Volunteering experience in Bulgaria

Keily  – Bulgaria

Duration of project: 6 weeks

Type of exchange: camp counsellor in a summer camp oriented for international high-school students

I had always known I wanted to be involved in a long-term voluntary work someday in my life. Little did I know that the opportunity would present itself so suddenly and would have such a huge impact on my life. My decision to apply for the projects came pretty much on the last minute because I had lots of hesitations, whether it is worth stepping out of my comfort zone and will I actually go through with this. Thinking back now, I can’t even imagine standing between the two options and second-guessing – my volunteering experience was literally the best time of my life.

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My voluntary project took place in Bulgaria, in a little city called Blagoevgrad and specifically in The American University of Bulgaria.

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My job there was to be the camp counsellor in a summer camp oriented for international high-school students, a bit more than 150 of them. My project lasted for 6 weeks but since I arrived a bit earlier and left a week later, then I spent around two months abroad. There was a total number of around 20 camp counsellors and teachers volunteering for the project from various places around the world – Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Spain, Macedonia, Canada, America, Kosovo, Albania, Hong Kong etc. 7 of us came through AIESEC. I was the first ever Estonian to have stepped my foot into the camp.

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We, AIESEC volunteers flew in a week earlier to prepare for the camp. The camp itself lasted for three weeks. Among many various duties, my job as a camp counsellor was to be in charge of different afternoon and evening activities, staying up late during the nights to do rounds around the campus with other volunteers and provide a safe environment for the campers. The camp time was a really busy, runaround kind of crazy experience since there was not enough sleep but tons of positive emotions and happy moments triggered by both the campers and the volunteers.

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During the last week of the project we helped out with the international mathematics competition which had more than 300 participants.

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What I loved about the entire project was that I had the possibility to be engaged in various activities and responsibilities. I was able to develop my communication and leadership skills and I definitely learned to be more independent. What I cherish and love above all, is definitely my irreplaceable family of volunteers! I cannot begin to describe the way they opened my eyes about other cultures, countries and even my own home country.

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I will never forget the adventures, the laughs, the tears (both the ones through laughter and the ones through sadness), the frustrations and even the daily potatoes and chicken we shared! I love those people to death and I can’t wait to see them again one day. I am glad and lucky beyond measure to have a bunch of beautiful people around the world to call my family!

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I will never forget the two incredible months of my life and I recommend everyone to try volunteering through AIESEC. You have nothing to lose, only bunch to gain.

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PS! Some of the photos used for this blog post were taken by the talented Alvaro, one of the volunteers.

Volunteering experience in Egypt

Chengcheng Feng – Egypt

Duration of project: 6 weeks

Type of exchange: voluntary work about women rights in Egypt

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Hi! My name is Chengcheng Feng, from Shanghai University of China and studying in University of Tartu as an exchange student now. I went on a volunteering to Egypt for one and half month, which is really my first experience for working as a volunteer abroad. I have a strong desire to be connected to something interesting and special about outside world, which means a significant aspect for me to learn about myself and the world deeply. Egypt is a dream place that I desired to go when I touched the history there since secondary school, especially in my undergraduate University that made me have a new sight to Africa due to an ethnography called The Nuer. That is mostly the reason why I choose the project to do a research for promoting women rights in Cairo, Egypt. Such an amazing internship gave me an unprecedented experience which meant a giant challenge for me as well at the early time in Cairo. I wanted to do my best to experience the new world and do something good for the people in need. Once arriving, I was arranged to live in a hostel with another two Chinese girls and two Brazilian girls in downtown of Cairo which was 5 kilometers far from my workplace Giza.

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There were two groups in this project . The one was about doing research which was included connecting materials about local community and the situation of Muslim women especially via fieldwork and talking with local people in some certain spots, and there were another two partners working with me in Egyptian Business Women Association of Giza. Also, I need connect much more databases from internet and write some papers for the NGO-EBWA. Above were the main tasks of mine from 11a.m. to 17p.m. on workdays (Sun-Thu).

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Another group was the part of organizing conferences in the city 6th of October where had 20 participants there. They were in charge of discussing some co-ordination topics and building web site and so on. If it was necessary, we need also go to the city 6th of October to attend some significant conferences and events.

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When I was beginning to do fieldwork here, I was made to face a first big challenge which was about the local language Arabic. In order to get them ideas and thoughts, I started learning some simple words and dialogs from my project manager and the manager of hostel and asked help from one of my work partner who was from Libya and could speak Arabic.

