Probably, you read this blog for another reason then the reason that I want to write this blog. I assume you are thinking about doing an EVS at SFERA Macedonia, and just like me about 8 months ago, you decide to look through the experiences of previous volunteers. And then I pop up, a semi-emotional Dutch ginger that has just left Bitola. Found in a state of homesickness to Bitola, all I want is to write about how much I love Bitola and the people I have met during the past six months.
Let me start with you. Doubting about the endless possibilities of going abroad you are thinking about doing an EVS in Bitola and want to know what to expect. I would always advise you to not have to many expectations, and to keep them low. However, you need to decide, and expectations seem a rather good source to base your decision on. Here we go:
- You will meet people from different places that might be totally different from the people you are used to. For me for instance, the Balkan mentality has been quite different from the mentality of the people in the Netherlands. It has been interesting to get to know people from different backgrounds, as it broadens your horizon and breaks your stereotypes. But most of all, all the different people that I met were just really nice people that turned into good friends.
- You will have a lot of free time. The EVS program is not too structured for many places, and SFERA Macedonia is one of those. For me, that has been struggling as I felt I needed more structure during the past 6 months. I think it is important to be aware of this, as you will otherwise spend a lot of time sitting in an office doing nothing. In SFERA, you will not have a lot of clear tasks. I was not aware of this, and first realized this after already wasting a lot of time. This can be a struggle, but this can also give you the opportunity to realize things you personally want to work on.
- You are responsible for your own project. Of course, SFERA Macedonia will help you, but you are the main input to your project. Apart from exemptions, you are not as a SFERA Macedonia organizing events, or actions together. If you want to organize something specific, do it, while keeping in mind that you are the one responsible for carrying it out. Again, this can be challenging, but it also learns you to initiate new things. You have the freedom to develop your own ideas.
- You will fall in love with Bitola. I guess it just is impossible not to. Bitola is a cozy city, from a Dutch perspective very relaxed, and the people are really kind. Shirok Sokak, the main street, is always full of people enjoying their coffee. I also enjoyed going to the bazaar a lot and getting fresh fruit and vegetables from the cute people working there. If Bitola itself does not make butterflies start flying in your stomach, then the beautiful mountains Bitola is surrounded with will do. You can see the beautiful peaks of the mountains all the time from the city, and hiking in the mountains is also a must-do.
- In case you will go to Bitola in winter; it will be freezing cold. During my EVS, we had about two months of snow, which I guess is more snow than I have ever had in my life before. Stay close to heaters, they are nice.
- You will feel lonely at some point, and you will feel like you know everyone Bitolean at some point. Being new in a city often means that moments of loneliness will pass. In winter, when everyone was hiding in their houses, days passed that I did feel lonely. However, most of the time, I have been having a great time with all the beautiful people I have been surrounded with. But keep in mind that besides of all the ups, there will be downs too. And probably you will experience more ups as well as downs while being in a foreign country.
That all having said, I want to thank all the people that I have met during the past six months. They say that the people make the place, so I am grateful for all those people that make me feel homesick to Bitola now. Thanks to all the EVS’ers that turned from strangers into friends, who made the office to a more bearable place, and from whom I also learned a lot. Thanks to my Macedonian friends, that made me feel integrated in Bitola by drinking Skopsko’s while improving my Macedonia-style gossiping. Thanks to the SFERA team, my volleyball team and a thanks to all those Bitoleans on bazaars, supermarkets, or restaurants whose kindness sometimes just could make my day. Фала многу за сите. I hope to see all of you, as well as just that beautiful city of Bitola, at some point again.