Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Natalie in Serbia on EVS - 2010

Belgrade, the White City – Quite alright for me!

When I arrived in Belgrade four months ago, my first and overwhelming feeling was a huge sense of relief! After a nightmare journey involving a cancelled flight, excess baggage, a night in a Heathrow hotel, and a 6 hour delay in Vienna, I was so pleased to have finally made it to Serbia in one piece.

I’m volunteering for 12 months with Osmeh Mladih (which means ‘smile of youth’ in Serbian). Osmeh is a non-governmental voluntary youth organization based in Belgrade, which promotes youth mobility, participation and active citizenship through international projects and volunteering. At the moment I’m living and working with Aneta, an EVS volunteer from Poland, and in March we’ll be joined by Lutza from Hungary.

Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and the biggest metropolis in the western Balkans. It’s not a beautiful city by any stretch, and certainly no Paris or Barcelona, but it has a long and fascinating history, and there are lots of features that make Belgrade a really exciting place to be. Including, as any Belgrader will proudly tell you, its famed nightlife – in fact, the city was named number one party capital of the world by Lonely Planet earlier this year.

So anyway, after a couple of weeks spent sightseeing and settling into life in the (rather ironically named) ‘white city’, I was more than ready to get stuck into work at Osmeh. A big part of my EVS project is ‘English Speaking Friday’. Since December, I’ve been holding two conversation workshops every Friday for young people. The aim is not so much to teach English, but rather to provide an opportunity for people to practice speaking. We talk about all kinds of things – music, tourism, stereotypes, traditions – and I often finish the workshop feeling like I’ve learned something as well!

Other projects I’ve been involved in over the last few months include organizing an Open Day to celebrate International Volunteers Day; a international partnership building event in Kikinda, Vojvodina; redesigning Osmeh’s website; and creative work (posters, logos) for projects and events we’ve participated in. In fact, I’m really enjoying the opportunity to be creative. This is what I wanted from my EVS – a chance to try something different and develop new skills. And volunteering at Osmeh is a world away from the office admin jobs I worked in before I came to Belgrade.

Right now we’re preparing for an international training course that Osmeh is hosting in Subotica, near the Hungarian border. It’s a busy time for us volunteers, making sure we have all the materials, paperwork and equipment ready for the start of the project. It’s been eye-opening to be part of the hosting team – and to realise exactly how much work goes on behind the scenes!

Although winter’s been cold and snowy, and life in the city (like the traffic) has slowed down for a couple of months, there’s still plenty to see and do. Every week it seems there is a new film or music festival, exhibition or theatre season. This month we have the Guitar Art Festival and the 38th International Film Festival. For me, Belgrade’s a true capital of culture. And there aren’t many places where you can bag a seat in the National Theatre for less than 5 euros!

Spring will bring new projects (promoting EVS in high schools); partnerships (with the Media Education Centre); travel opportunities (including trips to Poland and Lithuania); as well as the mid-term EVS training in Ohrid, Macedonia, and hopefully chances to see a lot more of the Balkans region. I’m starting to wonder how I will fit everything in! Eight months left, and already I’m thinking it’s not long enough…

No comments: