“It is really an once in a lifetime opportunity”- Rafaella

Hola, my name is Rafaella and I am from Cyprus. I am currently volunteering in Spain, Salamanca. I am working in a project called EVS (European Volunteering Service) which associates with European countries and people who want to volunteer in other countries.

I chose this program because I wanted to learn Spanish for many years and every time I tried Spanish lessons after finishing I always forgot everything that I learned. So, I decided that the best way for me to learn the language is to live in a Spanish-speaking country. Living in Spain was a dream coming true, not only for the language but also for the culture. Cyprus and Spain have a lot of things in common, but also differ in many ways.

EVS is not a program for someone who wants to just go on vacation. Of course, you can travel and see the country, but you must be willing to work and help others in need. This program is designed for young people full of energy of ages 18 to 30 who want to do more in their lives and be part of something bigger than themselves. That was the main reason why I am participating in this, I want to do more in my life, not just wait for the world to get better by itself. In addition, by participating in a program like this, does not only give you the pleasure of offering, it gives you the chance to take back as well.

Think about how happy you will be after doing a volunteering service. For me that’s the biggest accomplish in my life. The fact that I have the privilege to live in the country that I chose and have all the possible help with the language, is very important too. I got to learn first-hand the language and some slag words that you won’t learn in a classroom. For example, when I arrived in Spain I couldn’t say ‘Hola’ even though I took Spanish courses in Cyprus. Now, I can proudly say that I made a lot of presentations speaking only in Spanish. Everyone who wants to volunteer in Spain, needs to have in mind that here no one speaks English, so that’s a benefit because you are forced to speak in only Spanish. At the beginning it’s a little bit challenging but on the way, you get better and you prefer to speak only in Spanish, so you can practise and see if people can really understand you. Learning another language is also a benefit for your CV; doors can be opened for you with the advantage of working in a Spanish-speaking country.

Not only you can learn a new language but also improve your English skills. For example, at the beginning I had to communicate in English with some teachers and additionally a part of my job is to have presentations in English. In this way, not only I improved my speaking skills but also my writing. Furthermore, I had the chance to help other students upgrading their English level by speaking with them or by having them join some of my presentations.

The subject that I chose to volunteer for is education. I am working in a school of languages in the city of Salamanca. Part of my job as I said before, is to help students who are trying to learn English with various ways, such as presentations or just by speaking with them. The types of presentations that I give are mostly about what an EVS program is and how young Spanish people can participate, the benefits of involving in the program, and what are being financed with.

Another kind of presentation that I gave, was about my country. For me it was very important to educate people in Spain about Cyprus. That’s because my country is a very small island in Europe that most people don’t know about. Cyprus is also part of the European Union, something that gives us the opportunity to participate in many events such as the Eurovision Singing Contest. Unfortunately, we did not have the pleasure to host the contest even once, since we never won. As far as Cyprus’ history is concerned, we can say that it is a long one and needs to be heard. Greek is the legal mother tongue although half of the country is occupied illegally by the Turkish. We have some of the best beaches in the world that not many people have discovered. Thus, for me telling my story and showing in Europe about an island that has had so many problems and is still strong, is very important. It makes me feel that I made my country proud by representing it.

Another part of my job, which is my favourite one, is to teach my own language. I was teaching Greek to people of all ages actually, I was the youngest in that classroom. Most of my students had taken classes of Ancient Greek before. At the first workshop they thought that it will be easy, but what was fascinating was the fact that they even had problems with the pronunciation of the alphabet letters. I am very proud of them because a lot of them had difficulties that made me doubt thear success at the first classes, but they proved me wrong. A very interesting challenge that I had, was a girl who was blind, and I had the privilege to work with a person like her and teach her but also learn from her. She was one of my best students. Even though the majority of my students were older than the age of sixty, I connected with them in a way that I could never imagine. Now they are my friends and I am expecting them in Cyprus. Of course, at my last day in Salamanca we organised a farewell dinner which ended with a ‘’I will see you soon’’ and not a ‘’goodbye’’.

Except from the work that I did in the school, I was lucky to see and experience some very interesting things. Being part of a Portuguese theatre without knowing a word in Portuguese was very challenging. Traveling and seeing different cities every weekend was something I was looking forward from the beginning of each week. Living the breath-taking traditions of Easter and festival of Valencia was an once in a lifetime experience. Getting used to the magnificent architecture that felt so normal passing by every day without acknowledging that it wiil not be part of my every day routine in a few months. However, the hardest goodbye, was the rhythm of the guitars and the dancers in the street. The colourful vents and dresses that cover the traditional dancers of Flamengo. The uncountable light and windows of Plaza Mayor are something engraved in my mind.

For someone like me who was leaving her home for the first time in her life at age 18, this was lifechanging. I felt the independence for the first time but also the major responsibilities that I had as an adult who was now living alone. The fear of talking in an unknown language but also the confidence to speak in public. The privilege of meeting people from all over around the world but also be part of different coulters. Experiencing the feeling of traveling alone and developing a good sense of direction. Tasting the famous flavours of Spain but also the untasteful burning food that I made. Learning to handle the rainy days as a girl coming from a country that barely sees dark skies.

Those are some of the things that Spain and EVS taught me. Even though some days felt endless I wouldn’t change a thing. I leave this country more confident and strong than ever. I am so happy that I had the chance to experience this in such an early age. The leadership skills I developed will help me keep on going more powerfully in every task in my life. It is really an once in a lifetime opportunity.