From France to Narva: My Leap into Volunteering

During European Youth Week, we collect stories to showcase the experiences of young individuals involved in international youth work, with the goal of inspiring others to explore similar opportunities.

20 y.o
ESC volunteer from France
Currently in Narva

Last year, I found myself at a major crossroads. I pondered whether to return to university or seek a different path. Growing up, my mother often recounted her days as one of the first Erasmus students; she met my father while studying in England. Their stories, filled with friendships across cultures and spontaneous adventures, inspired me. These reflections led me to realize that learning about myself and the world wouldn’t happen in a lecture hall, but through real-world experiences.

It was my mother who introduced me to the European Solidarity Corps (ESC). Intrigued by the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, I decided to volunteer with VitaTiim, an organization that embodied the community spirit and global awareness I sought.

I was especially drawn to Estonia, a country at the edge of the European Union, far from my French home. I knew little about Estonia except that, like France, it had no state religion and a deep respect for nature—elements that piqued my curiosity.

When I first arrived in Narva, the stark contrast in architecture from what I was used to in Western Europe immediately struck me. The cityscape was filled with Soviet-like buildings, a far cry from the familiar French aesthetics. Despite the architectural differences, my initial impression of daily life here felt surprisingly similar to back home, which was both comforting and curious.

Adjusting to the local norms, especially around simple things like crossing the street, was initially amusing. In France, it's common to cross wherever, but in Narva, the strict adherence to pedestrian signals was something new for me.

The biggest challenge so far has been navigating the freedom of my role within the VitaTiim and adjusting to a new cultural and language environment. This initially made me feel lost, but the support from my fellow volunteers and the encouragement from our team helped me find direction.

Being away from my familiar environment added layers of complexity to everyday tasks like visiting the post office or a doctor, due to the language barrier and different systems. Staying in touch with family and friends back in France, alongside the solidarity among fellow volunteers, has been vital in keeping me grounded and supported.

One of the greatest personal growth aspects of this journey has been learning to embrace calmness and settle into my own skin. I've become less stressed and more comfortable taking initiatives, even in unfamiliar situations. This change has made me more resilient and open to trying new things.

Culturally, this experience has highlighted how our differences can bring us closer together. Participating in international activities has shown me that while we come from various backgrounds, our shared experiences can forge strong bonds that transcend cultural divides.

After spending six months here, I've become more open-minded, not just culturally but also in personal interactions. I've learned to appreciate our unique differences and the common ground we share.

To young people in Europe, and especially in France, considering a similar journey, I would say: Don't be afraid. Challenges are part of the experience, and stepping out of your comfort zone is where the most growth happens. It's okay to feel out of place initially; embracing these challenges can profoundly expand your world view..