< SWITCH ME >
With major changes under way in Europe, issues such as widening economic and social disparities, growing Eurosceptic sentiments and the uncertain future of European integration are looming larger than ever. Policy-wise, an indication of the things to come is the recently published White Paper on the Future of Europe, where only two (No 1 “Carrying On” and No 5 “Doing much more together”) of the five outlined scenarios envisage piecemeal change. In terms of human capital, however, both the issues and the solutions are contained in EU staples, such as the European Voluntary Service (EVS), a youth-oriented mobility programme, reflecting the existing social gaps, but also, subject to reform, uniquely positioned to narrow them.
Photo courtesy: Alexander Neofitov
The EVS4ALL project consortium spent a few days in Paris in the beginning of October 2016 to discuss the progress of the European Voluntary Service for All – a two-year civil initiative striving for more inclusiveness and flexibility of the European Voluntary Service. The latter, a European programme that has been running for twenty years and one of the undisputable successes of European integration, has built many of the social, professional and cultural ties, necessary for nurturing a healthy European citizenry. The EVS4ALL project partners, on the other hand, have made a substantial contribution to the practical and policy aspects of extending the programme’s benefits to each and every European citizen. To learn more about the challenges addressed by the project, its conceptual underpinnings, structure and results follow the link.
Like many young Europeans, I have dreams and hopes for Europe - I want it to be a place of cultural and political awareness; a place where people from all walks of life and backgrounds can come together and feel like they belong; a place where our ambition and determination know no boundaries.
But also like many young Europeans, who are much more fortunate than our previous generations, I found myself completely lost and uncertain of what my path would be after graduating from university. How can I, a heavily-in-debt university graduate, keep up the voyage of European learning while avoiding being evicted or - maybe worse - moving back in with my parents (although mine are thousands of miles away on another continent)?
Then an opportunity opened up – last year I was accepted onto the European Voluntary Service (EVS) scheme to work on E&M.
"Voluntary, did you say?" you might ask. Oh yes, my friends, but not only are living expenses compensated and language training provided, the work involved is way more mind-blowing than the many unpaid internships or coffee-making "traineeships" we have all applied for. I have had the chance to tailor my experience to be as European and as meaningful as I want.
Two years ago my life could be described pretty easily: I was a young girl from a town in Southern Germany dreaming about discovering the world, travelling to Africa or Latin America. But thinking about it more, I realised that I didn't even know Germany's own neighbouring countries. I decided it was time to go to Poland with the European Voluntary Service.
I hadn't heard about the EVS programme before, but found it by accident when I was browsing the web and thought immediately that this was exactly what I wanted to do! So I applied for various projects and chose the one which accepted me first. It brought me to a small village in South-Eastern Poland where I started working in a boarding school together with another volunteer from Istanbul. Frankly, it wasn't always easy. Sometimes we didn't know what our tasks were and sometimes we had to wait forever to get inside our building, because it was a big hassle to get our own keys.
The year was so different from my life before: I travelled a lot and met so many people from different countries that I was 100% sure that I didn't just want to return to my hometown. During the nine months I got to know Poland from many different sides. I was impressed by the Polish people and their hospitality and learned pretty fast that that not everything always needed to be perfect for me to be happy! During one of the last weeks there I went to a birthday party that would change my life: I met one particularly nice Polish guy… and to cut a long story short, we're still together...