As we are approaching the end of the calendar year and my flight back home for the Christmas holidays, I thought it was maybe finally time to write something about my experience (so far!) in Belarus as a EVS (European Voluntary Service) volunteer. I’ve been thinking about this first article in my head since I arrived here, so a bit more than three months ago, but, as often, I got pretty quickly carried away by the daily life here. And, I can tell, it’s busy! Of course, when one sets foot on an unknown land, most of the personal time is dedicated to actually discovering, understanding, as well as adapting to this new environment. So, I hope you can forgive me for taking so long, but hopefully this long first article will make up for it 🙂
But before my impressions about Belarus, let me explain how I ended up here in the first place. It’s a question local people ask a lot, if not the most, like if it was some kind of a mistake. Belarusian’s mouths say « What are you doing here? » but it seems they mean « What terrible thing happened in your life so you would get punished and send away from Western Europe to this super-cold and hopeless place? ». I’m exaggerating, of course. But some people tend to be surprised when you explain that you actually chose to come here to do volunteer work… for a year! Although, luckily for Belarus, some of its citizens are actually proud of their country – and they can, believe me, it’s an incredible place.
Anyway. As I said, I’m staying for a year. Well, 11 months to be more precise : from September 2018 to July 2019. I know, it seems like a long time being away from home, but this way I get to see Belarus in all seasons. And, right now, well it’s winter, so pretty cold, pretty dark and pretty white. Just like when I was in Romania or in Iceland actually, only without the mountains or the sea nearby. But, for some reasons, winter is my season so I love it!
To understand why I’m here, we have to go back in time a little. More precisely, April 2018. At that time, I was still being a full-time volunteer at the Maison de l’Europe (House of Europe) in Bordeaux, thanks to the french « Service Civique » program, and I was still surrounded by EVS volunteers from all around Europe on a daily baisis. And, one day, after a trip to Serbia with my dear friends from the same association, it popped up : I should also do an EVS next year! I was already aware of this program for quite some times, but strangely, I only thought about actually taking part in it very late. I guess the idea needed some time to make its way to my brain, and to my heart.
After the decision was made, only a few steps were left to be made : 1) finding a great project; 2) Applying to it; 3) Getting accepted! Easy, right? Well, to be honest, it was kind of easy indeed. I found this amazing project in Minsk called « Communication through Art » to participate in Liga, a youth association, and in the National Art Museum of Belarus. There was only a few days left before the end of the application process, so I did a beautiful resume and motivation letter (special thanks to my Bibou who mentored me), sent them a bit last moment, got a Skype interview more or less twenty minutes later, and got the job by the end of the week. Don’t get me wrong : this is a big expection in the EVS application process. It’s usually not going that smoothly! But, I believe, that when it’s meant to be, it just happens. 🙂 [N.B. The tricky part happened later, to get the European subventions for the project, but that’s another story]
And here I am, in Minsk for four months so far, enjoying every little bit of it.
But what am I doing here exactly, you may wonder? Well, I answered that question and a few more for the blog « museumimpression » that my dear coordinator at the museum is writing. You can find the full article here!
« My name is Ingrid, I’m 24 years old, and I’m one of the many volunteers of the National Art Museum of Belarus.
Where do I come from ?
I was born in a small city called Pau, located in the South West of France : it’s a perfect location, as it is one-hour drive away from the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and one-hour drive away from the Pyrenees, on the other. After I finished high-school, I decided to move to a bigger city to continue my studies : Bordeaux. I don’t know if it is because of the Garonne river running through the city, or maybe because of the many cultural events, but I fall in love with this beautiful city – and I guess the fact that it is famous for its wine helped as well…
What is my background ?
I spent five years at the Montaigne University in Bordeaux. Just enough time to complete two bachelors – one in communication, and the other in history, and a master degree in the field of religion and society. I also took the opportunity to study abroad, one semester in Sibiu, Romania where I studied Journalism, and then in Reykjavik, Iceland, where I learnt about International Relations with a focus on Small states.
But I’m not only a university enthousiast. Being a student can sometimes leave you with some free time, and I believe it’s a good moment to get involved locally. I joined different associations : Coupé Court, which organizes every year a short-movie festival in Bordeaux ; Coexister, which promotes an active tolerance among young people of different spiritual beliefs ; and La Maison de l’Europe, where I could share the European values to different publics.
What am I doing in Belarus ?
It’s a question I have been asked a lot since I arrived!
I arrived in Minsk at the beginning of September, 2018, and I will stay here until the end of July, 2019 – almost one year. I am part of an Erasmus+ program called “European Voluntary Service” (EVS) that sends many young people from 18-30 years old around Europe to experience short-term and long-term volunteering abroad. I chose to come here because I wanted to do something different before I start working. I also wanted to learn a new language, to meet new people, and to discover a culture I didn’t know anything about. So, what better choice than Belarus, the most “unknown” country of Europe ? And, I have to say, it has been a great choice until now. I really enjoy living here, even though the winter is coming!
What about Art ?
So, as you may have noticed, I never really studied Arts, and I never volunteered in a Museum. I, sometimes, really regret it, but unfortunately it’s impossible to do everything. This is why I saw this EVS project as a great opportunity to have a better experience in this field. For me, museums are kind of a sacred place. When I enter in a museum, it’s like time stops and a new dimension is opened : the Art dimension. It doesn’t mean I believe a museum should be a quiet and empty place where the visitor can only receive, on the contrary! For me, it is also important to be active while visiting a museum. It can be through different ways, as each person has its own perspective : workshops, excursions, events… But I think there should be as many options as possible, so everybody can find beauty, get knowledge, and widen its cultural landscape ».
I leave you with this quick preview of some places from my first days, more photos will come soon 🙂