Erasmus + and European Solidarity Corps (ESC) projects are such a good opportunity for young people and, unfortunately, sometimes unknown for them. In my case, the first time I heard about these projects was in my university in my hometown, La Laguna, Tenerife. In 2012, during the last year of my studies, I went to study in Łódź, Poland, for six months. It was such an amazing experience that now, eight years after that, I decided to make something bigger and I came to Kazanlak, Bulgaria, as a volunteer, under the European Solidarity Corps project, this time for 10 months. This has been possible thanks to my sending organization, Fifede Tenerife, and, of course, to my hosting organization here, Youth Development Center – Mutual Aid (МЦР-Взаимопомощ).
Both experiences, that one in Poland and the current one in Bulgaria, have definitely made a huge impact on my life. It’s even difficult to explain because it’s something that you have to experience yourself. First of all, it means to go out of the famous ‘comfort zone’. It doesn’t mean only to go out of your cosy house in your hometown, but also to be separate from your family, your friends, the faces you used to see every morning in your neighbourhood, the food you were used to eating… In general, you have to change your lifestyle. At the beginning, it’s hard, but once you get over it, it’s simply liberating. Now I really feel like I’m ready for whatever it comes, I feel capable of doing anything, both in the professional field and in the most important, the personal.
Of course, the other positive thing that you take with you after these kinds of experiences are the people. I have met (and I continue meeting) so many good and interesting people from all over the world… Learning how to live and work in a multicultural environment is, for sure, something that will be useful for your entire life. And another important aspect is that you really understand what communication means. Doesn’t matter the level of English (or other languages) that you or the others have, if at the end you are able to communicate and express yourself. That’s just amazing.
And last but not least, another of the great benefits of these projects is that they allow you to travel and get to know many places in an easy and cheap way, especially for people like me that comes from an island and it’s more difficult to travel. Also, you meet so many people from so many places that you can always find a place to sleep almost all over the world.
Like me, some of my friends from Tenerife have had similar experiences. That is why I have asked them about them and I have collected here their opinions::
Rafael Ramirez, age 28. Erasmus student in Caen, France, during the academic year 2015-2016:
My experience was very positive. Since I got the scholarship, everything was easy, they gave me a place in a university dormitory and I was able to do the pedagogical registration without almost any problem. Then the validation of the studies was another story. The best thing I remember was all those people I met who were in the same situation as me. Also the security I gained in the language, the things I discovered about the region (Normandy is not just landing) and my first experience in the field of education, thanks to the “speak 14” program, which as a native gave me the opportunity to work in a college and teach Spanish for 6 hours a week to students of 1st, 2nd and 3rd level of High Education. My experience was so positive that after 4 years or so I am still here, preparing the positions in France to be a full-time teacher of national public education.
Álvaro Sánchez, age 27. ESC project in Sri Lanka in 2016:
My experience didn’t only mean a plus for my career, but it made me change my way of seeing the world completely. Obviously, in the labour market, it is very surprising that a person as young as me has dedicated 6 months of his life to volunteer in Sri Lanka, and more so in the harsh conditions in which my experience developed. Nowadays, when I’m doing a job interview, they tend to notice a lot of the transversal skills that I acquired in the EVS and the professional competencies that I developed. On the other hand, as a life experience, it was a before and after. It meant understanding that the world works at more than one speed and that the dynamics that I could have learned, had to be unlearned to generate new dynamics of applicability in a new environment. Something like “unlearn what you have learned”. In addition, the use of other ways of communicating, not just verbal, gave me to understand that the human being has enough skills so that once outside the comfort zone, they work easily. Without a doubt, an ESC is an experience that anyone should do. It should be almost mandatory to participate in one of the Erasmus + programs, because it gives you an experience that will be useful for you for a lifetime.
Mónica Díaz, age 27. Erasmus student in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2017:
For me it was the first time that I lived outside of Tenerife, so it meant to stand up for myself. It also meant meeting other people, other cultures, and knowing a part of myself that I didn’t know before. I learned to live with other people and I discovered many new places, since it was easier to travel from there than traveling from the island. I also greatly improved my language and professional skills. In short, it was an incredible experience.
Laura Zamorano, age 28. Erasmus + internship in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 2019:
My experience, although it was short, was intense. It was the first time that I ran away from everything alone, and breaking up with everything was a big challenge. At the beginning it was difficult, but once I got adapted, I began to see positive things where at first I didn’t. I changed a lot on a personal level, I began to value things that I had at home and I threw away others. Before that I didn’t see myself anywhere alone and now I am the first who wants to leave. I learned a lot also on a professional level, since I discovered different cultures and different ways of life. In short, everything changed. It begins with fear but in the end you are able to take all the positive things and to grow up.
Andrea Sosa, age 28. Erasmus + internship in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 2019:
For me, the positive aspects were to go alone to a totally different country, meeting new people and discovering the traditions of other cultures, especially because I was in a small town with remarkable customs. It was an awesome experience that made me grow up a lot. I went alone, without a mentor, because there was a problem, but they solved it immediately. The opportunity also allowed me to travel and to discover the surroundings. On a professional level, the internship helped me a lot to see the difference in the social sphere in Spain and in Lithuania, specifically in caring for people with disabilities (my field). I was able to learn how the social context affects the conditions of that collective. I also improved my English and regarding the lithuanian, the language barrier was a challenge, but in the end I learned to communicate. In short, the experience helps you to grow, to be stronger and also to value what you have at home. Difficulties can arise but you learn to overcome them and in the end everything is positive.