After living in Belgium for almost four months as well as living here pre-EVS for a couple of years already, the idea of an EVS on-arrival training of 6 days sounded honestly like a waste of time to me. Name games, repetitive small-talk conversations about where do you come from and what you do are somewhat a nightmare for an introvert from Finland. On top of this, my flatmate-colleague Martina and I were sick but as the training was compulsory, once we woke up feverless in the morning of the training, we decided to give it a go.
The arrival to Halle was a positive surprise. We were a relatively small group of almost 20 people, all girls except for two boys, and the trainers had arranged a bus to transport us from the railway station to the location of the training. The beginning of the training was, as expected, name games and team-building exercises but the group was so nice that it didn’t feel awkward or forced. Our team was mature, cooperative, involving and soon they lured me into take an active part in their positive spirit and I started enjoying myself in spite of my bad initial attitude.
From the beginning it was made clear that the purpose of the training was not to learn actual skills, but to review the EVS experience as a learning process, recognize the different aspects of it and acknowledge that it is up to oneself whether to take the full advantage of it or not. One of the most memorable activities for me was “Silent Casino”, where we were guided to a room with four tables with a pack of cards on each table. Nobody was allowed to talk. We were instructed to read the rules of the game and start playing. After every round, the loser and the winner of the table moved to a different table. At the end of the game we realized that actually the rules had been different at each table, and it was an exercise reflecting on how we react when the cultural “rules” are different and there is no common language to discuss and sort things out. It was very interesting to think back on my own and others reactions to conflicts – who became angry, who imposed their rules on the rest of the group, and who was simply confused, gave up and became passive.
In the middle of the training we got a task to form small groups based on common interests. We were instructed to plan a project in a few hours, implement it the next day and present it the day after implementation. Our group decided to travel to Brussels to interview homeless people. First we asked regular passers-by on the street what they would like to ask a homeless person. After collecting a set of questions, we went to the Midi station and interviewed the homeless. The two men we talked with were very friendly and open to share their stories. The project was very meaningful for us, and we were all touched by the stories of the men we interviewed. I think after this experience it will be easier to go and talk to homeless people in the future than it used to be.
During the on-arrival training I realized how lucky I have been with my EVS project. Many participants work in a small remote village, have a workplace that doesn’t offer enough challenges and some volunteers even live in a host family. Me instead, I have an inspiring workplace with colleagues who have become like a family for me here in Antwerp. I get to travel for work, challenge myself and participate in interesting projects. I live in the historical heart of one of the biggest city in Belgium in a lovely apartment with nice flatmates. Meeting the other volunteers made me really appreciate all the aspects of my EVS experience so far.
All in all the EVS on-arrival training surprised me positively. It was interesting to hear what kind of projects the other volunteers are working in Belgium. It was also useful to take time to evaluate and plan the EVS experience in a larger and deeper context than in my usual daily life. Last but not least, it was nice to meet other EVS volunteers whom all I’m looking forward to see again in the mid-term training in June!
Story written by Suvi Helko, Finnish EVS volunteer in Antwerp, Belgium in the International Secretariat of SCI
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