Each year Maailmanvaihto sends and receives young people for long-term volunteering. Minja von Holten and Paula Eschenburg share their experiences of volunteering with the European Solidarity Corps.
Interviews: Fabienne Zogg & Emma Niemi
Paula: from Germany to Finland
After I finished high school in Germany, I did not know what I wanted to do in the future. I was craving experiences and needed time to think about my goals and career aspirations. Knowing that a volunteer year abroad can really shape you and help you to grow, I chose a project in Israel. Since travelling to Israel was nearly impossible at the time due to the pandemic, I decided to go to a European country instead. I chose Finland for its amazing nature and landscapes, but also because I love Northern European countries and because I happened to find a great project. Coming to Finland definitely turned out to be the right decision.
A variety of tasks at a folk high school
My voluntary workplace is called Lehtimäen opisto and it is located in Lehtimäki, a small village near Seinäjoki. It is a folk high school for people with disabilities, which, in addition to education, also offers occupational therapy as well as riding therapy to the students. I had a whole variety of different tasks. On Mondays, I worked in the school kitchen, and on Thursdays, I assisted with the riding therapy and helped to clean the school stables. The other days of the week, I was able to work with the students in their classes. For example, I helped in the math, music, art, and handicrafts classes.
An inspirational experience
In my project, I work with people with disabilities. I expected the work to be very difficult and full of sorrow. Instead, I found the work to be inspirational, and I was able to build great connections with the students. Obviously, there were a few difficult situations but overall, being a part of the students’ daily life was truly a joyous and exciting experience.
It was really surprising how the time flew by. It feels like yesterday when I stepped out of the plane all excited and nervous. Also, I got to know so many amazing and inspiring people and grew a lot over the past ten months.
Meaningful connections in rural Finland
I would say that the most rewarding experience was the work with my students. We learned a lot from each other, and I am really grateful that I got to work with them. The most challenging thing for me was living in a very small village. Having lived in Berlin, a big city, for my whole life, it was difficult to adapt to the life in Lehtimäki, where there is only one bus a day.
Greetings to those considering volunteering abroad
Going abroad for a year is a big decision, and at the end of the day, no one can make the decision for you. But I would always recommend it since it is an amazing opportunity to grow and get to know yourself.
Minja: From Finlnd to Switzerland
Minja von Holten tells about their volunteering period in Swizerland on our website in Finnish. >> Read the interview of Minja
The article has been published in the nagazine MaailmanVaihtoa – Volunteers’ Voices 2/2021.