24-year-old Kristaps recently returned to Riga, after having spent one year in the capital of Sweden, working as an EVS volunteer for the NGO “NORDGU”. Biedrība “homo ecos:” acted as Kristaps’ sending organisation. This is his story:
My European Voluntary Service has been over for almost more than a month, although sometimes it still feels that I am there because some things still need to be finished. Honestly I have no idea where to begin and where to end this story, it is almost impossible to put all the thoughts together after a year. It could have been useful to keep a diary, I know that quite a lot of people have done that, but I have never been good at that.
In a year’s time, everything changes, each of us changes, people around us change and the whole environment changes. But when you are abroad it feels like everything changes even faster. At the end of my EVS I was happy to have had this experience. It was a very challenging year, but at the same time it totally changed me and I did gain quite a lot of lessons for my life.
About my project
I spent my EVS year in Stockholm, Sweden. It seems quite close to home, but it is a country with a totally different culture and people in my opinion.
During the year I worked as a project manager in a youth organization called NORDGU that works with Scandinavian countries. Although most of the working time was for a European youth organization called “Active – sobriety, friendship and peace”. Both the organizations work and are located in the same office. I will not go into details how I ended up there, but the short version is – I went to a few of their seminars, met some nice people, got interested a bit more, represented Active in various activities throughout Europe, worked on a year-long work plan to create a training course for young people and finally ended up doing my EVS in the office.
A lot of things happening during the year and there were really a lot of things to do. That is why it was an EVS position as a project manager – it was as if I was be working full time. There were a lot of different tasks, from managing the office stuff and social media, to planning, writing, leading and reporting on the various projects that Active is doing. Within the year I was leading and assisting in five long term project implementations. Opening application calls, buying tickets, booking hotels and conference rooms that was just a small part of the logistics done within the year.
Different exchanges, different people
I could never say that there was one exchange that I liked the most, because I have been doing them for five years now and each of them gave a totally different feedback. It is the team you work with, the people you meet and the environment you build for the week – and every time it is something unique.
My biggest challenge was and still is the Human Rights Generation project. It has received great results only because of the fact that I had a strong team besides me. Starting with a training course in Berlin, to participants working back home and leading up to our second meeting in Romania, it was all possible due to the fact that there was my team I could count on.
The Human Rights Generation project was built to make people engaged in the topic of human rights within many countries and to address this topic in a more creative way. It is a project that Active already had for a longer time, but last year we received the finances to build the year long project. As an inspiration we took Humans of New York project and we wanted to build something similar within our project. In March we made a training course in Berlin where – with the help of experts and organizing non-formal education lectures – we gave our participants the basic knowledge of human rights, social activism and documentary photography. Their task was to search for various human rights stories back home and we tried a trial run in Berlin as well. It was not focused that they should have found the most painful story, but we wanted to show the diversity of challenges that people face in different countries these days. There were really a lot of things that were done in the year. Between all the office work there were meetings with member organizations, assisting the summer camp organization and doing many other things. It was a run through the year and only in August I realized that my year has ended.
Life in Sweden
When it comes to the Swedish culture it was something interesting to see, live in and to think about. At some moments I had a small feeling that sometimes they are afraid to love and respect their culture and heritage, but I will not go much in detail about it.
The architecture in Stockholm was truly amazing, especially in the old city where it has been preserved beautifully. Sometimes I just went for walks without setting a destination, to get lost a bit in the city and see it from different perspectives. It came in handy when you had some guests visiting, because then you could take them away from the main tourist streets and show some hidden magic of Stockholm. I was happy to have some friends living there who showed me even more.
Once I went outside within the Stockholm county with a friend to search for some lost runes. We did not find them, but it was so great to see a deep country side so close to the city. We even ended up in a National Reserve park just by accident. Sweden should definitely be a country to visit, to see the cities, wait for the public transport in an orderly manner and enjoy the nature and to get lost in it all a bit.
When it comes to the language, it was a bit of a challenge, but at the end of my EVS I actually started to realize bit by bit more of it. Knowing some basics in German helped out a lot.
The one thing that felt very interesting, but I appreciated it, was the fact that they have quite a big personal space around them. It did not work so well in public transport, but overall it felt good that you are left alone. I have nothing against socializing, but It is great to have your own space. A friend of mine told me that at some moment I started to look more like a Swedish person living in Stockholm and I kinda felt if I would stay there to live I could quite soon integrate even more.
Should you do an EVS? There is no question about it!
Each international experience that you can have you should take. It is a great experience and you can only get more from it. No matter how hard it can be at some points, in the end it builds you as a stronger person.
The only thing I could suggest is to do a research and know what you are getting into. Check the organizations, get some feedback, talk with people who have worked there in the past and in reality be ready for anything. Just remember that EVS should not be full time work, it should be an adventure. It is a once in a life time experience and from it you should move on forward.