Going to take on a volunteering experience in Macedonia – a sentence neither my friends or I really understood in the beginning. If I’m being honest, before pressing apply I had no idea where this country existed, what are the Balkans or what had been going on in Macedonia in general. Deciding on coming to this country was almost like a coin toss for me, I typed “Macedonia” into Google and what I saw was a flag with a huge nice sun on it – my mind was made. Since I feel close contact with the sun, I didn’t need any other signs that this opportunity was right for me. I also really liked what the project was about, since so many EVS opportunities are concentrated on working in kindergartens and youth centers, I felt like finding my project in the EVS vacancy Facebook group was meant to be and literally written for me.
So my project is called “Clean up your mess 2.0”, originally written for three people to come and help change the mentalities kids have on the topic of environment. How it goes is that we go to different schools every week and instruct workshops for pupils aged 9-11 on the topic of upcycling. If we are not in schools then you could probably find us in the Sfera office looking at endless videos about easy DIY crafts for kids. You would think that there are so many, but if you really get into it then you see how hard it actually is to find proper and easy crafts that are suitable for everyone. So far it had been lots of fun, the kids are behaving nicely, taking part in everything and most of the times they are even more creative then we ask or wait from them. They are also excited to practice their English with us and to my surprise, their pronunciation and vocabulary is at least as good as mine, if not even better.
I have now been living in the south of Macedonia in a city called Bitola for over 3 months and I can honestly say that it has been a roller coaster and a truly different experience. Coming from Estonia there are so many things that work completely differently here. I think it took me about two months to drop the need to know everything, to learn how not to always be concrete, that punctuality is not valued everywhere – basically all these (now I can say) very northern qualities. Needless to say, the people are also very different. Starting from the aggressiveness that you can hear in their tone, even though they might be talking about what to eat later; always saying how they are in a hurry and have no time but at the same time they find time to sit down on the main pedestrian street Sirok Sokak to have coffee (which might easily take three hours); never being on time; constant hugging when you see someone you know. But even with all that Macedonians are very kind, loving and funny people and I’m happy that I’ve had the experience of being inside a totally different reality and sometimes when I talk to my friends back home I even find myself thinking about how Estonian they seem now.
During these three months I feel like I really have leaned a lot, about myself, how to handle situations, how to stay calm, how to be around all sorts of people. The amount of intercultural information that I’ve gained is also massive. With this time I have encountered a lot of volunteers and others for different countries and cultures; with all this information I have gotten from others about worldviews, norms etc, I have started to construct a bigger picture in my head, like small puzzle pieces that I’m matching to my previous understanding of Europe and differences inside it. We even got to take a Macedonian baby kitten into our lives and apartment so I officially know how to meow in Macedonian. And he, Sin, can of course meow in multiple languages now.
Whether it has been giving my own workshops, taking part in others or just helping the organization with some additional things, I can’t wait to see what these next two months will bring. Life in Bitola is in constant change, regarding my own thoughts, the people around me and new events and ideas that the wind somehow blows into my life. I’m open to taking on new experiences, enjoying the differences even when times are sometimes hard, but in the end I’m very grateful for everything, because how many people really have the opportunity of taking half a year of their lives and live and experience a totally new county and culture, especially in a hidden gem such as Macedonia.