EVS Insight From Transylvania

EVS blog – Tereza
EVS Journey
EVS blog – Tereza
EVS Journey

My name is Claudia, and I come from Cluj-Napoca, which is the biggest city in Transylvania. Some things about myself: I am curious about other cultures, and probably this is one of the main reasons why I am a language enthusiast. Also, I love to travel, I am a big foodie, and I like books and working out outdoors.

I previously participated in cultural exchange programs through Work&Travel USA during the summers of 2014, 2015, and 2016, which gave me the travel bug and a desire to learn about other cultures through similar programs. In addition to this, I have graduated from a Master’s program in English, in Community Development and Urban Planning, and I hold a Bachelor’s in Applied Modern Languages, specializing in English and Spanish, which allows me to work with them in translations, business, and other kinds of areas. But I have to mention that I also speak a bit of French too, as I studied it for 8 years in middle and high school.


I discovered EVS at the beginning of 2017, and by the end of the year, I managed to find the current project I am participating in. More precisely, I am an EVS short-term volunteer for SFERA Macedonia for the project called “Clean Up Your Mess.” What made me want to be part of this was the sustainability and upcycling concepts that were being put into practice, as well as the friendly atmosphere at the organization that I got a grasp of during the interview. Another thing I would like to mention is that I have never been in this Balkan area before, so I was ready to have a new cultural experience that I am happy to have been open to.

Recycling and upcycling are very important topics nowadays to increase awareness of the responsible use of nondegradable materials that the consumerist culture everywhere encourages us to own and to make us more conscious of the endless possibilities that recycling and upcycling can offer, with some creativity and unconventional thinking. It would be useful to mention some informational insight between the two concepts to better understand the usefulness and great impact of the “Clean Up Your Mess” project. When something is recycled, typically plastic, paper, metal, or glass, it is broken down so the basic materials recovered can be remade into something new. In the process of upcycling something, you do not break anything down. One can rework or reconstruct the product in a number of different ways, but the material stays the same and is at least of the same quality, if not better, than when you started. More precisely, my project consisted of weekly projects with middle-school children from St Kliment Ohridski School, here in Bitola, focused on upcycling. Part of the project was brainstorming ideas so that the workshops could be as efficient as possible in terms of encouraging sustainability and making them fun and useful for the children, as well as collecting materials for the crafts. I had the support of my mentor and the organization every step of the way in choosing the right idea to implement in the workshop. Before every workshop, I had to collect and prepare the materials so that everything could go according to plan during the activities with the children. During the month of December, the workshops with the children consisted of making a Christmas chimney out of cardboard boxes, festive decorations made from egg cartons and cardboard boxes, and a Christmas tree created entirely from toilet paper rolls. The crafts were divided into 3 weeks of approximately 30–40 minutes each. The first week was introductory, and we started with covering the cardboard boxes with white paper and gluing them together, which represented the basis of the Christmas chimney. The second week began with cutting red brick shapes using red paper and some cardboard stencils, followed by gluing them to the chimney. While some children were doing this, others had to start painting the toilet paper rolls for the Christmas tree. In the third and final week of December, the crafts came together as all the children managed to finalize them.

During the month of January, my project mate (also an EVS from Romania) and I decided to make jump ropes from plastic bags. The first step, again, was collecting the materials, which was easy to do given that we had all sorts of bags in our house from shopping. First, we decided to try out the idea by ourselves to make sure it could be implemented in the workshops. It proved to be a successful attempt, so we moved the idea into the classroom with the children. The first workshop consisted of cutting the plastic bags into threads and then putting them together through knots, four by four. In the following workshop, we moved on to the second step of the jump rope craft: braiding. Three by three, the plastic bag threads were braided, and then two braids were braided together again to give it weight. The first month of the project focused on making children aware that there are many forms of cardboard out there, in various shapes and sizes, that can be used in new and fun ways while reducing cardboard waste and saving energy and resources. In the second part of the project, the focus turned to plastic, which, although an important component in today’s economy, is very damaging to the environment given the high amounts present everywhere and is slow to degrade. As part of the project, I had to document my upcycling activities through videos and photos, taking each step from collecting materials to implementing the ideas in the workshops. In addition to this, after the completion of each craft, I had to write articles on them that were published on the SFERA website: http://voluntarysfera.org/. All relevant photos and videos were put together at the end to make a video of the EVS project experience.

An important local activity that I had the chance to contribute to was floorball. This is a type of floor hockey that SFERA organizes regularly in different high schools to promote a healthy and active lifestyle. Every time a Floorball activity is organized, SFERA, through its representatives, including us EVS volunteers, has to go to a given high school, bring the necessary equipment for Floorball, and show the game to the children.

Then we left them to play by themselves for a full hour, and we were there to keep the scores and serve as referees.

Art Attack is the organization’s monthly painting activity, created for anyone who wants to spend a relaxing evening at the headquarters and exercise their creativity. I managed to contribute to the organization of the event by getting everything ready (organizing the workspace with canvases and anything else necessary for a painting activity) so that the participants would enjoy the activity.

