Joe from Wales wasn’t sure what he wants to do after his high school and decided to spend a year on EVS project in Estonia teaching English minority kids. This experience turned up to be breakthrough for his future life and career.
“I did my EVS as a collage student in 2009. I was not sure if I wanted to go to the university or not and I wanted to see a bit of the world and travel and do just something little bit different. I wanted to get away from my small village where I came from in Wales. EVS sounded like really good deal. I did not do very well in school because I was quite lazy. I did not want to do anything which was not fun and enjoyable. So when I was applying for the project I can remember not really reading any of them as I probably should have. My project was in Russian and it was said very clearly in the description. I realized this fact two weeks before I left and read the project properly. By this time I bought Estonian language book and started to learn Estonian.
Life among tower blocks
I was just really naive going into it. I was 18 when I started my project and I remember flying over Tallinn without having any idea about Eastern Europe that time and I remember that as the plane was coming to land I looked at the window at I just saw endless rows of Soviet tower blocks. And I grew up on the farm, where everything is like three hundred years old and there is cow everywhere, so this view was bit daunting for me and I thought:” Oh I am not going to be there, don’t worry.” Not only I have been there, I was in the worst part of that district. I lived and worked in quite segregated Russian part of Tallinn.
I was working in International youth club of Tallinn. On paper project was about social cohesion and education. As I learned in Estonia they had divides between ethnic Russians who came to Estonia when it was part of Soviet Union and ethnic Estonians who were kind of discriminated against when Estonia was part of Soviet union as well. The idea of the project was sort of bring these together and integrate ethnic Russians after collapse of Soviet Union. When I got to the project it was essentially afterschool club, where kids learnt English and 90 % of the kids came from ethnic Russian backgrounds. It is quite interesting that my experience of Estonia is not like everyone else’s experience, because I lived and worked in this Russian district. I would take classes on my own and I had like ninety kids and four-five groups a day ranging from six to sixteen years old. It was teaching kids all day and I was 18 that time, teaching sixteen years old. I just followed textbooks and I did not have much freedom to do my own things. But I think at that point it was good for me, because I was quite young. I was really lucky with the project I found because it was really structured.
Luckily there was a strong network of the EVS volunteers in Tallinn so I didn’t have any strong culture shock. I lived in house with six people from different countries: Germany, Russia, France, Lithuania, Italia…. Living with these people was great. We never really had any problems, we never had cultural misunderstandings. We were mostly just socializing with each other and hanging around. Estonia is quite homogeneous and there is not many foreigners so when I went out it was really easy to talk to people, because they were interested about us. I also travelled a lot through other EVS projects in Estonia and to Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Russia and I had incredible mid-term training. It was in the middle of the woods during Estonian winter, unbelievable amounts of snow, skiing and going to sauna with other volunteers.
EVS gave me valuable professional experience
When I came back from EVS I was little bit more mature. During the project I did not feel like I was taking all that information in and becoming amazing EVS volunteer. But the professional experience I did take from Estonia became really apparent after I left. I have always been interested in politics and I think EVS gave me the opportunity to focus that passion on particular issue that I found really interesting and it allowed me to look in detail in different unknown part of the world. It changed the way I approached university completely. I realized that I would like to work with minorities.
There was linear trajectory between what started as an EVS volunteer and what I am doing now. I finished my undergraduate from sociology writing thesis focused on social housing, which was informed some of my experiences of looking at these soviet tower blocks. I did a postgraduate degree as well studying pretty much what I did on my EVS. I studied Eastern European area studies and wrote my thesis on ethnic Russian in Baltic and structural discrimination. After working for four months in integration centre in Berlin I got job in SEWREC (East Wales Regional Equality Council) based on my previous experiences with minorities.
I think EVS is a great experience from employment perspective. Especially if you are based in UK, where lots of people do not have one any European or international experiences of working or living abroad. If you have a good EVS project and do something you find really interesting, it will give your life after EVS more focused. And that is a really valuable thing.”
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