One year ago began the best adventure of my life. After one month of being terrified and going crazy on overthinking if I did the right decision and if I’m really a person who can do that, I finally flew to Warsaw and after a few additional hours on the bus I arrived to Białystok. Finally, I felt the relief of being there, the decision was done and I felt so free and excited about my 9-month life there.
After a warm welcome of my coordinator and mentor I came to the student’s dorm where I met 7 other volunteers and many students that came in the following months. At that time, I didn’t imagine they would turn out to be my great friends, confidants, party mates, co-workers, flatmates, travel buddies and much more. I’m not that kind of person that attaches fast to someone, but living with those people I surprised myself. We were in this all together, we wanted and needed to support each other, we were all open to so much new things and we came with the intention to do some good there. We spent together every day of those 9 months at work, at home, on trips, in the city. We shared so much joy, happiness and also tears. That’s why this best experience of my life had also the worst part in the end, when we had to say goodbye, even though we knew it was just a ‘see you soon’.
As someone wrote, those months abroad were an emotional rollercoaster. There were times I wished they would never end. I felt so much support and appreciation from people around me, but there also came time of crisis with too much overthinking, feeling homesick or facing problems at work. But learning how to overcome all that and sticking until the end made this experience so valuable.
Reality is never like our expectations and I knew this would not be any exception. Although I probably had an image of how this work will look like I mostly didn’t know what to expect. One of my tasks there was to work with refugee children in kindergarten in the refugee center. Even though it was a bit chaotic sometimes I got to know them as sweet and playful children that need so much love and support because of all the hard experiences their families had to go through. There was a language barrier but with younger children it wasn’t such a problem. A bit harder situation was in communication with older ones but we successfully conducted workshops with them in the refugee center and in different Polish schools. We had a chance to participate in some integrational events for refugee kids, teach some of them individually, visit homeless people, etc. We also learned the language and had some workshops where we got more knowledge about what and with who we are working.
There was of course a cultural shock for me. I wasn’t so surprised by Polish customs, I was more surprised by the culture of refugees regarding they were mostly Chechen (but also Ukrainian, Tajikistan etc). I had the chance to see different aspects of their culture. Those concerning their view of the family, of raising children etc. that did not always fit my beliefs. On the other hand, I also got to know them as hosts that shared their delicious traditional food with us, energetic dances and Caucasian music that we really got to love. I appreciate my first-hand experience with them, regarding that there is so much talk about refugees today which is so generalized and often comes from people that do not know much about them.
My multicultural experience didn’t finish at work. Attending trainings and living in a student’s dorm full of people that were from different countries meant of course a lot of fun but also getting to know different cultures. We were people of different ages, characters, with different mother tongues, levels of English, different education and beliefs. But we enjoyed in sharing our lives, knowledge and culture, many times through international dinners, movie nights, music, sharing words from our languages. Soon I realised we are more similar than different but with special traits that make us more interesting. We were breaking some stereotypes and discovering how accurate some other seem to be 😊. I also realized that it didn’t matter where on this planet we are (even though it was the coldest part of Poland), as long as we are in good company, doing things we like.
It was a very powerful experience for me, I learned a lot about myself and others, grew, became more independent and open for sure and more aware of the important people and things in my life. I also became more restless, thinking about new experiences I want to acquire and believing I can. I wish that everyone that ever thought about something like that would really go. In the worst case a person can just find out this is not for them. But there is a chance to have such a great experience. It doesn’t really matter where exactly you are going but why are you going and how open are you prepared to be. Of course it is not easy to just go and I know there are many factors that influence your experience but mine was great. That’s why I wanted to share a piece of it and encourage anyone that needs to be encouraged.