various activities and trying to help them. I also improve my skills with the Polish language, moreover, I have already met other volunteers from across the world – Spain, Italy, France, Turkey and so on.

I became a volunteer trough European Solidary Corps – the project is created and financed by the EU and it aims to foster solidarity in European society, engaging young people and organizations in accessible and high-quality solidarity activities. It offers young people volunteering activities, traineeships or jobs, or run their own projects.

I encourage you to apply and become a volunteer because it will open a door for new adventures in a different country. I know I am a little biased, but if you choose Poland for your destination country, you will not regret it later, because you will have amazing people, culture, food, landscapes and opportunities to travel in the EU countries with convenient prices.

Become a volunteer – let’s exchange our knowledge and help each other… 😉