Friday, October 9, 2009

Alex's arrival on Latvia EVS project - 2009

Alex Layden has just arrived in Latvia where he will spend the year as EVS volunter working in a language and cultural centre supporting projects connected to international youth and cultural work.

Birthday time - EVS volunteers celebrate!

“No problems, only challenges” says EVS volunteer Alex Layden

I was surprised as I waited for my plane at Glasgow to find that I was actually quite nervous about going to Latvia. In my case, the process from phoning Concordia for information about the EVS and getting into the car to go to the airport had been a matter of weeks rather than months, so there had been a sense of unreality about it, all the last minute details, coupled with trying to get potentially 12 months worth of gear into 15kg worth of baggage, had kept me too occupied to really think much about what I was doing. It was only waiting at the departure gate that I started to get concerned. Latvia? A country I know nothing about, a language I have not even the meanest knowledge of, and a volunteer project about which I had only an overview of what would be expected of me.

I reflected on this for most of the flight, but I found as I got closer to Riga International, I started to feel better. This was an adventure! What was the worst that could happen? People go travelling alone all the time, with no more than a passport and a rucksack. I was being met at the airport, I had a host organisation to sort my accommodation and food, and, break glass in case of emergency, I could always call Concordia.

I arrived in Riga 15 minutes early yesterday, and so hung around for a bit waiting, giving me a chance to reflect on the fact that I know none of the language and was entirely in the hands of the staff at the cultural centre. Fortunately they are both efficient and organised, so when, as I stood outside, I heard two people bearing luggage mention both France and Azerbaijan (in English) the lessons I had absorbed from reading The Hound of the Baskervilles on the plane came to the fore, and I introduced myself to John (from France) and Aitan (an Erasmus student from Azerbaijan).

There was another French girl coming into Riga that day, but not until 1745, so we took a bus into Riga and ditched the kit at the left luggage before going to do some sightseeing.

It was here that it got interesting. Aitan figured (quite rightly) that it was silly for all of us plus luggage to go to the airport just to come back into town again, so John and I went and had some dinner and arranged to meet Aitan and Line, the French girl later on. Later on came, and then another hour, and still John and I were kept company only by our mountain of bags.

For what I presume was some offence committed in a past life, my telephone decided that this would be a good time to play up. The time had come to phone Natasha at the centre for a game plan, and so I eventually found a signal outside the station (in the rain obviously). It was at this point that my phone gleefully informed me that I had a low battery. Cue much smiles and pantomiming at the bar where we had eaten to convince the girl there to let me charge my phone for a bit. Eventually I picked up a voice mail from Natasha telling us to wait and that there had been a problem at the airport; the plane was late and, arguably more seriously, Line wasn't on it.

When we met up with Aitan again, it was just gone 2000, and we had missed the last train, so it was to the bus station instead. We eventually got the 2120 bus which got us into Rezenke at about 0130, where we were met by Natasha and conveyed to the hostel, which was, as one might expect, different from what I am used to.

Alex's bedroom the morning after he arrived, still in need of a little warmth...

All needs are provided for, not as they would be in a hotel, but then this is the place we will be living for months, and so, I figure it is up to us to make it feel like home.

So we arrived very late on Tuesday, John and I, and by Wednesday we had met the other volunteers (those that had arrived) Elsa, from France, Luzzy, Germany, and Loukas, from Austria. First impressions were good, but I think that the purpose behind the application process in EVS is to find people who are outgoing enough to function well as part of a group in challenging circumstances, rather than people who are academically qualified (see my CV if you don’t believe me ;))

On Thursday morning we had to travel again, back to Riga, for out EVS on arrival training. In all honesty I was not enthusiastic, because I wanted to spend some time getting to know the town where I would be spending most of the next year, but at the same time I hadn’t made it to a pre-departure course in the UK, so maybe it would be full of useful information. Of course, I had no idea what to expect, but reflected that neither did anyone else, and at least it was all happening in my native language.

The journey was in itself an experience; we caught the morning train that had come into Latvia overnight from St Petersburg, and were surprised by the fact that there were beds which folded down from the walls of the carriage, and even the seats were designed as benches you could sleep on. Most of these were filled with large Russian people, who had enough experience to bring blankets and pillows with them. An interesting slant on train travel.

From Riga we took a bus out of the city to the guest house where the training course was happening, and it was here we started to meet the other EVS volunteers and get a sense of the other types of projects running in Latvia. The training course itself was actually surprisingly fun, and there was lots of useful information about the logistics surrounding an EVS project, and things which I didn’t know (covered in the pre-departure training). There wasn’t much which I would call essential, but all of it was useful, and we had a chance to talk about our projects in more depth and discuss what we would be doing and what we would get out of them. It was also a chance to really get to know not only the other volunteers from Rezekne, but also from the rest of Latvia, and network a bit, both for the sake of the projects, perhaps inviting other volunteers to events we will be hosting, and also for fun, it is good to know that there are other people in Latvia to visit to see more of the country.

Getting back from training almost brings me to the end of this little update, we got back to Rezekne late on Sunday after meeting Line at the airport, and we have spent time since then trying to figure out how to organise the day to day life in the hostel, bearing in mind there will be nine of us eventually.

The main point that came out of training for me was how much situations depend on how you perceive them. If you look at something that goes wrong as a terrible catastrophe, then chances are it is. But we are not the first people to do EVS, and chances are that there will be nothing we come across that another volunteer has not already encountered and overcome. And with the support network we have in place, it would take something quite dramatic to give us real trouble. So no problems, only challenges, and it’s shaping up to be a great year!

Would you like to volunteer on a fully funded European Voluntary Service (EVS) project for 6-12 months? Email: to request an application pack.

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