Dieci mesi in Italia - una vita completamente nuova! Blog dei volontari

For ten months, I was a volunteer with the organisation InCo Molfetta in Puglia.

This time last year, I was getting ready to leave Luxembourg and my office job to go and live in Italy for ten months, as part of the European Solidarity Corps.

At the time, I was rethinking my professional future, and unsure which direction to take. So when a friend mentioned the European Solidarity Corps volunteering opportunities, I decided that, if I was going to be thinking deeply about my future, I might as well do so while doing something productive, learning a new language, and meeting new people!

I was drawn to InCo Molfetta because the project description seemed the most interesting, the most varied, and also the one most likely to teach me new skills that I would be able to use later.

Arriving in South Italy from Luxembourg was quite a shock - and not only because of the temperature! Going from low twenties to high thirties was definitely a shock to the system! But the cultural difference also hit me hard, and it took me some time to adapt. The siesta for example took me by surprise, the fact that nothing was open during the afternoon and that we weren't working during that time either. The more laid-back attitude, the loose relationship with time and deadlines... all of that took some getting used to, especially since I was coming from a strict office job!

But Puglia wasted no time driving me in. The people are welcoming and kind, and very, very patient with foreigners struggling to learn Italian! Very few of the people in Molfetta speak English, and while my native French language helped me understand them somewhat, I did have to ask them to repeat themselves quite a bit at the beginning! Thankfully, the ESC programme included language courses, both online and, as organised by my organisation, in real life, as evening classes in a local school.

Puglia is also a gorgeous region, full of beautiful spots, great food and a rich history! While circumstances prevented me from visiting it as much as I would have liked, those trips have only been postponed - I'm definitely coming back at some point!

Working as part of the InCo team was a fantastic experience - we were doing a lot of different things to promote European Mobility to young people: organising presentations in schools, holding international evenings were locals could come and interact with the (many!) volunteers, a tandem project pairing locals wanting to learn other languages with volunteers wanting to learn Italian... We also hosted youth exchanges with participants from up to six different countries, helped organise the signing of a Twining Cities agreement, coordinated the different volunteers, both in Italy and out of it, that we were responsible for...

My all time favourite project, though, was the ANG in Radio Puglia Free Generation (https://freegenerationradio.it/)! As part of this project, I wrote and recorded different podcasts, about volunteering, about social media, creativity... It was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed learning how to use the different recording tools and editing apps!

Meeting the other volunteers was also great! I got really lucky with both my awesome flatmates (Hi Juliette! Hi Eshan! I miss you guys!) and the two volunteers I worked with (Hi Kristina! Hi Cecilia!). It was great living and working with them, and we did a lot of activities with the other volunteers too, as well as some trips around the country!

Of course, Coronavirus changed our plans. A lot of the activities and exchanges we had planned were postponed or cancelled. A lot of volunteers went home during the lockdown and didn't come back. Others, like me, stayed in Italy during that time.

I won't lie, it wasn't easy or fun all the time. But we found ways. We helped deliver groceries to at risk people who couldn't go to the supermarket or the pharmacy. We prepared food packages for those who needed them in those difficult times. We arranged to go and get our own groceries at the same time so we could meet in the queue in front of the supermarket and talk a bit (with masks and social distancing measures, obviously!). Some helped by cutting fabrics that would then be sown into masks. My Italian teacher took the class online and maintained it during the entire lockdown and even after it, since the schools weren't reopening. We checked on each other regularly. I started online classes and baked, a lot. I also learned how to cook foccacia and other italian dishes, and enjoyed the sun on the balcony despite the frustration of not being able to go take a walk by the sea because it was further than 200m away from the flat and that was the limit. 

But during that time, I was lucky: I had the support of my organisation, of the other volunteers, of my sending organisation and family, back in Luxembourg. And it felt amazing to be able to go out and see each other again once the lockdown was lifted!!

I ended up spending a lot of my last month in Italy travelling, visiting Puglia with another volunteer who had gone home during the lockdown and come back once it was lifted. We went to Otranto, took a hike all the way to the lighthouse, saw turtles in the Cave di Bauxite...

My last week in Italy, I meet up with the people from my Italian class for one last gelato. I was invited over by my mentor (hi Maria! Thank you again for everything <3) for a proper send-off meal with all the local specialities and it was delicious. I went for a walk along the Lungo Mare, then walked into the water a bit on the small beach behind the Duomo. I went for brunch with a couple of friends, then meet up with some others to say goodbye. I might have shed a tear or two as I left Moleftta.

Did this experience go as planned? Not exactly. Even in my 'worst case scenario' planning, I hadn't exactly expected a global pandemic!

But it was certainly an amazing experience, and I am really glad I did it! 

And hey, it even helped me figure out what I wanted to do next! I'm now actively looking for jobs in the area of youth work and european projects for young people!

All in all, my European Solidarity Corps volunteering taught me a lot. New skills, new languages... but also a different culture, a different way of seeing the world. It came at a time in my life where I really needed it, and it was exactly what I needed!

I might be home in Luxembourg now, but Molfetta and Puglia have definitely cemented their place in my heart - and I'll definitely come back at some point!

Arrivederci, Molfetta! Mi manchi già!