Shortly, I am Levan Niparishvili, and I am coming from Georgia – the country of Khinkali, Khachapuri, and different sorts of wine. My six months volunteering mobility at Active Bulgarian Society is over, so I decided to share my experience with you. Surprisingly, it is the first time I am writing an article about this experience, and I would like to address the highlights I had here in Blagoevgrad.
It is always a challenge to change your living environment and be surrounded by entirely different people. Despite having a few experiences of living in foreign countries, I ever figure out new traits of my personality during my stay at a new place.
The reason I am here:
This volunteering experience is a bit different for me. Now it is the time when I know what I want from the project. I have done previous volunteering activities, and they were mainly about meeting new people, promoting diversity, sharing cultures, etc.…
The reason I joined the ABS volunteers’ team was more connected to my professional development. As I am pursuing NGO work in my country, my goal was to get familiar with practical processes a youth organization is involved in. In this respect, I found out how an NGO works and deals with the issue as one team. In the beginning, my craving was to create an Erasmus + project similar to Youth Exchange and be a project writer as well as a facilitator. After weeks of working hard, we applied with the help of the ABS team. Then, right a couple of days ago we heard the great news – “Aiming By Gaming” got funded by Erasmus +. This means that instead of saying “Good Bye,” I need to verbalize “See You Soon, Bulgaria!” and in 3 months come back to make my idea work – gather youth from 6 countries in Bulgaria and share practices about gamification and game-based learning.
Due to my openness to new connections, I was lucky to be given a chance to co-facilitate a Youth Exchange project in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. Despite having previous experiences and a high level of confidence, I found myself a bit nervous in front of 50 youngsters. I was challenged to offer activities that would make them feel free to share, discuss, and enjoy. Consequently, I did a great job and gained a new experience that can help me be a facilitator at other projects.
Being busy with working never prevents you from making new connections and building friendships. I would not say that doing voluntary service guarantees you a bunch of new friends. It is more about feeling independence, and sometimes loneliness, that pushes you to find the people you understand and enjoy spending time with. Then these people can bring you to adventures with essential life experiences. Here you will read how it worked for me.
Talking about adventures, I cannot miss a chance to say a few words about my first trip to Sofia. We organized it with my French friend – Theo – during the Christmas holidays. Our intention to make it for free turned into a failure and here is what we have learned “Never try to hitchhike only in a company of boys. Bulgarian drivers do not have a will to give a lift to guys”. But buses do not work badly though – finally, we arrived in Sofia, even though we lost 2-3 hours hoping for kind drivers to pick us up. Then, we did Couchsurfing (staying at a stranger’s place) – for me the best way to “feel like a local” – we got to know amazing people and had meaningful conversations.
Moreover, the need for taking a picture in the middle of a motorway in Sofia ended up with an argument with the police. Sometimes experiences make us disappointed, occasionally happy and crazy. However, they all hold a significant part in our memories, but every time we share it with great pleasure and emotions.
Then I learned the lesson – I hitchhiked four times to my beautiful destination – Thessaloniki, Greece – with success. My co-travelers were simply the most adventurous – despite having troubles finding the right spot, waiting for cars 2-3 hours, getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with no food or water – we were enjoying the time and felt free. I can give the label of “My best adventure” on a trip with my English friend – Dion. Although being turned down by other friends, we still hitchhiked to Greece and faced no luck in the middle of nowhere on the way; we found one village where it was cheaper to rent a car (40 Eur) than to sleep in a hotel (42 Eur). So, the right decision was obvious. After 2-hour-drive, we found ourselves on Halkidiki peninsulas, sleeping in a car, breathing the sea air, drinking Greek coffee. We felt crazy enough to swim in the Aegean Sea in March, and driving through Halkidiki peninsulas was rewarding.
After having a great company of my friend-volunteers, I challenged myself to discover Eastern European countries on my own. Despite not having similar previous experience, I was feeling excited and fearless. To be sincere, I had already contacted several locals in these cities through Couchsurfing, and I was so happy to meet them. My first flight was to Bratislava – perfect city to live; food, places were amazing. The people I met here made my days special! More than expected! My friends were telling me that half a day is enough to explore Bratislava – After seeing it with my eyes, I would like to say to them that “They Were Wrong!”.
From Bratislava, I took a Blablacar to Prague (Yes, I failed in Hitchhiking, but when I am alone, It is not a big deal for me). Prague is crowded with tourists. I met many beautiful people there (as always 😁). Some facts I remember: they call dumpling to their bread, and Slovak beer is much better than Czech. Two nights were enough to socialize with Czechs, and the next blablacar driver left me in Vienna – so beautiful but expensive! Just imagine a Georgian guy who was spending 5 cents on one-way city transport tickets, was asked to pay 2.5 Euros for the same thing. Two days passed ultimately – I liked how healthy people live in Vienna – parks all around, people playing outdoor games, enjoying their lives. The last piece of adventure I had was in Budapest – slept in a hostel and explored the beautiful sides of Buda and Pest. Once walking across the streets of Budapest, I was stopped by a person promoting some city tours: “ Hey, are you Italian?” “no, sorry!” ” um.. are you, Georgian?” – I was shocked to hear this. Usually, nobody can guess that I am coming from this beautiful country. The case was that he had just met some Georgians there and he thought we were together. My curiosity helped me get to know two beautiful Georgian girls with whom I enjoyed my last day in Budapest.
The city of Blagoevgrad is small, but it does not limit us with opportunities – this only gives us the challenge to discover ourselves. I enjoy spending time with other volunteers, playing football or board games, going to the gym, dancing in “Underground Club” until the morning light.
To keep the long story short, you read the most important things about my volunteering experience in Blagoevgrad. Sometimes I was feeling I should have stopped this experience and done something more productive since I always ask myself for the best. But when I sum it all up, the fact that I wrote 3 Erasmus + projects, co-facilitated one Youth Exchange, organized 3 local events, got more than 100 new friends and visited Greece, Serbia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, explored Bulgaria and generated so many adventures – It makes me feel relieved.
Sometimes rewarding, sometimes unpleasant – this is the life of a volunteer, and I would like to tell you – dear reader – despite your background, ethnicity, gender, social conditions – voluntary service has a lot to teach you. You will be surprised how much you did not know about yourself, Ciao!