In the month of December, SFERA organized a charity event, “Give your share to show you care”, in order to raise funds for the children at the Rehabilitation center, in which I participated. More precisely, what I had to do was fundraise throughout the event, which was a success because we managed to raise a big sum of money that was used to buy educational and fun toys for the children there. Besides the fundraising to which I contributed, I also had the chance to create promotional materials for the event, consisting of a poster.

As part of the project, I had the opportunity to organize and teach Romanian lessons for beginners. I started by creating a poster for myself as part of the Facebook event that was created. The lessons took place on average twice a week, depending on the number of students and their availability, and consisted of activities, conversations, and videos with cultural insight meant to give students a grasp of the Romanian language and culture.

Also, as part of sharing the culture, together with the other EVS volunteers, who were from Turkey, I was responsible for organizing the Intercultural Night, an event in which every country (including the host country, North Macedonia) presented themselves through a PowerPoint presentation with interesting facts, their customs, traditions, and music. This was followed by delicious tastes of traditional food and drinks, which we, as the volunteers, had prepared at home.

Having observed for a month and a half the community of Bitola in all its forms, my project mate and I organized an event in a busy area of Shirok Sokak that consisted of putting up two boards, each with one question: “What would you do if Shirok Sokak didn’t exist?” and “What do you want to accomplish in 2018?” The idea for the project came from the cultural shock we experienced when we came here, seeing the main downtown street in Bitola always crowded with restaurants and coffee shops full of people, especially in the peak part of the day. We wanted to do something different, make people a bit more aware of their surroundings and their choices, and encourage them to think outside the box and have fun. The community event was successful, as curious people came and answered our questions in the most diverse ways, whether funny or unexpected.

It is worth mentioning the Kick-Off Meeting, hosted here in Bitola by SFERA, which represented a pre-project meeting for the “The Citizens Are United” project, funded by the Europe for Citizens program of the European Commission. There were present participant country organizations from countries like North Macedonia (through SFERA), Greece, Malta (which is also the applicant of the project), Cyprus, Italy, Romania, Portugal, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Ireland. I had the job there of taking notes on the two days of the conference and, at the end, doing minutes of it.

My own contribution to the project was made through writing articles for the SFERA website, which represented pieces of news as the organization made local events or participated in them. At the beginning of the project, the organization gave me the liberty to exercise whatever skills I considered would be useful. I decided to contribute with writing because I wanted to improve these skills and I had some background experience with that. Therefore, I was receiving at the beginning of each week the themes of each article for that particular week. In addition to this, I contributed articles to the SFERA blog about my experiences here in North Macedonia, so you can read them there if you are curious.

Overall, I consider the project to have had a really positive impact on my personal development. I have tried new things, such as organizing workshops on upcycling and participating in local events such as Art Attack and Floorball. I managed to exercise my English once again, given the international context and the Language Exchange event, and prove my adaptation to a new cultural context as well as my social skills (through all the people I interacted with). The organization was supportive of all the activities I did, and we managed to have good and efficient communication. The only thing I would improve on the project is the number of hours spent on the upcycling project. In my opinion, it would be more fun and have an even bigger impact if the workshops were held more often than once a week for just an hour. Through the upcycling activities, children would better understand the importance of sustainability and the protection of the environment.

Among all the project activities, my free time was filled with many social activities with SFERA and various local and international volunteers, experiencing local cuisine and the Christian Orthodox holidays in January, such as the Christmas party and dinner, Vasilica, and Vodici. Also, I experienced the unique coffee and people-watching culture through its famous Shirok Sokak coffee places and the lively pubs (Kamarite, Porta Jazz, Bourbon Pub, etc). In terms of travel, I went to the beautiful Ohrid and Skopje, as well as taking my time around Bitola, for Pelister National Park, the ancient city of Heracles, the Auto and Etno Museum, or the National Museum of Bitola, and the Old Bazaar. Because the EVS house was downtown, right next to the famous main street, it was very easy to get around and explore the city. The local food is very delicious, and you have a wide variety of choices. Or you can also check out the fresh food market in the back of the Old Bazaar, which has pretty much everything you need. Unfortunately, the only thing that bothered me, from an animal lover’s point of view, were the stray, but harmless dogs that you stumble across often in Bitola (and not only).

This EVS project taught me about cultural awareness by giving me insight into the language and culture of North Macedonia, meeting international volunteers, experiencing working in an NGO outside the EU, and learning more about youth work and local initiatives with an impact on the local community. The project helped me strengthen my self-confidence and personal autonomy. The challenges I had to overcome during this time, both personal and professional, made me realize the existence of numerous possibilities and opportunities for my life, which I had previously never thought were possible. I would recommend EVS projects to all young people that want to invest in their personal and professional development, and I hope that SFERA will continue to successfully host volunteers in the coming period.