Javi Hernandez Castro, Spain

It has been now six months since I finished my year as an EVS. Looking back with perspective I can only find good memories and learning opportunities, because that is what EVS is about: learning. This is precisely what I was looking for when I decided that I would commit one year of my life to this experience.

I wanted to collaborate in a project in contact with the local community, learn about youth work and be in touch with many people. Plenty of other things came without expecting them, once you start, you only have expectations and fears, but nothing very concrete. It is not only until you start and get used to your day-to-day life (or, in my case, used to how each day was different from the previous one) that you can more or less guide your experience. But always open for the experience to guide you, expect the unexpected!

Of course in my after-EVS life, my work is different, my schedule is different, the people I interact with during the day are different; but somehow, all the situations I lived during the EVS made me more ready for any challenge that life will have for me.

It does not matter what your profession is or where you are, we all need certain skills to understand ourselves, the others and the surroundings. The skills I improved the most are: decision making, team work, initiative, organization and communication. They were all developed during concrete activities and always in parallel to each other, meaning that it is impossible to isolate from one another, they all go hand in hand.

To give a few examples, I was involved in the every-day life of two youth centers. For this you need to participate in the team meetings where the activities are decided, there you will be asked about your opinion, maybe you have suggestions and, furthermore, even you can make your ideas happen. For all these you will have to meet the potential participants and partners, do the necessary preparations, think about a plan B, make good use of online resources and other technologies… It might seem overwhelming at some points, but you get used to it and you will see yourself multitasking like never before!

The EVS was not perfect, in fact, I had to face a very uncommon situation for volunteers which, happily, had a solution. I started the EVS project in one NGO where I did not feel comfortable with the tasks, methods and certain workers. I turned to the national agency to look for solutions, and thanks to a very close follow-up of my case, I could find my place at Zavod Bob and continued learning to the maximum.

I am thankful for all I learnt in the new NGO, where most of the time I was enjoying. However, I do not think that the whole process of realizing that the previous NGO was not the place for me, was bad. During this time I developed my critical thinking towards the methods of such NGO, I also developed my communication skills since it is never easy to communicate to someone that you want to find a better place and also decision making because, as said before, it is a situation where you have to be very sure of what you want.

My biggest challenge during the volunteering experience was to think, develop, carry out and evaluate my own educational escape room, a gamification of the learning process. In this game, participants were put in a room and given a mystery to solve. In the room they found clues that lead to the next one, until eventually solving the task. Afterwards, we had a small reflection with them so they understood how they expanded their knowledge while playing.

It was the perfect example of how an idea can be made real if you devote to it the necessary time, effort and build the proper team around you. It was months of meetings, gathering material, coming up with the parts of the game, promotion on social media and contacting participants, before it was actually carried out. It was a big success, participants enjoyed and learnt and the team was very happy.

Now I work in a field far away from non-formal education, but every time I need to communicate with coworkers, make a decision or organize myself; I realize how all the lessons learnt from the EVS are still present.

This is why I recommend the experience fully to everyone, go ahead and find what EVS has to teach you about yourself!