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Later, I did face to another problem that was about hostility and lack of understanding from my communication objects. I didn’t have any good idea to solve it, only I could do was to be more patient and participated in their events and treated them by heart. I knew it need much more time to be familiar to them, so did them.

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Besides the work, there were another  interesting and unforgettable things to share here, which were about the holiday arrangement by local aiesecers. Although there were only two days-off in each week, they still companied us to famous Pyramid, luxor, B&W desert, Alexandria harbor, Sinai and Red sea ever, which made us get more awareness of the Egyptian geographic culture and the folklore customs. It was one of the parts which left a deep impression on me. For me, it was also a good chance to find friends from throughout of the world. We lived together, worked together and enjoyed the food and scenery here, which brought us much more understanding and respect for each other and the different cultures.  

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Volunteering experience in Brazil

Richard Riispere – Brazil
Duration of project: 8 weeks

Type of exchange: voluntary work in project Gaia

Hi! I’m Richard from Estonia and I went volunteering to Brazil for 2 months. This was my second volunteering project so the reason I decided to do this again was because I felt like a learned so much and had an amazing experience on my first time that I wanted a bigger challenge for myself. I wanted to go further from home and do something I really care about and do something nice for the local community.

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So I ended up going to Brazil, São Carlos to do project Gaia, which was about discussing environmental problems in public schools and teaching them about my culture. I chose this project because I really care about the environment and I wanted to teach kids how to be more sustainable and I also wanted to gain some teaching experience. My main tasks were to give classes of 50 minutes or 1h 40 minutes at two public schools and prepare new topics to talk about every week.

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My travel to Brazil was long, about 30 hours total and at first I was thinking what ifI hate it here? What if I want to go back home it will be 11,000 km away. But I got used to the town really fast and I started to feel like its my home. It was a student town with lots of students and student events so it was rarely boring.

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When I started classes I was totally worried that the students would be bored and too noisy and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I was teaching students from ages 12 to 17 and I had a translator. But ever since my very first lesson this fear was gone and I started to feel confident because the students are really interested in other cultures! Later I also learned tricks to keep them from sleeping because the scientific things when talking about the environment are not that exciting for them.

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The first week I just talked about Estonia, showed them some cool pictures and videos about things like sauna, the Estonian sport kiiking, and told them about what Estonia is like. The second week I talked about the environmental problems in my country, the third and fourth week I gave them tips how to be environmentally friendly and showed before and after pictures of how the environment has changed due to the problems that we have. The fifth week was the most fun at school because we organised a dynamic quiz about what we learned so far for the students with another trainee from Hong Kong who I was doing a lot of classes together with! For the sixth week we organised a workshop which was divided into two parts. The first part was where students had to make bracelets out of old clothes and flower pots out of plastic bottles. The second part was where they had the chance to write Chinese calligraphy.

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The local life in São Carlos was that there was always something to do because there were other trainees from Mexico, Hong Kong, Colombia, Ecuador, Netherlands etc. who wanted to hang out, go to parties or to lots of local events with music and dancing! There was also a cool observatory and a zoo where I would go multiple times.

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I lived with 6 students in a house that they rented and I really liked it because of the student atmosphere and it was never boring. On the weekends I would go travelling to different cities or to amazing natural places or to visit another Aiesecer’s family in the state up north. Sometimes I would stay in the town rest or in one case help my hosts with the party they were organising.    

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Finding friends wasn’t hard at all because everybody is just so friendly in Brazil and people are interested in you because you have come from a different culture. The biggest challenge was the language because not a lot of people speak English in Brazil. But I enjoyed this challenge! Because I wanted a challenge and this way I was learning a lot of the Portuguese language. I really enjoyed this experience and this challenge. I am really proud that I did this project and I feel like I impacted a lot of kids in a positive way and taught them something new and useful that they can use later in their lives to make the world a better place.

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In Brazil I tried so many different foods I have never tasted before, seen animals I didn’t know existed, everything is totally different and cool but the people here are the best but my favourite thing would be the people because they are really friendly and nice! I would suggest this program to anyone really, going abroad with AIESEC is an experience of a lifetime and the bigger the challenge the better because even though you will be teaching others, you are also growing and learning at the same time about everything around you!

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