EVS Diary

Looking back

"Everything is unknown, virgin. Later we'll have lived in this city, we'll have walked in its streets, we'll havebeen to the end of the perspectives, we'll have known the buildings, we'll have lived stories with people. When we'll have lived in this city, we'll have taken this street a 1000 times. After a moment, everything belongs to you because you've lived there."

Xavier in The Spanish Apartment, french film by Cédric Klapisch and inspiration of thousands of wanna be Erasmus students!

Arriving in a new place is like being in front of a blank page. After some time the page is full of memories and experiences. But at first, it’s really disturbing to know that one day the page will be full but right now it’s just an empty sheet of paper. It’s the dichotomy abstract/concrete that the quote is explaining.

It’s been 5 months that I’ve been living in Slovakia. Almost half of my project is already gone. Time is flying and summer is already over. Where has time gone ? It’s time to look back.

Now I know all the tram stops from my place to the office and I’m tired of hearing them !

Now I know where are the cheapest and best places for grocery shopping.

Now I have favorite places in Bratislava.

Now I have the impression that I know the city and it starts to feel too small for me.

Now I remember the name of my tram stop and of my street.

Now I have plenty of memories in this city.

Now I know people here.

Now I can show you around if you visit me, I can be your tour guide (I have already done that).

Now I can understand some things when people speak slovak.

Now I know how to pronounce the name of my NGO!

Slovak language is really hard to learn. But you know, everytime I can form a sentence, I feel super proud. Learning a new language from scratch is an accumulation of small victories mixed with tons of mistakes. But my initial goal was not to speak perfect slovak after one year. Only to speak bad slovak. There are still tons of things I can’t express in this language, but I’m trying. And that’s something already.

Building a social life in a new place is hard. But when you arrive alone it’s harder. So, here, I discover I have great social skills. Now I can say I have friends here. At the beginning, of course it was hard. But I had no choice other getting out of my apartment. Humans are social, and so am I. So, I went to couchsurfing meetings, Bratislava Language Exchange Meetings, attending every possible events where I could meet people. And eventually, at some point you don’t go there to meet new people but rather to hang out with the friends you made already. It seemed like the first 2 months, I met a lot of people and starting from the 3d month, I could say I had friends. I felt very proud when I realized I had friends and not only acquaintances. But it’s also good to know a lot of people here. It gives a feeling of belonging.

The place you live in is also very important. Before coming here, I expected a shared apartment. But at the end of the day, my roommate is never there because she mostly is at her boyfriends. So, I had to learn to live on my very own. At the beginning I enjoyed cooking. It was a phase ! But I learnt to take advantage of living alone : I can host people whenever I want and I a lot of space for myself. And I love my apartment, it has been renovated few years ago, it’s decorated with taste and the location is great. Why should I ask for more ?

Of course, work matters ! And I like what I’m doing here. I am promoting volunteering for the foreigners living in Bratislava. This allows me to know a lot of people and to know NGOs too. This also means that I have to write articles for newspaper to promote our activities. Few years ago, I considered a career in journalism. Eventually I decided that I prefer working for NGOs. Here I do both ! I had forgotten that I like writing. For a real audience. Here people encourage me and it feels great !

EVS is also about contact with local and intercultural learning. I am lucky because, thanks to my work I’ve been in neighborhoods of Bratislava I would never have gone by myself. My mentor also took me to some traditional events. I travelled eastbound because I was so curious to see Košice after everyone telling me how different it is. Indeed, it is. Prešov and Košice are pretty similar but do not reasemble Bratislava. Though, my contact with local people is limited to the ones being able to speak english. Sometimes I try to speak with sellers in the market. But I realize that my friends are mostly foreigners eventhough I have some good slovak friends. It’s usually something I’m more intrested in abroad, contact with locals, but here the language barrier makes it much harder as well as slovak behaviour which is not the warmest on earth. I get it it’s normal, Slovaks are not used to immigrants. They have a bigger tradition as emigrant ! But sometimes I would apreciate a “I’m sorry” after your sharp “I don’t speak english”. You know that little something that makes you feel welcomed. Maybe coaxing Slovaks is my new challenge!


Claire Billon-Grand

Photo : brenthanson.net

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