Having spent twelve months with JCV, to reflect on and write about it all and the impact it has had on me after just two weeks back in the UK seems a bit imbalanced, but I’m going to give it a go.
When I arrived on a rainy day at the end of March 2016, a rain so incessantly hard that it completely captured my attention with its force, I had no idea what I really had in store. At that point I barely knew or understand what EVS was, just that I would be participating in this programme for twelve months with the Youth Red Cross in Braga, Portugal and that I would be carrying out some tasks for them. As I settled into the role and time passed, I quickly began to understand what EVS is and what it has to offer. I am sure it is different for every individual and varies between organisations, but to me, EVS is the opportunity to contribute towards society, whilst also embarking on your own path of learning and discovery. It is the opportunity to help others, meet new people and broaden your horizons. The chance to experience another culture and learn another language, all while enforcing positive change through your role as a volunteer. You don’t necessarily know what direction your EVS will take, or how it will turn out when you arrive, but opening yourself up to all these changes, trying new things, and always being willing to get involved in whatever may be thrown at you will certainly set you on the right path.
Spending a year with JCV as a volunteer was a hugely rewarding one. It gave me the space to grow and develop with lots of people there always willing to help me on the way. I developed new skills and strengthened current ones in ways that I found both rewarding and interesting. It was a safe environment where I could express my ideas and emotions without fear of ridicule. Everyone was welcoming and enthusiastic about hearing how we could all make a positive impact on the organisation. To be presented with so many opportunities to grow and experience new things was something I could not have anticipated and certainly has helped me to become a better person. In turn, I hope through my work I made a positive contribution to JCV, enriching the work done there. JCV was a place where I could paint the canvas of my EVS as I saw fit and how I wanted; I can’t imagine many other organisations giving their volunteers the freedom and trust that was placed in us.
The right person on an EVS with JCV, will of course want to succeed and do well, but it is a safe environment to try things that may take time or may not work at all. As a result, I tried a couple of things that didn’t work out, but I was also able to achieve a lot of great things over the course of my EVS, and not all of those achievements were things I already knew how to do. I think if I had to list three things I was particularly proud of achieving during my EVS, I would firstly have to start with the youth exchange application. A lot of effort went into it, so to complete the application and for it to score well and be approved was a really satisfying moment for me and everyone else involved and I look forward to hearing how the implementation goes later this year. Secondly, I think I would have to say the book accompanying the #equê?! campaign because this has involved me learning how to use lots of new bits of software. Finally, my third achievement would be how well I have done learning the Portuguese language. JCV was really supportive of our efforts to grasp a difficult language and having never learnt another before, to come away with formal qualifications was hugely rewarding.
Of course, as well as my volunteer role, moving to Portugal allowed me to experience another country intimately, immerse myself in another culture, another way of life, learn another language. I have said it on a couple of occasions before, but it is still very apt to say, that despite having many friends who had moved to other countries to do different things, never did I expect I would end up doing something similar. That’s why, to this day, I still surprise myself and can’t quite believe it when I say I lived in Portugal for a year. Everything the country had to offer was astounding, from the big grand events such as São João, to smaller things such as the scenery and plenty of sunshine. The food was also something else. It was mentioned to me a few times that Portugal doesn’t seem to realise sometimes just how good some of it food is; I’m certainly going to miss francesinhas and natas. Portugal as a country was incredible and I look forward to returning in the future.
I would like to say a few public thank-yous before I bring my final blog to a close. Firstly, to Alifya, Deni, and Carlotta, my fellow EVS volunteers. I am grateful to you all for being part of my experience and, at the end of the day, for putting up with me for a whole year. We had no control over being put together but we seemed to find a really good balance and cohesion, and I think that helped make everything a bit easier and enabled us all to complete the things we wanted to get done. Also to everyone I worked with at JCV, both full-time employees and volunteers, for helping to enrich my EVS and providing support and ideas throughout the course of my year. Finally, I would like to thank Cintia, our coordinator. To start with, it goes without saying, thanks for picking me! If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have even been there! Moreover, in all seriousness, thanks for helping us every step of the way, from picking me up from the bus station to dropping me off again one year later. You were patient with me and I think that really helped me to find my feet.
Participating in EVS and working as an international youth volunteer with JCV, has provided an added dimension to my education, something I don’t think everyone will get to experience, and for that I am extremely grateful. My year in Portugal has resulted in me becoming more confident, patient, and aware, a more well-rounded individual with a greater perspective on life, what it has to offer, and what we as people can take from it. I am excited and eager to begin future challenges, whatever they may be, and to implement everything I have learned, gained and cherish as a result of my EVS experience, in them as it will all help me to succeed and flourish.