Thursday, August 18, 2016

MTV on the island of Tokushima

To start with a cliché,  has it really been just one week?  

Thanks to the amazing people I have met, there have been so many wonderful experiences and these unique insights into life in Japan are exactly why I wanted to spend so long volunteering in this fascinating country.  The landmarks of Hanna Road are slowly becoming more familiar, although I would be lost without Shinri-san, Yani and Natalia to guide me.  The blazing sunshine makes the water we supply even more essential and it is particularly rewarding to see a dusty corner return to life, such as the site of the recent car accident.  Hopefully we won’t see any more of those!

As we go around the city it is impossible to ignore the preparations for the festival and the sense of excitement is infectious.  Right now, I cannot imagine the one million visitors we will be welcoming and I know being involved will be both a privilege and a real highlight of my time here.

We have also been watching the teams practice, setting a very high standard for us to imitate as part of the international group joining the main parade on Sunday.  What an honour!  This also means we will soon be joined by another Workcamp, which will include two friends from the orientation weekend which seems so distant now.  It was sad to bid farewell to the other group, although they truly inspired me with their enthusiasm and dedication to mastering the Japanese language. 
My own attempts to improve have begun with three lesson at Topia. These classes have definitely stretched me, but my desire to communicate to the wonderful people around me is providing good motivation.

To me, this is also about learning more than just the language.  There is an entire culture to fathom out and I am extremely grateful to my patient guides.  Food is an endless voyage of discovery, not just because of all the new things I am trying, but I have quickly realised that our regular breakfast stop is the social hub of our little corner of Tokushima and I love meeting familiar faces there most mornings.

My taste buds have been left in no doubt about the quality of Japanese produce as our talented cooks create masterpieces that are breathtaking in both presentation and simplicity.  I think I will be on a constant mission in the UK to try and recreate my favourites.  Cooking itself is also great fun for me, whether it is watching experts at work, or frantically learning etiquette from the locals around me.  I just hope I don’t offend any of them with my frequent errors!

So, it is soon to be all hands to the deck for the festival ... and we can’t wait for the fun and games to begin.

Follow the rest of the adventures of Keira, our MTV volunteer in Japan, through her blog: 

NCS - unforgettable experience

Signing up to NCS was an easy decision. Having the reps talk to us in our school assembly I knew instantly that NCS was something I wanted to be involved in. 

I spent the first week in Devon getting to know my team while partaking in many different challenging outdoor activities. Week two brought us to Brighton university spending the time living together as a group and continuing to learn a range of unique and interesting skills.

Weeks three and four our groups worked on different community projects. Our group chose to concentrate on raising awareness for autism, supporting Resources for Autism.
Overall I felt that meeting new people was the best part of NCS. I have had a brilliant time and made some lifelong friends. It has helped me with my confidence and I have learnt many new skills.

NCS has been an unforgettable experience. Thank you.


See Wesley's experience from the first week of NCS with Concordia

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Volunteer abroad, discover new cultures

Below you can read a text from our international volunteer coordinator Francesco, a text that highlights the meeting of cultures, and why we should continue discover more. 

If you volunteer abroad you get to know about new cultures. But what does it really mean “learning about new cultures”? Is it about discovering different food, languages, art and music? Or is it more? Is it easy to get a real insight into another culture through volunteering?
Well, cultures are much more than what’s visible to the naked eye: using an analogy, what we can see about a culture is like the top of an iceberg, very small compared to what lies underneath and supports it. Below the surface there is a world of values that deeply shape everything that a culture is: concept of time, personal space, what is friendship, how direct can you be with someone, etc.
Not understanding the culture you are immersed in can be tough. When speaking to volunteers about to go on a project, “cultural shock” is always one of the things they are most worried about. To them, we say that volunteering will allow them to know the bottom of the iceberg, and although it can be difficult at times, it is definitely one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences that volunteering abroad can offer. Especially because our international partners, hosts and leaders know how to support volunteers during this process.
Volunteers approaching Concordia often don’t realise how much they benefit from it and come back to us with their eyes open to new perspectives and ways of seeing the world. And that is exactly why Concordia is so deeply involved in international volunteering.

If you want to read more about Intercultural Learning and “culture as an iceberg”, we would recommend that you have a look at this free online resource: Intercultural Learning T-Kit. Here is a quote taken from it: “Intercultural learning can be one tool in our efforts to understand the complexity of today’s world, by understanding others and ourselves a bit better. […]. Intercultural learning may enable us to better face the challenges of current realities. We can understand it as empowerment not just to cope personally with current developments, but to deal with the potential of change, which can have a positive and constructive impact in our societies. Our intercultural learning capacities  are needed now more than ever”.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Testimonio from a SVE in España

I first heard about European Voluntary Service during a Blablacar journey from Brest to Rennes in northern France.  

An excitable fellow passenger spent almost the entire 3 hour drive telling me all about her life changing experience she was having as a volunteer. I was astonished to learn that such an opportunity existed; even more so that I’d never heard of it! As soon as I got home from that journey I jumped straight on the computer, and typed in those three magic letters E V S. Little did I know, I too was about to embark on a life-changing journey….

