Each year UNA Exchange welcomes two new team members from overseas as part of the European Voluntary Service, which provides long-term volunteering abroad opportunities in all EU member states and many neighbouring countries. Sara Sportelli and Sandra Tiitson, from Italy and Estonia, respectively, joined UNA Exchange in September 2017 for an exciting 11 months with the team. Based in Cardiff, our outreach work will be taking them across Wales and further afield. We have invited Sara and Sandra to blog about their experiences and in the first instalment they tell us about how they are settling into life in the Welsh capital.
“If we were ever to make a sitcom of our EVS life here in Cardiff then ‘Six girls one sink’ would be the title. The life of an EVS volunteer is much like a sitcom where a number of unexpected things happen to characters from different backgrounds, coexisting together: making the most of their time with the laugh track sounding in the background of all these adventures. The adventure in Cardiff began with each of us being picked up from the bus station by our coordinator, and each of us going for the wrong car door out of habit. In the first days we met our housemates, our colleagues, our supervisors and mentors, with a lot of information to process at once, which makes one feel quite lost in the beginning. Fortunately, UNA Exchange supported us with ‘on-arrival training’, where we realised it’s normal to feel lost and it’s all a part of the emotional rollercoaster of a year’s volunteering abroad. The emotional journey begins with confusion and culture shock – which in Cardiff mostly just means being shocked by how nice and helpful the people are. We loved the on-arrival training and everyone agreed it would be great if it lasted longer. The highlight of the training was definitely UNA Exchange volunteer John making us soup; eating welsh cakes at the Bay is a close second. The training brought us volunteers closer together and provided a good idea of what we’ve got ourselves into. We ended the training with ‘Mission Impossible’: completing all kinds of fun tasks around Cardiff. As a bonus we had to exchange the very precious leek of Wales for something equally good. We managed to exchange one for a hug from a local and another for a crossword book – because friendship and learning are what we value.”
“We are six very different girls from all over Europe living in one house, forming our own little European Union here in Cardiff. We each have different motivations for being here, but one common thing connecting us is not really knowing what to do with our lives or how to move forward. So we each decided to spend a year of our lives volunteering for a charity. But mostly we all came to Cardiff to find our way in life and ourselves, and within the first month we have found our little cwtch.”