How can volunteering improve our lives and empower us?

After three months in Hungaria, Esdra, a volunteer from Palermo, Italy, tells her story of self-awareness, growth and achievement of new competences thanks to the European Solidarity Corps, an amazing experience “out of her comfort zone”.

Esdra has taken part in an ESC project getting in contact with Per Esempio Onlus, an association implementing international mobility projects at European and extra European level.

Hi! My name is Esdra, I’m 18 years old and since September 1st I have become a member of the European Solidarity Corps as a volunteer for a municipal organization that deals with activities related to the cultural field and that aims mainly at empowering young people.

A couple of days ago my third month here is ended, but I will spend a total of 12 months in this small town right in the middle of the great Hungarian plain. Because yes: right now I’m in Hungary, in Kecskemét and yes, it’s cold. I would like to start by explaining briefly what the European Solidarity Corps is, since it is the point from which it all started (and it could also be for you who are reading): “The European Solidarity Corps is the new European Union initiative which creates opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit community and people around Europe.  You can register for the European Solidarity Corps when you are 17 years old, but you cannot start a project until you are over 18. European Solidarity Corps projects will be available to people up to the age of 30 years old.
Projects supported by the European Solidarity Corps can last from two to twelve months. They will usually be located within the European Union Member States.” (source: )

I have become aware of this portal thanks to a friend and I immediately registered.

I was 17 and the last year of high school was yet to begin, but the curiosity and the desire to leave to find out what was outside my comfort zone were too strong and so I decided that volunteering would be my gap year’s experience; because after many years of school and an usual routine, perhaps embarking on an adventure was the best thing to do. I chose the European Solidarity Corps in the first place because I knew that I would have received all the necessary support for my first long stay abroad, and then because after reading its Mission and Principles I realized how much those points were close to me.

Right from the start, I felt it was what I wanted and needed for personal growth. In fact, within a few months, my life has changed radically. The expectations that I had built were not several or particularly complex, because I knew that everything would be new.

And suddenly, there I was: I had really done it. 
If I first learned to be behind a desk, now I learn something new even just going shopping or living with people who have different habits from mine. 
“In an apartment live an Estonian, an Italian and a French one”, it seems the beginning of a joke, right? And instead, it is my new daily life, which is not always easy, fun or beautiful. 
Fortunately, here I found great people like my flatmates or my colleagues but even so, moving means going away physically from everything and all those who have always been our points of reference, our certainties, everything that’s familiar. 

Choosing to spend some time away from home, family and friends can sometimes be difficult, but it’s part of the challenge. In three months I learned to use a different currency from my own (here they use the Hungarian Forint), to manage my money, a shared flat, a job, relationships with colleagues and the public, the transports; I learned to communicate with people with whom verbal communication was not a viable option, to relate to children and adults, to expose my difficulties and ask for help to improve and learn from mistakes, overcome obstacles and live every little thing as a great victory. The hardest part I think was the pre-start phase. At the beginning of this bet with myself, I had so many insecurities, so many fears and questions; but over the weeks I discovered a new me that seemed to have always known me, she was just waiting to come out. I think the field in which I currently work, which is that of Social Youth Work, is the most suitable for me because it pushes me every day to meet someone new and build bridges between people and, above all, nothing is more satisfying than seeing the children playing serenely, hear them try to speak English or Italian, see them exploit their creativity, their equality, guide them in growth (and be guided by them that always teach us so much) and in interfacing with the others. Fortunately, in Hungary I feel I have found fertile ground to work on the person I would like to become someday; and as much as the nostalgia of my beautiful Sicily and all that is dear to me makes itself felt, I have not repented even for a moment of the choice I made. 

The temperate climate, the sea, the food, the art and my people are there and I know that I can come back to them whenever I want. 
I am not a tree: I can move, and this awareness we carry within all of us volunteers or Erasmus students, here in Kecskemét. 
Thanks to the ESC I have found new friends, new safe places, pieces of home scattered all over the world. 
Because to leave does not mean leaving and losing something: to leave means to make yourself big enough in order to add more things. 
Furthermore, Hungary is a country that offers many insights and many stimuli, starting with food and drinks to get to music and folk dances (with which I am in love), up to train journeys to the endless countryside or to the beautiful capital: Budapest. 

Would I recommend ESC? Yes, a thousand times yes.
I recommend everyone to expand their horizons, enrich their cultural background through contact with other people and with themselves.
I invite everyone to learn the habits and customs of other people, a new language, and to taste every flavour, experience every scent and temperature, every nuance of colour in the sky.
I recommend embracing change, rather than being afraid of it so as not to take a step towards what could be the most important occasion ever.