Flash forward 6 months. After what seemed like an eternal flight from London, I arrive, dazed and confused at Madrid-Barajas airport. I walk through the sliding doors expecting to find my tutor Cristina, struggling to remember her face from the Skype interview we’d had months previously. After making eye contact for a couple of seconds too long with a few potential Cristinas, I give up and go outside to see how warm it is. ‘Hmmm I could get used to this!’ It crosses my mind to get practicing my Spanish straight away and ask someone “donde está Majadahonda?” just in case Cristina doesn’t show up. But how do I pronounce Majadahonda again? I decide to have another go at the arrival lounge.

 As I walk back towards the sliding doors, I notice out of the corner of my eye someone holding a card with a British flag printed on it and ‘Bienvenido Sam!” written above it. Ah that must be Cristina, but who’s this grinning blonde girl with her? Of course, it’s Greta my fellow volunteer from Lithuania. Immediately, my nerves disappear and we chat all the way to Majadahonda. On the way, I pluck up the courage to ask to Cristina to pronounce it as slowly as she can. Now I’ve got it!

Cristina takes us to our new apartment and we meet our housemates Martha and Juliet. Once the ‘besos’ and ‘encantados’ are out the way, Martha looks at me and says something very quickly in Spanish, everyone laughs… loudly. I join in pretending to understand the joke. Greta and I exchange a look of bemusement and then the tour of the flat begins. I think I got away with it this time but I it makes me realise that my Spanish is going to need some serious work.

The following day it was time to meet the rest of the team at the youth centre. We were greeted with beaming smiles and warm embraces and given a tour of the building. Though making small talk in Spanish was a challenge, whatever lingering anxiety was quickly extinguished and I knew then that this was going to be a great year.

The first few months of the project flew by as Greta and I settled in nicely. From making new friends from across Europe at the on-arrival training to starting our intensive Spanish course, from exploring Madrid at the weekends to getting to know our students at the English conversation workshops, our full-on schedule kept us incredibly busy. Before we knew it, it was Christmas and a chance to reflect on everything we’d learnt so far.

I went back home to the UK and bored my family and friends with perhaps too much detail of my time thus far in Spain. I realised that despite a few minor imperfections, the experience I was having was an incredible opportunity to learn many new skills and to grow as a person. Though it was hard to say goodbye once again to friends and family, I was eager to get back to Spain.

The second half of the project seemed to go by even quicker than the first. Though our Spanish course came to an end I was gaining more and more confidence speaking this wonderful language. We started with the English Book Club in January which turned out to be a great addition to the project, a chance to make new friends and of course to read some brilliant books.

Arriving back in Majadahonda from a weekend trip to France in March, I realised that I was starting to feel very much at home here. Our conversation workshops were improving week on week, I was meeting loads of new people, my Spanish was coming on leaps and bounds and after a long, wet winter (by Madrid standards!) the sun was starting to shine again. In just a few short months the whole thing would sadly be coming to an end.

It is only now, with the project drawing to a close, that I am starting to appreciate the excitement and passion of the girl who introduced me to EVS during that fateful Blablacar journey back in France a year and a half ago. it is starting to sink in just how much I have learnt this year. From simple Spanish slang words like ‘chungo’, ‘majo’ and ‘molar’ to using video editing software, from running a book club to learning all about how EVS works, from writing a newsletter of international opportunities to improving my confidence in public speaking, the list goes on and on.

Sam Bartrop
European Volunteer Service 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Versteck in the south of Germany

A photo of me in my medieval costume with one of the local children. Behind us is the view from the top of the 13th century tower where the play scheme was based.

In the beautiful surroundings of southern Germany I was able to do two things I love: speak German and work with children. For anyone interested in practising their language skills, I can definitely recommend volunteering at a children’s camp or play scheme. The children were all very forgiving of my many grammar mistakes and willingly involved me in their games. The forest in which the holiday club took place lent itself perfectly to hours of “Versteck” (hide and seek), interspersed with art and crafts. All the volunteers dressed up in costumes to go with the medieval theme of the holiday club, which inspired the children to create their own gowns and armour. A group of small girls transformed me into their fashion doll and added to my costume daily – finally resulting in a head scarf, veil, apron, 2 cloaks and small bag round my waste, in which we put ‘precious’ stones and jewellery. I loved being greeted by a shriek of “Jennyyyyyyyy!” every morning, and soon forgot the challenges of speaking a foreign language with the fun of being with children out-of-doors every day.

Outside of the play scheme, which lasted until 2pm each day, we were able to explore the surrounding area and visit the local museums and tourist attractions. The international volunteers stayed together in a youth hostel and we cooked for ourselves, often attempting to recreate typical dishes from our home countries. It was fascinating to learn about other cultures and taste their cuisine, and especially exciting to get to know people my age from all over the world. A highlight was probably the many evenings of card games and the fun we had trying to create little Russian felt boots, which the two Russian volunteers kindly but despairingly tried to teach us! I was also taken aback by the level of gratitude which the locals showed to us as volunteers, and we were frequently given free fruit from the market and on one occasion two large bags filled with bread from the local bakery. This interaction with other volunteers and with people from the area has not only boosted my confidence in speaking German, but has also made me more confident when meeting new people in general – which was perfect preparation for the first few weeks at university.

I would recommend this experience to anyone. Thank you, Concordia, for making it possible!