6 months abroad as a volunteer – A recap!
Hi, my name is Rémi and I volunteer at društvo DIH. After spending 6 months in Ljubljana, it feels appropriate to write down how it is for me here as a volunteer, in a foreighn country.
I am halfway through my ESC experience. Before landing in this beautiful city, I was living in France, Lyon, reaching a point where professionally I needed a break. I felt I needed to give my time to a greater cause and not to a money making company. Browsing on the European solidarity corps portal where you can find lots of opportunities for volunteering, one caught my eye. Working with and for queer people in a european capiltal city. It kind of was obvious to me at that point. I’ve always wanted to give back in some sort of way. I have come out as gay many many times, advocating for LGBT rights whenever and wherever I could, trying to change people’s mind, tackling their stereotypes and preconceived ideas. I felt I needed more at that point. That’s why I applied to the DIH volunteering position.
Throughout the process of applying, I felt the people I met via zoom were thoughtful, kind and willing to change the world little by little. This position that I am now occupying is an activist position. My main goal here is to support DIH projects. These projects aim to strengthen the local community through local events and communal gathering. My two main personal objectives coming here got fulfilled quite quickly. Working in a safe environment and beginning to understand what activism is. My colleagues are indeed all queer and thus I don’t have to either come out, nor explain, nor justify who I am and what I do. I can come to work and nobody cares about my sexuality nor the gender of my dates. This is for me a big change given that I used to work in a very straight centered professional field. The fact that I can be who I am without overthinking it makes my days less anxious and allows me to be more efficient in my activities.
Regarding activism, I actually didn’t know what it really was but I knew I wanted to help. Well, activism in Ljubljana turned out to be different things. Going to pride marches in different cities, organizing local events, learning communication, mastering the art of social media, taking the time to talk with users who come to our office and so much more. My position as a volunteer allows me to participate in brainstorming sessions, sometimes running meetings, managing projects, emailing colleagues and volunteers, taking decisions, working from home, organizing my days quite freely. The freedom that I have here as a volunteer is a great aspect of the position for me. I didn’t want to and didn’t need a strict schedule. I am helping the organization from 10 to 4 in the afternoon from Monday to Friday. I have the possibility to attend events that are related to LGBT topics and count it at volunteering time. This is a very positive aspect of the work I’m doing here. Overall, I feel useful here because local queer people get the chance to meet, make new friends, chat and feel a sense of community. Participating in this feels personally very rewarding.
The free time that I have is spent on my bike discovering the city, the different neighborhoods etc. I managed to make a few friends around here. I have nice roommates from outside of Slovenia who participate in my social life. As a cis gay man, I feel quite ok in this city, I know a few places that are welcoming for LGBT people, a bar and a club. I have learnt that LGBT rights here are different from French rights. Here, same sex couple are not allowed to get married nor adopt. I remember when the same sex marriage law was passed back in 2013 in France. I was in my last year of high school. 8 years ago. I remember feeling understood and seen by society. My potential future love life wouldn’t be considered as a second class citizen relationship. Not that I believe that much in the marriage institution but I can’t see any other way possible in France, same sex people who are in love diserve the same recongnition by society than opposite gender people. I know Slovenia almost reached that equality through referendums and parliament members but the law always got annulled or pushed back in some ways. I hope for my fellow queer people here that this day will happen soon. According to literally everyone that I met so far here, this is not going to happen with the current government and prime minister. The current political situation doesn’t seem to be very pro LGBT people in any way. I hope Slovenian society will find a way to elect people who respect minorities rights and support them.
Coming from quite a big city, Lyon in France, and living in Paris before that, Ljubljana can definitely appear to be a smaller city. It is. There are definitely less people. Personally, this is what I was aiming for, a smaller city I could discover by foot or by bike. For sure, there are less cultural spots or clubs or LGBT establishments. Nevertheless, I personally almost always manage to find an event to attend to, an activity to do, a place to visit. Ljubljana is vibrant and full of cultural spirit.
Moving abroad is always something important in your life. You lose your habits. You create new ones. You leave your friends behind. You make new ones. You let go of the vision you had about life to create a new one. Starting an ESC position in a different country is an opportunity for you to grow up, meaning you let go of all the preconceived ideas you had about a culture you didn’t really know. Discovering a new language, tasting new food, new ways of communicating is a challenge that is easily faced when you are young. There can be some apprehension for sure but once you get there, things get easy. You are welcome by your organization, by your coordinator. You will be assigned a mentor who will show you the city and who you will meet regularly.
An ESC position is a way to support an organization whose missions you agree with but it is also an opportunity for you to gain personal growth. It can help you build a personal project, learning new skills, anything you want really. I personally need to give 30 hours of my time to the organization per week. The rest of the time I do whatever fits me. Going to events, biking around the city, taking walks, partying, chatting with roommates etc. It is my first time living abroad and I would definitely recommend it to someone who’s willing to see the world and go on adventures. There will be some moments you will feel lonely and you will not know what to do with your day. It is okay, it also happens when you are in your home country. These first 6 months have actually helped dealing with my frustration. Dealing with the feeling of loneliness is definitely one thing you are going to face as an ESC abroad. It is definitely related to personal growth.
So if you’re hesitating on taking an ESC position abroad, ask yourself if you feel adventurous and curious enough to meet different people and different visions of the world! If you do, do not hesitate and apply!