I always have a strong belief that everything happens in time and brings growth and essential changes in our lives. One of the biggest and essential events that have ever happened to me was this one-year EVS (2017-2018) in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Back then in 2017, in summer, I finished my 2-year teaching program with Teach for Armenia. My striving for new impressions and skills brought me closer to EVS. Having some information about European Volunteer Service as a participant in a number of Erasmus+ projects, I decided to continue my journey with EVS. While my teaching in Armenia I encountered different issues that our educational system had. One of them was the vulnerable issue of Special Education, people living with special needs and immature attitude of our society towards them. So my first decision was to take part in EVS project. The most crucial question should have been “Why I want to be an EVS volunteer?” My experience and lessons learned in my home country assisted me a lot to find the answer. So I started to look for an EVS project which would be connected with Special Education and School at the same time. It took me a while to dig up the EVS database on the internet when I finally came across the announcement on the FB page of APY about 10-month volunteering opportunity in Vilnius in an inclusive “Blessed Teofilius Matulionis High School” (Palaimintojo Teofiliaus Matulionio gimnazija). So I told myself, “Go for it! This is it!” I applied with love and got accepted. While these 10 months I never had a moment of regret about my choice of project and the hosting organization. In “Palaimintojo Teofiliaus Matulionio gimnazija”, the school that I was working in, I was the Special Education Assistant in English classes for kids with special needs. I was also assisting the staff members to organize outdoor activities, excursions and summer camps. I will try to do my best to fit you in my mood and tell about my 10-month journey.
While choosing the project I didn’t think of the country much. The volunteering project mattered most because I wanted to make any assistance to the everyday life of people with special needs and learn their psychology. But when the country was already clear, I was ready to live 10 months of my life in the new environment of astonishing Vilnius and Lithuania in general that I have heard of only in my geography classes. I had an opportunity to meet up locals from Baltic States before, on an international training course. They were Estonians. They made a good impression on me, so I thought the same or similar traits I would see in Lithuania. But life is full of surprises and I was lucky my surprises were enjoyable most of the time. I didn’t really have a cultural shock from the local lifestyle because as a Post-Soviet country we have some similarities as rebel soul and revolutionary movements, strong sense of patriotism etc. And, also speaking both English and Russian helped me out a lot before learning Lithuanian common words. For example, when English didn’t help in communication with teachers at my school, with shop assistants or locals, I could easily switch to Russian or use my beginner level Lithuanian. Cultural shock came while living with people from different cultures (Spanish and German) and spending time with people with different nationalities. This was a chance to rethink my habits, priorities, way of thinking, breaking stereotypes. And at the end I am thankful for this tough but useful period.
I lived all 10 months in Vilnius. It’s an incredible city full of mixed culture, crazy artists, conservative and open-minded people, international people, festivals, churches, green lakes, forests and parks, cold and long winters, blossoming springs and summers, the Republic of Užupis and many other amazing things. I got all this impressions by interacting with locals both in my hosting and other social organizations, by taking part in different cultural and social events, by travelling on the territory of Lithuania. My tutor used to say, “Lithuanians are lifetime friends, but it takes a lifetime to become friends with them.” Indeed it was worth waiting to find people you can rely on and kindly welcome whenever and wherever in the world. I can say that Lithuania as a country is underestimated and can possibly compete with famous tourist destinations. Lithuania is a country of lakes and forests. It possesses so much beauties known mostly to locals or interested foreigners. It is a place where you feel in harmony with nature and yourself. And I wish it to be known to a wider range of people as the energy and beauty it has is important and interesting enough to share with the world.
Sadly, this is only the theoretical description of the volunteering I performed in Vilnius. What impressions I got from Lithuania and abroad in general, what love I gave and received from kids and adults with special needs, what strong people I met, what great friends I made, how I felt travelling to different countries can’t simply be put in words. In the end, I can say that life is indeed a journey and the bravest have the most exciting parts. So be brave and you will get best of your journey!
I am sure only people who went through the similar situation can understand the joy of volunteering abroad. But I also share my experience to inspire bright young minds to break their stone shells and embrace the world, embrace the unity.