I am now slowly wrapping up the third month of my year as an ESC volunteer at IYNF. European Solidarity Corps is a volunteering program for young people that can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full twelve months. This program is not only designed to help me contribute to an NGO and the surrounding community, but also help me develop my capacities and give me new experiences and memories to look back on. As a part of the program, I am to attend two trainings at different stages of my volunteering term. The last week of the month of June was, therefore, reserved for my on-arrival training, and I was unusually nervous about it.

The training was supposed to connect me to other ESC volunteers all around Czech Republic and help guide me in making plans and goals for my year as a volunteer. Though I enjoy meeting new people, I am always a bit nervous during the first couple of encounters and I have a tendency to be a bit reserved. Soon after meeting my fellow volunteers, my doubts and fears were dispelled. It became clear to me that I was in a safe environment, in a company of open-minded and down-to-earth people who were ready to laugh and grow with me. I was also surrounded by people from all over Europe who came from various different backgrounds. We were given two maps to mark, one showing our ESC location and one showing our home country. Both maps ended up looking interesting, rich and colourful and I could not wait to explore all the stories behind them. 

Maria and Tom, the two trainers that welcomed us and facilitated all the sessions until the end, were just the right people for the task. From the very first day we were encouraged to reflect on our experience and share our thoughts and feelings. I was very fond of this intuitive method of teaching, because I have only experienced it in small doses, if ever. We were guided to ask each other both closed and open questions, give honest answers without any judgement and meditate on our expectations and goals for the year.

The small town Benešov had a lot to offer. We were given a task to explore our surroundings and we ended up hiking in the nearby woods, walking around the castle and reaching a beautiful lake. The outside of the castle had an occasional tourist from within Czech Republic and an occasional free-roaming peacock fluttering his feathers at anyone who approached him in admiration. During the challenge, I got to connect with my group of participants and we had the chance to practise our imagination and resourcefulness in order to complete the difficult and sometimes impossible tasks. As a personal achievement, I managed to come up with a poem about ESC volunteering as we were hiking up a hill and managed to delight my audience later as we were sharing the results of our mission. 

As a part of our training, we also visited the Konopiště caste and we had a guided tour inside with a short history lesson. The last owner of the castle was Archduke Franz Ferdinand and I found that very interesting because I could relate him to my own history. The Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital city of my country, and I was surprised to learn that he was such an influential figure, even in the Czech Republic. We were not allowed to take any pictures within the castle so I did my best to observe the interior so I could revisit it in my mind’s eye. The castle was beautiful but I found it to be too scary – the Archduke was an avid hunter and a lot of his killings, as well as his extensive collection of weapons, were displayed within the castle. 

Surprisingly, the most inspiring experience of that training happened within the walls of the training room. Together as a group, we watched a Czech movie filmed in 1999 called Pelíšky (Cozy Dens) and it was such an eye-opening and intriguing movie. As I was watching, I entertained myself by comparing Czech language to mine, as they are both Slavic languages. It was a historical comedy, showing a lot of everyday Czech life, the politics of that time as well as its relationship to other countries. Such a fun interpretation of Czech culture made me very interested in further exploring it as well as the city of Prague.

All of these adventures were followed by evenings spent together, either talking or playing games. I was able to meet so many amazing people and I learned so much from what they shared with me. I felt very honoured to learn from them and with them. The entire experience was very inspiring for me because I got to see just how much effort and resources were invested in my education and development. Though I felt very lucky to have this opportunity, I learned to appreciate my ESC position even more after the training. I realised that I was very lucky to live in Prague, where everything is always lively and readily available for me. I truly felt like I was a part of a project and a movement much larger than myself and I am more determined than ever to make this year both a professional and personal success.