Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reflections on EVS in Germany - 2009

EVS volunteer Chris reflects back over his project

I’m spending eleven months in Munich volunteering with a non-profit organisation which oversees music competitions all across Europe, from Lisbon to Moscow. I began European Voluntary Service (EVS) back in January, in Bath, where I received the very-official-sounding (but actually-quite-relaxed) ‘pre-departure training’. There were thirteen of us heading for various desinations, many admittedly more exotic than mine: Peru? Lesotho? Mallorca? Wow. They’d be saving vultures or rainforests, or vultures and rainforests, and I’d be in an office. Every day. We learnt that everyone would get homesick, depressed, lonely and ill, but also that everything would be fine. Hmm.

Some weeks later, my night train from Paris pulled into Munich Hauptbahnhof. It was sub-zero: lakes and canals were frozen over, and the novelty of snow quickly turned to irritation and an itching for summer to arrive: those beer gardens apparently aren’t so inviting when there’s a risk of pneumonia. Warmer was Heidelberg, where I spent ten days on my ‘on-arrival training’ in February and ‘mid-term meeting’ in August – this time getting to know fellow EVSlers in Germany. There are few volunteers here in Bavaria, but those nifty high-speed trains meant making friends based elsewhere would prove a wise move…

Compared to my colleagues in Africa or Latin America, of course, the culture shock here has been mild. One notices the differences, and the first few weeks were full of typical misunderstandings, faux-pas, and getting to grips with the wretched various ways of addressing people... Are you a du? Or should I call you Sie? What about ihr? Come again?

Since then, though, it’s been great, if intense. Friends and family have come to visit, and vice versa, and I was able to explore my new surroundings more as the days became longer and the snow melted away. Alps, castles, lakes and forests aren’t so far away - nor are Switzerland, Austria and Italy - and May and June especially were largely spent out of the office. I travelled with a former EVSler from Spain, Carmen, and my project leader, Claire, to Münster and Essen (near Cologne), where we’d organised a row of concerts as part of a music festival and competition. Working with the young musicians, who’d travelled all the way from Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and the Slovak Republic, was refreshing, as was getting to hear them play, and of course learning the various international incarnations of ‘cheers’…

After a quick sojourn back in Munich, we were in Barcelona, running a conference for some of our member organisations. It was stimulating to learn about how music is celebrated in various countries, and for ticking the remaining Santé’s, Na zdravje’s and Skål’s off the list. Now. in just two months, I’ll be finishing my EVS, and I’m looking forward to spending the time here in Munich after so much toing and froing, especially now that the Oktoberfest crowds have dried up. Mine has certainly not been a typical volunteering experience, and has probably been neither as challenging nor rewarding as many possible EVS projects, but I’m really glad to be here and have gathered many memorable experiences in the process – some documented in photographic form!

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

click here for pictures of projects in Germany
click here for a country profile of Germany

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