offLINE – Looking back after a year in Bulgaria | Kristina

Bulgaria saved me

And it’s not an exaggeration. When I decided to join the offLINE project I just turned 27 and was completely lost. It was a period of my life when I already recognised that something was wrong. And it was wrong for years. To give you a better picture let me share something.

On-arrival training. May 2019. More than 30 different and incredibly interesting people, cool trainers, night gatherings, fun and no worries for 4 days. But not for me. Later I got to know that people thought of me as someone very confident, smart and independent. What I was actually feeling these days was stress, fear and self-doubt. I was so uncomfortable around this amount of people that for two nights in a row I would get ready but stay in the room because I just couldn’t force myself to go out.

Mid-term training. November 2019. Around 30 different and incredibly interesting people, cool trainers, deep and meaningful conversations and huge amount of support. I was talking about my personal project nonstop and got a feedback I couldn’t even dream about. It was new, upgraded version of myself, someone so much stronger and so much more alive.

Smokinya family saved me

My learning process started from the day one and was intense all the way through. I came to Bulgaria on the 1st of April, the same day as Agita – the other volunteer from Latvia. And let me tell you, when I saw this girl I started to question my decision to join this project. She looked so cool with her colourful hair and countless adventures behind her that I felt intimidated. Little did I know that in a few weeks we would go on a car trip to Greece, survive some creepy encounters with strangers, become an unstoppable force in Smokinya Foundation and learn so much from each other.

It is so bizarre to look back at the first months when we all were just strangers to each other because we became not only a real team, we became a family. And as any family we had our misunderstandings and conflicts, but as a family we solved them through love, kindness and care. I admire the adventurous and independent spirit of Ilze, the ability to balance calm work routine with fiery temper of Carmen and the desire to follow his own path of Ricsi. I admire Melanie for her honesty, exquisite sense of humour and ability to notice little details. I admire Alex for being there for us every time we needed him (and for knowing when to bring chocolates, cakes and cookies, they saved my sanity every once in a while).

Smokinya family is actually quite big, very diverse and extremely talented. I don’t know if it was your intention, Tisho, but you created something very beautiful and pretty unique. And I am forever grateful for all our adventures, long conversations, morning coffees in the bike shop, mutual support, successful events and beautiful memories.

Yet until September 2019 things were happening in a more familiar way: we were doing our job, organising events and having fun. Real challenges and extreme changes started to happen after summer ended. That was the time when I finally accepted the calling to actually start A-LONEliness project. And that was the time when I experienced the greatest support and the greatest resistance in my entire life.

I was finally doing a project I believed in but I was not ready that it would grow and expand so fast. My health was collapsing, I had extreme exhaustion and there were times I was ready to give up. I felt like I was fighting alone. But I was not. As soon as I spoke about my feelings and health issues I got the help I needed. My mentor was literally fighting with me for my health, my boss was fighting with me for my project. And if I had to go through all this again I would definitely do it.

I saved myself

Nothing I mentioned above wouldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t dare to look deeper inside myself and take responsibility for my own wellbeing. It was extremely scary and extremely overwhelming at times but it was worth it. No one will ever come and give you a recipe for a better life, mostly because there’s no such recipe.

To all the people I’ve met during this time – we’ve met for a reason. Sometimes this reason would slip away from me or maybe I was not ready for a lesson you were about to teach me and that’s why we don’t communicate anymore. With some of you our paths crossed only for a little while to quickly exchange some knowledge we needed at that time and I thank you for that. And with some of you we connected on level I had no idea even existed.

My learning journey doesn’t end there. It’s actually only a beginning. Facing the time of uncertainty and isolation I’m blessed with a support system I’ve established and the inner strength I’ve got through this year. There’s so much more to learn and discover, so much more conversations to have, so much more feelings to share.

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

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offLINE – Looking back after a year in Bulgaria | Kristina