iHigher – Ilze Exploring Balkans

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This is Ilze here. As you know I am a volunteer from Latvia at Smokinya foundation and I have spent here, in Sofia, 10 months already. Probably you have read what my project partner/friend/colleague Carmen told you about how she has been during these months since January when we last updated you on what’s happening with our lives in Sofia. And so many things have happened.

So, as she has already told – we both were really busy for a few months – Smokinya busy with partners and projects, team was growing, we were having a few local volunteers for some time, fresh ideas, new starts.

But what happened with me? – Personally, I realized that I am starting to feel down and not happy in Sofia most of the time, so I decided that this needs to be changed. I started to exercise, eat more healthy, I even tried out 1 month sugar-free challenge to see what is going to happen with me. It turned out really well, I started to feel so much better and it gave me power to continue.

In March I did a lot of traveling and meeting new people. At first I and Carmen went to mid-term volunteer training. It was more chill then on-arrival training, but I gained so much from it – meeting old friends, making new ones, getting inspired from others and sharing experiences that I gained during 6 months, and, of course, asking for advice. This training was a break-point in my year here, because I came in the first place to Bulgaria was – I didn’t know what to study, so I took a gap year. But in the last session of the training, which is – life after EVS, I decided that I don’t want to continue being lost, I want to study. It was a big breaking point for me.

Besides Smokinya work, I went to Greece, Thessaloniki by hitchhiking for the first time, which was a chill but really nice trip after which I decided that the weather and my willingness is telling me – it’s time to start traveling, hiking more often, because I started to get tired from Sofia and it is always nice to visit new places.

Then came a really big and interesting period of my volunteering. I went to Brussels for European Solidarity Corps Peer Kick-Off meeting. There I met 20 new people between the ages of 18 and 30 from 12 EU states, who were involved in the program were motivated and passionate to make a network which would connect people who want to join, are currently doing and have done programs within ESC frame. So, I spent 4 days in Brussels, with professionals from Europen Commission and they gave us free space to brainstorm our ideas and our “little baby” – network, was unofficially born that week. I went to Brussels again – this time for Youth Week to present ESC Peer Network idea. I was invited to speak in press conference, which was a big honor for me.

When I came back – 2 of our new offLINE volunteers arrived – 2 girls from Latvia. For me it was challenging and hard at first, because meanwhile we were organising a big event, our coordinator was not in Sofia, I and Carmen were coordinating new volunteers by ourselves. Our flat was filled with Latvians – it was hard to understand how we – people with the same habits are going to live together since I and Carmen had already got used to each other, my mental health was not in the best shape and everything that was happening that time for me was a big challenge. Also, my dearest, best friends, were leaving Bulgaria, which was also really sad. In June volunteer from Hungary joined us and even if sometimes it is challenging for all of us to work together, I am happy that our team is the way it is and I wouldn’t change it.

But I got through that. I decided that I need a break from Smokinya work and I took 10 days off to go for a trip by hitchhiking to Balkans with my volunteer friend. We visited Macedonia, Albania and a bit of Kosova. It was kind of crazy and fast trip, the weather was betraying us, but somehow we survived.
Afterwards as a team member I joined the very first project that Smokinya Foundation was hosting – EntrepreneurLAB. Since it was my first experience in ERASMUS+ training ever, I learned so much during 10 days – from trainers, my team, participants and developed my photography skills. I feel like this was one of the most important experiences I have been involved in during this volunteering, because for the first time I actually saw what is happening in trainings that we have been sending people from Bulgaria to Europe the whole time.

I recently returned from a little trip from Greece, but it was a big deal, because for the first time ever I was hitchhiking alone. It was crazy and awesome at the same time. I came to the conclusion that perhaps, this kind of traveling is not meant for me, but I’ll see how it goes.

Finally, it is already July here, and I am leaving so soon… It is a bit sad, but there are still things that I want to do in Smokinya and Bulgaria. I will tell you in the end of the August, how the experience was for me…

Stay tuned and enjoy summer!


Find us also at:

https://vimeo.com/smokinya
https://www.facebook.com/smokinyafoundation/
https://www.instagram.com/smokinya_foundation/
https://www.linkedin.com/company/smokinya-foundation
https://www.facebook.com/groups/synergynetworkinbulgaria/

This program is co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme to support education, training, youth and sport in the European Union.

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iHigher – Ilze Exploring Balkans
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