I’m Yulia, I’m from Moscow (Russia). I am currently 28 years old. I started looking for EVS projects 2 years ago which was the time that It took me to find a good project. My job is usually volunteer exchange coordinator in an NGO based in my city.
Why did you decided to participate on an EVS project?
Because I wanted to have this experience in my life. I started working in an NGO 4 years ago and during my period there I used to deal with similar projects, coordination of voluntary exchanges. Actually I heard about it while I was active in my organisation as a volunteer. And for sure, I heard It´s a unique experience. This kind of opportunities are not that common into our countries as they might be in UK because in this country there are much more available schemes for getting experience abroad, but coming from Russia due to the Visa issues and other mobility regulations, is not so easy. In the meanwhile, while I was working in my organisation and getting some feedback from other people I realised projects are very different. For instance, for some of them, you might travel a lot as part of your volunteering duties; and some of them you might be supporting the office. So I kept in mind that I needed to find a possibility to do it in my life before I’m 30, but I wanted to find a really good quality project which also fits my needs.
As you were dealing with volunteering and EVS, were you surprised when you experienced by yourself?
Actually, I have a funny anecdote. I was in contact with a colleague from another organisation, when she heard I was doing EVS the first thing she asked me was: How is for an EVS coordinator going to be EVS yourself? And at that time, I just arrived to Scotland, I was surprised by this question. What is especial there? OK, I am EVS coordinator but that doesn´t make me an especial person, why is she making me this question? And then I realised why: it´s because you know the inner things, you know how it works from a local level to an institutional level. So you start to think and reflect about how it is organised. It has a really positive side because as coordinator this is an opportunity to have a better picture of the entire process and better understand struggles of volunteers during the project. On the other hand, sometimes it creates situations where I might be exaggerating my frustrations with some problems. It is a quite interesting position.
Back to the question, what I didn´t expect that the integration process would be complicated. It´s my first time living abroad for a long period but I used to travel a lot. I was travelling for different purposes on different countries like travelling with friends, for meetings, for seminars, for international voluntary projects… So I thought for me it was going to be easy. It was not, for sure. It´s not that it was extremely complicated to integrate but it became really frustrating sometimes. I had the feeling I would never be able to integrate in this place. Like I would always be like a weirdo.
What are the main differences between Russian and UK culture?
Surprisingly I found many similarities. I thought I would be very different but actually we have many things in common. Maybe it´s because of the weather. For instance, in the food we eat similar. We don´t eat so many fruits and vegetables as other Europeans. I can survive on fish and chips for a long time! Also we are similar in personality aspects, people can look cold even they are friendly and it´s the same with Russians, we are very friendly but we can look very cold and sometimes be wrongly perceived as rude. The differences that I have found are, for example, how they live. Because in Russia many families still in communal flats, many people in small flat. Many people do it also because they don´t have money to buy their own flat. People in here have a lot of private space, even people with not so many resources. Most of the buildings here are built differently, with high ceiling, big rooms, etc.
The older people also live different lifestyle. I am still impressed that you could go on Sundays to the streets and see older people in pubs drinking beer. Using those city spaces as social spaces, watching sports and sharing. In Russia they would do the same but at someone’s home or in summer houses called “Dacha”.
EVS allows you to adapt tasks according to your skills, so it did really depended on me. I was supporting some administrative part of the volunteers coordination and development work of the organisation. I am happy I was also involved in two applications writing and it helped me professionally to reflect and have a better vision because I could see how Erasmus+ programme countries do it – a new angle for me. On the other hand, my initial project on qualifications got stuck but I still have learned a lot about it which might be useful in the future. I have also done trainings and grassroots projects like Active Citizens. I had an opportunity to be one of the facilitators of this programme with very experienced people. It was very new to facilitate a group of people in an English speaker country at a national level. I had a feeling that I need to be extremely focused with my English and be more accurate with it.
Also, a remarkable part for me here was a set of bureaucratic issues before the project and upon arrival: for instance, as Russian citizen I didn’t manage to open a bank account here in UK, also visa costs appeared to be very big.
In a personal level, what have you achieved over the year?
More confidence. Even though there is still a lot of gaps but yes, personally and professionally I feel more confident than before. From speaking to people to delivering trainings I trust myself more and I feel I can accept things as they are without anxiety. Also, to prioritize tasks.
Would you recommend this opportunity to other people? Which advice would you give?
It´s interesting because before I would have recommended EVS as a gap year, to develop yourself. I realised that EVS is not for everyone, people might not be ready for this. This experience could be a struggle and that is part of the experience. Now I am more careful to give an advice about EVS. Still, I consider everyone should do it, it´s perfect for taking a gap year, also to those who want to experience living abroad, I believe age really doesn´t matter but I think maturity it´s important. You should be about why do you want to do it. Also, choose a proper project because they can be very diverse. Never choose just the country, otherwise you will be frustrated.