EcoYouth! – Six months as a Brit in Romania with the European Solidarity Corps
When I tell people that I will be spending six months volunteering in a small town in Romania, it is fair to say most are shocked; between Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the rest of Europe has never felt so far away! Yet at time of writing, I am less than a week away from leaving my home near Cambridge in the UK to relocate to Băilești, Romania as a volunteer with the European Solidarity Corps. As part of a group drawn from across the EU and other partner countries, I will be part of the ‘EcoYouth’ project team volunteering with the organisation Asociatia Comunitati pentru Tineret (ACT).
You might be asking ‘what is the European Solidarity Corps?’ as it’s not something we hear much about in the UK. ESC is part of the EU Erasmus+ initiative, where participants take part in long term volunteering activities aiming to make societal changes and foster solidarity. All costs of participating are covered by the European Commission, including accommodation, basic costs, travel expenses, and an allowance for food and exploring the host country. Each ESC volunteer is also provided with a host and a supporting organisation for the duration of their project.
Looking for an adventure after graduating recently, I chose to apply for the EcoYouth project out of the many advertised on the ESC website because of the focus on raising environmental awareness amongst high school students and creating community projects advocating environmental protection. There is little doubt climate change is one of the biggest issues of our generation, and it is up to all of us to make sustainable changes to our lifestyles and in our communities. Therefore, I’m hoping the EcoYouth project will ultimately inspire the students to take charge in implementing recycling and environment-based projects. Similarity, I believe showing the opportunities for volunteering across Europe to develop skills and develop friendships is equally important; the EcoYouth team aside from myself also has members from France, Spain and Denmark.
Hopefully our project will inspire the students to act and become community environmental activists, yet the students will not be the only ones receiving training! Alongside weekly meetings with my mentor, I’m looking forward to training sessions with the Romanian Erasmus+ National Agency where I will meet all the ESC volunteers throughout Romania. As someone who has just left higher education, I believe this opportunity is extremely useful in aiding the transition between classroom and the workplace. On top of this, I have already started with twice weekly Romanian lessons which I am loving so far — Romanian is a Romance language like French and Italian, so I recognise certain words even from my rudimentary high school language classes!
I won’t deny I’m a little nervous! I’ve never been to Romania before and didn’t know much about the country before applying. However, that is one of the key reasons I decided to take part in ESC; the opportunity to push myself outside of my comfort zone and experience life in a different culture and community. Both my host organisation (ACT) and my supporting organisation (IARS) I can honestly say have been fantastic and have supported me every step of the way through organising flights, providing pre-departure training, and helping me apply for a visa. I’ve met my fellow team members via WhatsApp and am very excited to meet them in person!
Now more than ever I believe it is important that Brits make the most of opportunities to volunteer abroad and expand their horizons. British applicants can still apply for European Solidarity Corps projects bid for before the end of the Brexit transition period, meaning that there are many projects starting in 2021 to apply for. I hope to keep you updated on my progress over the coming months, but I would recommend checking out the European Solidarity Corps website at https://europa.eu/youth/solidarity_en . Whatever your interests, there is likely a project that will appeal to you! Until then, la revedere!
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