Hi everyone, this will probably be the last post that I’ll write here. For those of you that don’t know: my name is Bart. I have been a volunteer at the Nõo youth center since November 2019, and my time here in Estonia is about to end in a few days. I wanted to talk about my experiences here for a bit, as well as say goodbye and give you a few tips on how to volunteer abroad.
Start and Finish
When I think about the first days, I clearly remember being on the train – a suitcase completely packed with clothes and other necessities next to me – looking around frantically and trying to get out of the train at the right stop. Finally, there it was: Nõo. A sleepy village with quite a bit of greenery. It was completely different from the noisy city I am from, but it certainly seemed like a nice change of pace. I met up with Egle, my colleague and tutor, who showed me around town and helped me get installed in my new home.
The first few days I was quite nervous, since I didn’t really know what I was doing and how the youths would react to me. At first my plan was to feel the atmosphere and see how things would go, trying to get to know the kids a little bit. Before I knew it, I found myself having full-on conversations and just enjoying connecting with the youths. I was very surprised at their high level of English, but it really helped me get more comfortable quickly.
My first days at the new house were a bit awkward, since I wasn’t used to living with cats. But I made some great feline friends!
A few weeks in I felt like I was doing fairly well, I felt pretty motivated to try out new things and even if I still felt a bit new to everything, it seemed to go alright. I believe my first project outside of the youth center was during two English lessons at the local school. I got to talk about the Netherlands and about myself a little bit, which was nice. It was also quite interesting to see how things worked outside of the youth center. After my first project outside of the youth center, I organised some other project days in Nõo Noortekeskus as well.
After the first two months I really started to get comfortable and quite enjoyed my time. I had made my first volunteering friends during the Arrival meeting, where volunteers all over Estonia gathered and had a few trainings together. I met them again during Christmas, and it was quite nice to be with people who are in a similar situation. Somewhere during the first week of the new year we made some Dutch Oliebollen (snack eaten by Dutch people during new year) and in February we celebrated my birthday by making 5 liters of chicken soup and egg- and tunasalad. Needless to say: I like cooking (the chicken soup was way too much, by the way). I did a few more projects here and there including a Dutch Game Day (where we played some traditional Dutch games – bite the cake was a hit), and the final project we did in-person was the Health week. This was a week where we talked about the health of the planet, physical health, mental health and much more. It was one of the bigger projects we did, and it was a lot of fun.
During my last few months as a volunteer, Covid-19 made the youth center close. It really sucked, since I thought that I would be able to finish everything in a nice and personal way. Sadly, this was not the case. We put up an online discord server and started trying new things out and tried to run the youth center online. For now, I feel like it’s working.
You can find more information about my volunteering experience in this video:
I was quite happy to be able to teach the 5th graders and 9th graders at the local school on my own and have the space to do what I want. Even though I was nervous, I feel like I did quite well overall.
Asking for help with the things that I needed help with and getting it was very relieving, and I’m happy I did.
Much later in the volunteering project, my parents came to visit Nõo. I felt very proud to be able to show them what I had been up to.
Getting the ‘King of the Ducks’ stickers from a youngster at the youth center was also pretty nice. I really appreciated that!
What have I learned?
Although I really enjoyed working at the youth center, my development has been mostly on a personal level. I feel like even if I still have the same problems and continue to make some of the same mistakes, I do think I’ve grown a bit and learned how to deal with them a little bit better. I especially learned how to communicate better and that I shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help. Overall, I feel like I’m happier with myself as a person and I really appreciate my time here.
If you want to try out volunteering outside or inside of the country as well, I’ve got a ton of links for you at the bottom of this post.
All in all, I feel like this volunteering project has had a positive inpact on my life. I just want to thank everyone for the support and show my appreciation for the youths at Nõo Noortekeskus. You’re great, all of you.
Hey Bart, that volunteering stuff sounds great! Where can I sign up?
Well, great to hear you’re interested! First you have to ask yourself a few questions though: do you want to volunteer in your own country or in a different country? I’ll just tell you right now, volunteering outside of your own country is a great way to broaden your horizons and see a different culture, but it’s also not something that you should take as lightly as going on holiday: you’re probably going to find out a lot about yourself, be it good or bad. It’s a great way to learn, however, and I’m pretty sure you can gain some life experience.
The next thing you should ask yourself is how long you would like to stay. Do you not have a lot of time? Then a youth exchange (noortevahetus) might be perfect for you! This is a cultural exhange abroad that lasts between 5 and 21 days. You can apply for a youth exchange from the moment you are 13 years old or older. You can find more information here:
If you have more time then the European Solidarity Corps (Euroopa Solidaarsuskorpus) might interest you more, since you as a volunteer would be staying in a different country from 2 to 12 months, depending on the project. You can apply from the age of 17 and go when you turn 18. You can find more information here:
This is the official site of the Solidarity Corps. It seems like a lot of information but look into the Frequently Asked Questions and hopefully you’ll gain some clarity.
Where do you sign up?
The first thing you should keep in mind is that there are multiple kinds of projects out there. The first three that come to mind are Youth Exchanges, Erasmus+ projects and the European Solidarity Corps. There are more kinds of projects out there, however, so make sure to look into it and find the one most suitable for you.
Here are a few websites to help you get on the way:
This is the official website of Europe. It has some good information on which kinds of projects you could try out and has great tips on how to choose a nice volunteering opportunity.
This one is very helpful when it comes to knowing what to look for in volunteering organisations and how to pick the right one. Start reading from “Nine questions to ask yourself to choose a volunteer program”.
This is the official site of the Erasmus+ programme. I would recommend looking into projects for young people.
If this all seems a little bit complicated, don’t worry! There are a lot of organisations that organise these youth exchanges and other projects. They can definitely help you along with making the right choice. I’ll list a few Estonian ones here, but it definitely pays off to search for some yourself as well:
This is the organisation that took me in during my time here. I personally recommend them because they keep in contact and provide you with good, personal guidance.
Estyes seems to pop up quite often, and a friend of mine talked about how it is a good organisation, so here we go.
Another way of getting a volunteering project is going to the European Youth Portal and finding a project there. I would recommend to find an organisation in your country first though.
I hoped this information helped you along! Have a nice day, and I’ll see you around.