European Voluntary Service*, is a perfect opportunity to change and to see things from a different perspective. This is not a fancy office job where you work for money, this is a place to find what is driving you beyond money, beyond everything, what is your dream job that you want to do in your “free” time? This is what I found, and not only I, but also my fellow EVSers found their paths and it was so beautiful to see. Everything is possible. Here is my story of what I experienced and learned in one year of being an EVS volunteer.
History: I came to Bulgaria after 4 years of working in IT in Latvia and a massive burnout, followed by 8 months of unemployment. I was experienced but quite lost in what I want to do and I couldn’t bring myself to go back to work. I was desperate for transformation.
Environment: The first change when I came to Bulgaria was the environment and the people. People in my organization were ambitious volunteers with a growth-oriented mindset, we didn’t always know what we want to do but we were constantly supporting each other, progressing and moving further. It wasn’t smooth in the beginning – I guess every team goes through that phase, but the project was always our first priority and the first events were very successful. That was a good start. With time we formed a family – as we lived on Kalina Malina street we’re “Kalina Malina family”. The family is still alive and we are supporting each other, even being a world apart.
Finding my way: I am a visionary – the kind of person who makes plans for pleasure, a dreamer if you wish. This is why I’m good at planning and managing. But the implementation, especially completing tasks, comes very hard for me because I tend to lose the excitement. In this project, I had to find a way to resolve this matter, and the answer to the problem is actually very simple: if I really love the activity I’m doing, I see the benefit and I believe in the cause, then I would want to take action and see results no matter what.
The biggest game-changer of the whole experience was a simple question: “What would I do if I weren’t afraid”? and it gave me the right push to start doing even bigger things. In the mid-EVS we started organizing bigger events such as festivals, panel discussions, documentary screenings, workshops, and more. I’m not afraid to start things anymore because I’m not afraid to fail. Because, what’s The Worst Thing That Could Happen? – Nothing. When you don’t do things NO THINGS happen.
I also participated in the Basic Synergy training, which showed me my patterns. The training was amazing but it’s just a start, after knowing my patterns I had to start doing something about it. The training showed me how drinking and going out a lot was consuming a lot of my time, which was totally stopping me from achieving my best. This habit had to go, so I joined alcohol experiment and changed my attitude towards drinking and having fun in general.
Leveling up the communication: There were small events that brought something amazing into life. To mention some, I was coordinating an Erasmus+ project about non-violent communication and I was really interested in the topic, so participants made a beautiful workshop that completely changed my understanding of communication.
Another is an overheard discussion about the world problems leading me to understand the value of empathy, which brought the movie ‘Children Full of Life’ to our documentary nights. The topic of empathy also helped me to understand the team better, and I really believe that in combo with non-violent communication it can solve any conflict (even like wars or ethnic conflicts).
My takeaway is, when two people have a conflict, both have needs to express. For example, in the team when I just arrived I had a need for trust and respect. Later the need for stability and structure and so forth. The founder of the organization has a need for safety and assurance that we don’t screw anything up. These are basic needs that don’t cause anything bad but brought us communication challenges because, to express your need we need to show vulnerability, and this is hard for most people. So, depending on who we are in the organization or relationship we have more or less power to demand our needs to be fulfilled which will always cause counter-reaction, and normally it loops and there is no listening because we already feel hurt.
During the last months of my EVS we did a trip to Palestine where I felt this a lot on a large scale. There is no two-way communication, one side is just muted and can’t express their needs, but, like everyone else they have a need to be free. Both sides deserve attention to their needs. But the key is expressing them in the right way, without violence and blame, so the other side can understand and empathize.
Growth mindset vs fixed mindset: lately I understand that this is the key to forming a productive team. When I have a conflict with a person and try to explain myself and I see that even though the person totally disagrees with me but stills listens and hears what I have to say, I know that the issue is going to be resolved since it is possible to negotiate when people are open to critique and feedback even if they are hurt. Others just don’t like the situation and don’t even want to hear possible solutions or reasons or basically anything, they want to stay where they are. I know I was the same couple of years ago, hell, maybe sometimes I still am but this notion is changing my life now, the only problem is it’s hard to tell before working with the person.
Now: Knowing all this I feel upgraded. I mean I know just some basic things and I’m challenging them and using them in my daily life. The experience helped me to learn about what I want to do, and most importantly – what I don’t want to do, like going back to the office work. Recently I have learned that our actions bring results with time, so now I’m just doing my thing, giving my energy to the Open Sofia project, not waiting for any instant results, just doing the thing I love. I feel like if I’m doing something I want to do it 100% or just don’t, maybe it’s a bit extreme but what’s the point of wasting time doing mediocre things, doing things halfway?
Few words about Sofia: My first impression of Sofia is that it’s a nice place to go out, there are so many alternative and hidden places; Sofia has it all.
In the beginning, I met mostly foreign people as the community of expats in Sofia is very strong and they have a group, support each other, and trust each other; it’s a beautiful community!
Local people also trust foreigners, I’ve met so many friendly locals warning me not to trust other Bulgarians, haha! Bulgarians are nice and open but very cautious towards each other.
And finally – nature. Bulgaria is worth just for nature alone – mountains, lakes, forests are just breathtakingly beautiful. I love driving and I fully enjoyed the curvy mountain roads, passing the most beautiful views of my life. Snowy mountain tops, hot summer festivals, sandy beach – it has everything you want. Just go and get lost in Bulgaria is all I can say… And I haven’t even seen half of it.
Thank you. Thanks to everyone who was part of my experience, every single person I’ve met in Bulgaria is amazing and sometimes just a sentence inspired great things! Thank you, hugs to everyone and kisses, and I miss you so much! Much love!
Special thanks to Tisho who made this all happen and was a huge part of my learning process.
Thank you, the person who is reading this long piece of reflection. Peace out ✌️❤️.
*EVS – an European Erasmus+ program where people can join an NGO and volunteer for a time up to one year created to improve possibility to get employed and have more opportunities, after the program. Now it is renamed to ESC – European Solidarity Corps.
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