I don’t enjoy working with kids.
I mean, before November, I hadn’t really done it, but I felt pretty strong in this conviction, horrified every time someone suggested that I consider pursuing teaching. Knowing this, you might question why I decided to apply for an EVS project that would have me spend three weeks in Hungary volunteering with school children. The reason? I wanted a challenge, a new experience, and I heard good things about the EVS, so when my application was accepted, I didn’t think too much about saying yes, prepared to have my mind changed. Spoiler: I discovered that I like children.
And so, on the 25th November, I embarked on a two-day bus journey into the depths of Hungary, preparing myself for the weeks to follow of leading creative arts workshops in schools.
In the first week, we split ourselves into groups – one for music, one for drawing, and one for dancing – and each group prepared a programme to deliver in the schools. As music is a real passion of mine, that’s where I chose to get involved. And I felt useful – I was able to use something that I love to benefit others, teaching young people to play ukulele, helping them to realise the power of their singing voices, inspiring them to feel more comfortable performing. In some places, we were the first people the children had met that came from outside their country.
On top of this, we prepared a musical performance for the village’s Christmas celebration and our set included a group performance of a song I’d written, ‘30 days’. It was my first time hearing so many people singing my lyrics, and that feeling was incredible. Music is really a form of communication that transcends language barriers, demonstrated by the audience’s reaction to our performance, the children’s eagerness to get involved in our workshops, and the joy we found in singing together in our free time.
We came to know the local people, and this was the first time I’d properly experienced trying to communicate with a language barrier; everywhere I go, it feels like almost everybody speaks English – the common language of the volunteers was my native tongue. But I found it challenging not to know the language of the country, frustrated by how limited it made me feel. However, we found ways around it, using google translate, gestures, broken Hungarian/English to have a conversation. The group’s common language was English, not everyone speaks it well.arry conversation. It was hard work, but incredibly rewarding.
Although my main purpose there was to carry out work in the community, I found a lot of value in having learned things about myself, other people, and their different cultures. There we were, a group of twelve Europeans plucked out of their normal environments and inserted into the picturesque village of Nagyvázsony. We all had our reasons for being there – some wanting to spend time giving back, some wanting to escape from their normal world, some (like me) filling time in a gap year, looking for a new adventure. But at the start, we knew nothing about each other, and without our usual context of home, friends, and native language, it was an opportunity to present ourselves in the way we wanted to be seen. For me, it was a real challenge, confronted with a question: outside the comforts of my familiar, who am I, really?
We were with each other pretty much 24/7, sleeping, cooking, and socialising together, and when you’re consistently with people for that long, you can’t help but form close, intense bonds. We shared stories of our countries, taught words from our languages, cooked dishes to share. There were hugs and cheek kisses from almost the beginning. Halfway through the programme, we had a four day holiday and spent three nights together in Budapest, which is a truly beautiful city. Although it’s not so easy to live with so many people, and finding time alone could be tricky, it felt like a real community, and I’m so proud of what we achieved.
My experience in Hungary has been really formative for me. It opened my eyes to so many different things – the Hungarian way of life, the difference in cultures across the continents, communicating across barriers – and I am leaving with a greater knowledge of myself and the way I work. I am so grateful to Fekete Sereg for hosting me, and to all the staff and volunteers for being so welcoming and supportive. I feel I have made friendships for life. If you’re thinking about applying for an EVS project, go for it. International experience is so enriching. You have absolutely everything to gain.