I first thought of doing an EVS in December 2018 when I had decided to stop my studies. I felt as though I needed a big change in my life because I did not know what I was doing, I did not know what I exactly was working towards. Essentially, I didn’t know who I was as a person or what I was like being completely and thoroughly independent. Understandably, I could have felt like this because I am only 19 years old and with people my age (or similar ages) there is this vast amount of pressure to have your life put together and your future to be planned out. However, it is unrealistic; therefore I chose to leave my home and picked Croatia as my EVS destination to discover what I had to offer to myself.
In February I started to search for a placement and I had applied for many but initially chose Croatia. Within 3 weeks I heard back from Mreža Udruga Zagor that they had accepted my application and wanted me to join their team as a volunteer. At this point I had just under a month to prepare myself to leave my home for what was originally going to be 12 months. I didn’t think it would be difficult leaving even though I had never been that far away from home before. All of a sudden, it was March 20th; my leaving date. Of course I was nervous because I was going to be meeting a lot of new people and being in a country that is very different to the UK would be nerve racking for anybody.
The first three months in Croatia was really exciting. Everything was new, I was living out of my comfort zone, and I had my independence from home which is something I had never had prior. Month one was me basically getting to know who I was working with, getting to know my surroundings in the town, Zabok, and understanding how to say very basic words to people whenever I would be out. For my actual volunteering service I started out by taking photographs of the workshops our organisation would put on in the green room in our building. These workshops would be things like editing videos/photographs, radio jingles, and events about EVS. Other times I would take photos during elections that were happening across different towns in the Zagorje area. They lasted about 2 months as the elections had a deadline. I enjoyed going to the different towns because I was able to see the real suburb areas of Croatia and witness how true Croatians lived. It was a lot different to how a lot of European countries are perceived to be. It was real.
Coming up to my fourth month away I could feel a change within myself. I knew I was not the same person who had left the UK. I had already become more confident because I was speaking to different people every day (sometimes not in English) and constantly having to engage in new conversations. One thing I noticed when conversing with new people was that they always asked me the same few questions: “What is it like living in the UK?”, “Where is your accent from?”, “What is your opinion on Brexit?” and “Can you speak Croatian yet?”. All this was like a breath of fresh air for me because I was not used to being asked so many questions and for people to take more interest in what I had to say.
Regardless, in my fourth month I had more time to think about what I wanted to do for my personal project. This was something I could do that could give back to the community I was living in and try and leave my mark there once I left per se. So, I decided to tutor English to a few young people who wanted to practice and become more fluent in the language. In preparation to this I had to create materials in which I could teach to individuals. This included such things as: worksheets, PowerPoint’s, grammar exercises, and homework. At this point I realised this was something I had an actual interest in and something I thoroughly enjoyed. One of my favourite parts of my personal project was being able to see my “students” improve and become more optimistic on their English skills. Within the few months after beginning my personal project I had other projects to do in my organisation. I and our other volunteer had to make a video on what EVS means, how it has changed us and why more young people should get involved. For this I was the artist in our video as I drew pictures representing different stages we had hit during our EVS whereas the other volunteer would edit each shot to make it into a short film.
Nonetheless, my time abroad was not all work. I had the opportunity to do some travelling around neighbouring countries (Hungary and Slovenia) and a few cities/towns in Croatia (Pregrada, Klanjec, Zaprešić, Donja Stubica, Orahovica, Zagreb etc). It was such a privilege to be able to visit all these places and just delve into the culture that was handed to me. Personally, the travelling aspect is what made my entire experience living in a different country more enjoyable.
To top off everything, I had made a realisation in September I wanted to go back home to the UK. I had become homesick and felt as though I had figured out my purpose and what I wanted to do with my life. During the time spent in Croatia I became more self assured in so many different ways. Before I left I lacked self confidence and was lost in a sense; now just over 3 months of being back home I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been and have been gifted with a lot more opportunities that I will always be grateful for. Sometimes you do have to push yourself until you become comfortable and at peace within yourself which is what I did by moving away for 8 months.
A question I ask myself is, “Would I do it again?” and I can one hundred percent say I would.
By Ellie Leacy, 20.