Nowadays, every single student who starts college already heard about what’s a gap year. The concept, which used to be abstract, turned out to be more concrete than we thought it could ever be. We know more and more people – friends, ex-high school mates, relatives- who decide to don’t follow the royal line of studies, which drives us from high school to jobs. Youngsters, mainly in Western Europe –where I am from- got tired of this scheme: degree, master, internship, and then, a job. We grew up listening that we can do everything we want, but knowing that the reality of the working sphere is meanwhile rather different. All of us know that we probably won’t do what we study for, or at least without struggling. Thus, the gap year represents the “Graal”: a short period of time you allow yourself to experience new things. Putting away pressure from studies and jobs, youngsters allow themselves to go ahead, although blindly. Writing these lines in Romania, after having passed several months doing a European Voluntary Service there, it is time to take a step back and to reflect on my gap year adventure.
In hindsight, I knew for years that I would need to take someday a break from my daily French routine. Although I loved studies, I felt the necessity to take a year for myself. It was about learning to know better myself and others by challenging my life. Hence, I was looking for a volunteering experience. I wanted to enjoy this time to do something that makes sense for me as well as for others. I looked for diverse opportunities to travel and work abroad with some local NGO till one friend told me about the European voluntary service – a volunteering opportunity proposed by the European Union to its youngsters, lasting from a few months to a year and concerning a wide range of subjects such as informal education, communication, ecology, promotion of sport, diversity and so on. It seemed to me the perfect deal: by working at promoting the cultural diversity, I could focus on my personal development. Then, I checked some projects and I applied to those I liked, no matter where they were. The place wasn’t mattering for me, from the moment I’ve never been there. I indeed wanted to discover a new culture, no matter which. I finally found an interesting project in Marasesti, a small Romanian town. Seven months length, enough to have such a good experience and shorter enough to do something else during the following scholar year- I thought.
Hence I came to Romania in November. During the seven following months, I passed through diverse feelings and struggles. I believe no gap year can run out without difficulties. It seems to be normal, considering that people are standing outside of their comfort zone. I struggled as well because of others: I was working with three other people, from different countries, backgrounds and with whom I didn’t have many common interests. We were living and working together, in a little town where we couldn’t hang out nor with other volunteers either with other people from our age. So hard it was at some time. Although we created beautiful relationships it wasn’t easy to deal with them every day. That’s normal. It is part of the social life: we can’t get along with everyone and with the one we do, there are some ups and downs. I had to learn to accept myself with my imperfections and the ones of my mates. During these several months, each one of us four did change quite a lot. Each of us proceeded in his own acceptance quest. It was faster for some, harder for others.
We all had to pass through different steps and no one knew how much time it will last. In hindsight, I do believe that the EVS is about that: calming down, taking a deep breath and reflecting on yourself and on your life in a healthy setting. At least, it was for me an opportunity to learn some practical and abstract skills – such as a new language or the ability to work in an international team- in a safe and calm way, far away from the injunction of speed and performance that rules our capitalist societies.
However, even though EVS represents a perfect way to do something for you by helping others and having an impact on something bigger, the system is somehow a lottery. Some people like me get lucky and find a project and an association that fulfills their expectations and others are unfortunately disappointed. That’s part of life after all: it is a lesson, although it is not the most pleasant one. Amid these opportunities – which ones are besides, increasing –
In my opinion, this last point is primordial as we are living in a dramatic period, during which nationalism and populism are popping up all over the places.
Written by Charlotte Causit
Charlotte Causit is from France and she was a Volunteer (European Voluntary Service) for seven months in Romania at „Voluntariat pentru viață” Association Mărășești. Since she wants to become journalist, she wrote these articles for Youth in (re)Action Civic and Journalistic Club Focșani, supported by “Me, you and them” Association and VranceaAltfel.ro.
Other thoughts about her experience in Romania …