I’m Johanna from Germany and currently I’m doing my ESC at the German YMCA in London. I’ve been here for five months and I’m very happy with the way things are. I’d like to tell you from my experience how an ESC does not turn everything into some kind of perfectly smooth holiday and how that is a good thing.
Almost exactly a year ago I sent out the application to my current ESC without expecting too much. It was the last day to apply and the location was London, which seemed surreal to me. Other projects I had contacted before didn’t even know whether they would take place due to Covid. I never imagined that things would turn out the way they did. Not only did I get accepted, but we also managed to avoid the new Brexit regulations and arrived in London on the 30th of December. I still feel so happy remembering this!
The first few weeks had been a lot of this kind of excitement and joy, even though I mostly spent them between quarantine and office work. Everything was new to me and positively overwhelming. Things worked out great, especially with my roommates. At my on-arrival training I learned that most of the volunteers feel that way. What I also learned was that it is very normal to feel a bit down after that first wave of excitement. It’s just what happens: You try to adjust to everyday life and then realize that surprisingly even the smallest cultural differences can have an impact on you. My biggest problem was reading between the lines and getting indirect messages. I’m glad that my perspective on communication got expanded because of this. A conflict I had which involved a similar problem cleared up again and I learned from the situation.
Another issue was Covid of course. We had to wait through a three months’ delay until the project even started, and nearly all of the planned volunteering activities were not taking place at first. But with a lot more freedom to choose my tasks came creativity and it made me become a lot more independent.
Besides, the pandemic at least had the benefit of us being able to slowly adjust to the more and more versatile work. We got the chance to volunteer at a hospital in an environment that probably no volunteer did before us. And with tourists missing, there were a lot more calm places in the city.
Then again, through being able to explore so many new opportunities you can start to feel as if you aren’t doing enough whenever you relax. The ESC is a great time to step out of your comfort zone and train yourself in new abilities, but it doesn’t have to work right away. I think it’s important to keep in mind that in order to have fun with something new, you shouldn’t force yourself. Everyone needs to go at their own pace and if I remind myself of that, I’m able to make new friends, let myself get inspired, go visit nice places and try out what I usually wouldn’t.
As you can see an ESC has, just like normal life, lots of small ups and downs. The huge difference though is that this year is made for you to collect a treasure of experiences, thoughts, opinions and skills that you wouldn’t get at home. It’s the new social surroundings, the new possibilities but also the new difficulties that give you the opportunity to grow. And in my opinion that’s better than any holiday!