Embracing the Unknown: The Transformative Power of International 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.

24 y.o
ESC volunteer from Turkey
Currently in Narva

My name is Nesrin. I'm 24 years old, hailing from Turkey, and I've embarked on an adventure far from home as an international volunteer with a VitaTiim.

Living in Turkey, where the avenues to venture abroad are limited, the desire to explore beyond my borders grew strong. I yearned to test my language skills and my ability to adapt to a life overseas. Despite the uncertainty of whether I wanted to live abroad permanently, the urge to challenge myself was overpowering. When I learned about the ESC project, it seemed like the perfect opportunity—especially since financial constraints often limited my choices. A previous youth exchange introduced me to estonian youth, and through connections, I learned that the VitaTiim team was seeking volunteers. Although I knew little about Estonia, the possibility of contributing and growing there was too enticing to pass up.

The opportunity came so suddenly that it left me reeling—but determined. I had never traveled internationally nor had I frequently flown. The entire experience was novel and slightly intimidating. Overcoming my fears was necessary; otherwise, I'd remain stuck in my comfort zone in Istanbul.

Upon arriving, I was immediately struck by the differences. Observing the locals felt like watching a film where I was the outsider looking in. The language barrier was immediate and daunting, especially when I needed to find my way from Tallinn to Narva without internet access. It was stressful, but it marked the beginning of my acclimatization.

The first six months were a rollercoaster. The language barrier proved to be a significant challenge, not just in social interactions but in everyday tasks like shopping. The Estonian weather was another hurdle; adapting to its unpredictability involved layering up and embracing the cold.

One amusing cultural observation was the Estonian reaction to their unpredictable weather. Seeing snow in April and watching everyone treat it as normal was a stark contrast to my own surprise.

As I reflect on my time here, I realize the immense personal growth I've undergone. Working in the MITU team has taught me flexibility and practical problem-solving. Life here doesn't always go as planned, and I've learned to adapt and think on my feet.

Moreover, understanding my own emotions and needs has become crucial. Back home, I often dismissed my feelings, but here, I've learned the importance of addressing them and asserting my needs, such as taking a rest when necessary.

When I think about returning home, I anticipate feeling somewhat like a stranger in my own land. Estonia's tranquility and orderly lifestyle have become new norms for me. The bustling streets and loud sounds of Istanbul will surely be a jarring welcome back.

For anyone considering volunteering abroad, my advice is simple: embrace the uncertainty. You won't know how it feels until you try. Volunteering is a chance to discover oneself and step out of one's comfort zone. Start with opportunities at home, like national youth exchanges, and gradually build your experience. The journey might be challenging, but the personal growth and the broadened perspectives are invaluable treasures.