Volunteering at Kainuun opisto

Deciding to come to Europe for a voluntary year was one of the most difficult things for Bolivian Lourdes Morales. The year in Finland gave her more than she had ever hoped for.

Deciding to come and volunteer in Europe was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It meant giving up my family, job, friends and a whole life I had built in Bolivia. But it also meant the possibility to get a new kind of experience outside my comfort zone and get a chance to learn about cultures and see the world. So, I ventured to it.

First of all, whereas other Bolivian volunteers were accepted in countries like Germany or Great Britain, I got accepted in Finland. Everybody was worried that I was going to live in the North Pole… Then, from the very many international volunteers working throughout Finland, the project that was assigned to me was the one furthest North. I REALLY ended up being the volunteer living closest to the North Pole!

“Everybody was worried that I was going to live in the North Pole… Then, from the very many international volunteers working throughout Finland, the project that was assigned to me was the one furthest North.”

Also, most volunteers are living near the Helsinki area or at least very close to the biggest cities, and living in houses with families or support people. Meanwhile, I was still trying to find Mieslahti in maps where I could barely see Paltamo.

But still, after these months of experiencing living, working and sharing with people at Kainuun Opisto, there is no place I would rather be.

When I arrived, the classes had already started and I had to keep up with the different activities that were assigned to me. Little by little, I started talking to more people, making new friends and understanding the kind of place I was living in. A mixture of people of so many different ages, countries, cultures and backgrounds that had my head spinning for months!

But at the same time, all of them were just trying to adapt to a new life in a different kind of place. No matter where they came from, they were accepting the culture of peace. Getting to know one another and establishing bonds among each other without even contemplating the possibility of discrimination or mistreatment. So many people were there just trying hard to achieve their goals and lead happy lives. And, although I felt so far away from all I knew, the thought of being surrounded by them also made me feel, in a way, at home.

During my one-year volunteering project, I have been a part of some classes as a student, some as a tutor and some as a teacher. I have been responsible of helping with some extracurricular activities as well. And it has all been an interesting experience.

“Little by little, I started talking to more people, making new friends and understanding the kind of place I was living in. A mixture of people of so many different ages, countries, cultures and backgrounds that had my head spinning for months!”

I have had the opportunity to teach both English and Spanish, which have been greatly rewarding experiences since they are part of my professional field. Also helping other teachers with their language courses and getting a chance to see how teaching is approached in Finland have been rewarding experiences.

Besides these, I had some activities related to the international volunteering organization, such as doing presentations of my country in different schools nearby Mieslahti and attending some meetings and training camps along with other volunteers. There, I also got to see a little bit more of the Finnish reality, education and way of thinking.

This experience has shown me more than I had ever hoped for. It has allowed me to make friends, learn about cultures and see so many beautiful places, but also learn many things about myself. Truth be told, volunteering is an amazing experience that I highly recommend for people who want to travel and get to see and experience more of the world.

Text: Lourdes Morales, photos: from the album of Lourdes Morales

The article has been published in the magazine MaailmanVaihtoa – Volunteers’ Voices 2/2016.

Lourdes participated in Finland in the International Cultural Youth Exchange program in which the participants volunteer for 6 or 12 months. Would you be interested in ICYE volunteering? Read more about the program and apply!