My midterm activity with all of the other European Solidarity Corps (ESC) volunteers in Czechia reminded me of the fact that I am currently in my last three months of my volunteering, thus this experience unfortunately is coming to an end. To go to the training I packed my suitcase and hopped on the metro and arrived at the main station in Prague. From the main station I travelled three hours by train to Olomouc where I was greeted by two German volunteers in the hotel lobby. Both of them I had already met during my on-arrival training. It was nice to see everyone again after four months apart. We checked in at a beautiful hotel near the city center. I shared a room with Emma, a French volunteer that I also knew from earlier. For our welcome session we met at the 10th floor in our working room which had an amazing panoramic view of the city. One of the participants who works in an eco-village community had a strange feeling, and she couldn`t remember the last time she was that high up after working with her hands in the dirt and growing vegetables at her eco-village for 7 months. I found this funny to see how different lives the ESC-volunteers live. For example, our IYNF office is on the 6th floor where I spend most of my days working on a computer.
I saw familiar faces of the trainers, participants and some new people that also had joined us. In the first session we talked about how our experience had been since we last met. We did an emotional graph from our year as a volunteer, explaining all the ups and downs. It helped us see that everyone has experienced different emotions, and we could also identify what helped us get through the negative patches which can be useful to understand for later in life. The fact that we get to explore and learn about ourselves is one of the things I appreciate with the training provided by the national agency in Czechia. Here we get to share our jouney with others who are in similar situations, have deep conversations and be vulnerable in a safe environment. After a vegetarian dinner at the hotel we met again for a night session where we did an activity which is called 3 minutes talks. In the 3 minute talk you are divided into pairs and each person has three minutes to talk, and the other person simply has to listen. You are not allowed to react with words, and if the individual in front of you runs out of things to talk about you sit in silence. This method shows you how important it is to let other people talk without interruptions, because sometimes people just need to be heard and have the room to express themselves without being cut off. I love this exercise because it taught me that I shouldn’t always react, but rather give the person room to talk and think.
During the week we got to explore Olomouc while finishing different challenges given to us in the city. We had to take pictures of things that made us angry, of things that we didn’t like in the Czech Republic at first, but grew to like, and something that made us confused (I took a picture of a sign written in czech). It was fun running around the town with the other participants sharing our frustrations and appreciations of the country. We also had the task of finding a fun fact about the city, I tried to ask the local people but stumbled across a bartender that had arrived less than two months ago, and a student that said that Olomouc was known for its stinky cheese, which I wasn’t too satisfied with but as time ran out I had to settle with. We also explored and thought about life after volunteering, which for many of the participants including myself is a big question mark. Our trainers shared with us different opportunities, and we shared websites and groups amongst ourselves. I of course shared about International young Naturefriends (iynf) and the opportunity to join our activities around Europe after the volunteering ends.
One of the highlights for me were the different workshops that both the trainers and participants held. We got to not only share our knowledge, but also request different topics we wanted to explore and learn more about. I particularly enjoyed a workshop about how to interview people and got to ask our trainer which has a famous podcast in Czech Republic about tips for the iynf podcast. She shared a lot of tips and tricks, which made me motivated to create more podcasts as it is my ESC mini project. I also contributed with my own workshop about our toolkit “Take me outside” from last year`s cycle because I knew that a lot of the participants are working with children and need some inspiration for activities to do with them. Our toolkit has activities which help strengthen the resilience of children through outdoor education, and therefore also better their mental health through activities in nature. I even made a competition with one of the activities from the toolkit where I named a winner who got to bring with her her own toolkit home. I had a lot of fun facilitating this workshop and it is always nice to share our toolkit with people who find it interesting and useful.
One of the evenings we had a cultural night after dinner where everyone got together and we shared our culture, snacks and assumptions about other people’s culture. The trainers had prepared some questions and topics for us to discuss in groups. One person would pick a topic and the rest of the group shared their assumptions about the person`s country related to the topic. Some examples of the topics were: gender roles, dating, religion, national holidays, traditional clothing, or inappropriate jokes. We got to learn a lot about how people view certain countries and also break some stereotypes in our heads. I really enjoyed the night and got to have some funny but also deep conversations about culture.
After a full week of sharing and learning our activity came to an end. We had one last breakfast at the hotel, which I`m still dreaming about now that I`m back in Prague, and we checked out of the hotel and had to say our last goodbyes. It is crazy to see how fast time flies during my ESC volunteering. I feel like it was yesterday I had my first day at the office in Prague and now I’m sadly seeing an end to my ESC journey. I still believe that I will be somehow connected to the iynf movement in the future, but of course not in the same way I am now sitting here at the office writing this article. I would like to thank all the participants and the national agency for the wonderful week we shared.