Europe Day held on 9 May every year, celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historical ‘Schuman declaration’.
The ESC program creates opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects around Europe. We invite you to come on a journey through the experience of Ioanna Pardalaki in Barcelona and mine in Thessaloniki
We are all made of the places where we live, the people we meet and the memories we don’t forget. In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, after feeling like a hamster on a cage in my hometown Barcelona, I realized I wanted to go abroad (again). “What?” my friends and family asked. “You have already lived in Belgium and Canada. We felt that you wanted to settle down… You are a bit like Peter Pan”. But joining the European Solidarity Corps in a media lab in Greece with United Societies of Balkans seemed like the right choice.
That is how, the week after turning 27, at the beginning of January, I moved to Thessaloniki. The trip was a real Odyssey: to the usual stress of the check-in, the waiting and boring hours in the airport, it is necessary to add a cancelled flight, the Ryanair drama, the PCR (which is only valid for 72 hours), the Passenger Locator Form (PLR), which has to be accurate because if not you can be denied the entry to the plane… It is also a nightmare to take the suitcases out in every city and paying twice for the extra baggage because normal layovers and connecting flights almost do not exist anymore (and direct flights from Barcelona to Greece were forbidden back then).
After a week of lockdown, which seemed endless, Thessaloniki made me the first gift: it snowed in a city where it usually never snows. I went to explore Ano Poli (Upper Town) and its colorful houses and churches covered in white. The winter was long and during some weekends, the curfew started at 18:00 so we couldn’t leave after that time. But the best antidote was living in a big house with a lot of people from different countries and cultures and spending time and sharing laughs with them.
From Athens to Barcelona
Ioanna Pardalaki is 24 and she made the opposite trip. She is from Athens and she recently moved to Barcelona in a pretty different situation, although she feels somehow like home. “I like Spain and Barcelona because it is similar to Greece. I like the sun, the beaches, the good weather… Barcelona is really multicultural and there are many young people so you can meet people easily”, Ioanna explains.
She is aware that not everything will be easy. “I know there will be a lot of challenges too. In this program, you get out of your comfort zone and you get to miss your friends and the things that you did in your country. But I think when you start to make a life in the country you go for the European Solidarity Corps, life becomes better” Ioanna says.
Gaining professional experience
One of the advantages of the European Solidarity Corps is that young people can choose projects to gain experience in their areas of study or even explore others. It can become a plus in the CV for the international approach and for the possibility to learn another language. Ioanna is in a communication project, volunteering in Fundació Catalunya Voluntària.
“My project is about creating videos and pictures for social media, I have to do a documentary and organize some workshops for young people. They are based on the culture of peace, intercultural learning, non-formal education, and volunteering. I will also learn Spanish”, she states. “This program will give me experience for my professional career. I know that I will learn new skills and that have to do with social media, marketing, content creation… Maybe I will also be more confident”, Ioanna adds.
I am currently editing the blog Balkan Hotspot and I write in Balkan Beats, a magazine about social issues. I have had the opportunity to attend workshops in many fields: social media, photography, videos, project management… I was used to a stressful daily life with very tight deadlines in Barcelona and in Thessaloniki I can invest the time and resources I need, and I can write about any topic I can dream about.
Moreover, I have also started teaching English to refugees and will probably deliver some workshops during the summer. I have tried to improve my Greek, taking lessons with our teacher Chara, but I find it very difficult.
Memories that last forever
Ioanna feels that her project does not only help her in the professional field, but also in her personal life. She thinks that European Solidarity Corps will help her to make lifetime experiences and expand her horizons, meeting people from other countries. She laughs when I ask her to explain a funny anecdote. She went with some friends to Cadaqués, which is a seaside village that looks like a postcard, but when she was having lunch with some friends in a restaurant a bird shit on her plate. “But I guess you can’t tell that on the article”, she said. Oops, I just did…
To me, the European Solidarity Corps program has been like a rollercoaster, with lots of loopings. Some days, I almost had a heart attack, sharing my space with so many people, or even having to be in quarantine for two weeks. But overall, I have enjoyed the ride. Now that tavernas are opening, that it is going to be possible to travel around Greece, and that the summer is around the corner, I guess the best is yet to come…
I feel that living abroad is living a completely different and new life, sometimes even a bubble. Every city where I have lived has become a chapter in the book of my memory. Every place has taught me a different lesson. But I think that it is not only about the place, but about the people I have met. I will be forever grateful for this experience and for the people that I have encountered along the way. I have the privilege of calling some of them friends and I hope that some of them will be forever in my life. ευχαριστώ, Thessaloniki!