Wednesday, July 8, 2009

EVS in Brussels with Linden Farrer

Linden Farrer is on a EVS project in Brussels with AVSO -

I arrived in Brussels just over 3 months ago. I’d never been to Belgium before so I was really not sure what to expect, except that I knew it was between France and the Netherlands, and that the country was divided between French speaking areas and Flemish speaking areas.

So it was with some trepidation that I walked off the Eurostar and began my stay in the city. The first few days were spent walking randomly around the city, using a map occasionally to get my bearings. I bought croissants in shops, drank coffees in cafes, and saw quite a few of the sights within my first week. Later on, I began cycling to the outskirts and then to neighbouring cities and towns, which is a great way of getting a feel for the size of the place.

Brussels is a capital city, with beautiful old buildings, a lot of history, lots of parks of various sizes, and lots of lively little squares lined with restaurants and bars. Every weekend there is some festival or celebration taking place, and often you can walk into town and find yourself without even attempting, in the middle of some kind of event. Most people new to the city are really impressed with the range of things going on. Sure, it’s not as lively as London for clubbing or gigs, but in terms of street parties and festivals, it’s much better. For those who tire easily of the city - which is quite hard to imagine - all of the train fares are half-price at the weekend, meaning you can visit many of the other cities, such as Ghent, Antwerp, Liège, and Brugges for cheap (usually less than £10 weekend return).

OK - so what about the project? Well, the organisation I work for, AVSO (Association of Voluntary Service Organisations), promotes voluntary service at an EU level. As such, I’ve been involved in organising seminars, conferences, building websites, writing reports, and communicating and meeting lots of people. The pace of work varies from quite relaxed to pretty hectic, but it’s always interesting. I’m here until the end of October, and have a good picture of what I hope to achieve before I leave, and how I’m going to go about doing it.

I’d say that voluntary service at AVSO is a good opportunity for anyone wanting to learn more about the European Union and EU funded programmes, and develop their skills managing projects. Anyone happy working independently on projects in an office, or with a background in youth work, project work, or NGOs (non-governmental organisations), will find this environment familiar and comfortable. I wouldn’t recommend it to people wanting to work outdoors or directly with youth or other groups. Nor would I recommend it to people wanting to quickly master French or Flemish because the working language in the office, in European institutions, and for many internationals living in Brussels, is English. For those wanting these things, there are plenty of other EVS projects to choose from.

Finally, I’ll say a bit about the place I live - the Institute of Cultural Affairs. Far from being an ultra-revolutionary left-wing grouping straight out of the 1960s, it’s a place which is kind of in-between a hostel for young stagiaires (interns), trainees, students, volunteers, and professionals from all over the world (though mostly Germany and Finland!) and a ‘community’. Well the ‘community’ bit sounds a bit odd, and reading the manual for the place can put you off staying, but basically it means eating together, having some ‘house’ responsibilities, and being expected to help out from time to time with various things. I’m sure some people wouldn’t enjoy having food prepared for them, or find the lack of privacy that comes from living with so many people in close quarters difficult, but personally, I can’t think of a better place to stay as a volunteer if you want to meet people quickly, and not have to worry about cooking or buying food for yourself.

Click here for pictures of projects in Brussels

Click here for a country profile of Brussels

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