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A one-year volunteering project in Bremen

Hi! I’m Eilidh, I’m 21 years old and I’m from West Linton, a small village just south of Edinburgh. In September 2020 I moved to Bremen, Germany, to take part in a one-year volunteering project through the European Solidarity Corps (ESC), a programme funded and supported by Erasmus+ and the EU. I am volunteering for NaturKultur e.V., an NGO that organises international projects and opportunities for young people living in Europe.

I arrived in Bremen at the start of September and right away was thrown into my volunteering project! During my first weekend I went to visit KulturHaus, my organisation’s youth house facility outside of the city, where I got to meet the rest of the NaturKultur team. This weekend was really fun, as I got to spend some time in the countryside and learn all about NaturKultur’s past, present, and what they would like to do in the future.

My role in NaturKultur is to promote these international opportunities. I am also involved in organising local workshops and projects for young people living in Bremen on important issues and topics: before Christmas I organised online workshops on the themes of sustainability and wildlife protection. I have gained a real insight and understanding into how to plan and organise events successfully, which has been even more challenging due to the Covid-19 restrictions. I also take part in German lessons weekly: I studied German at university and lived in Germany before, but I would say that my written and spoken German has improved a lot since living and working in Bremen, and I feel much more confident communicating in German.

Luckily during my first month there were not many corona restrictions and I managed to do some travelling and visit some other cities. In October I participated in my “on-arrival training week”, where I met lots of other ESC volunteers taking part in projects all over Germany: this was a very rewarding experience as I was able to learn much more about the European Solidarity Corps and how to get the most out of my project, and meet other young people, who I hope to visit once restrictions are lifted.

There are 12 ESC volunteers living and volunteering in Bremen, and we all live within 10 minutes of each other. We all come from different countries too, such as Spain, Norway and Greece, which means I have learnt a lot about not just German culture but many other European cultures and traditions. Before the restrictions became stricter, we would meet regularly for dinner parties, board game nights, and for bike rides and walks. I live with two other ESC volunteers from Hungary and Italy.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I would say that I have had a successful and enjoyable start to my ESC project. I haven’t been able to experience the city as much as I would have liked to at this stage, as almost everything is closed, but I have been able to form a really close community with the other ESC volunteers and build strong friendships. We’ve had to come up with more creative ways to meet up and spend time together due to the restrictions, such as “Bake Off”-style competitions over Zoom, and online Pictionary. The majority of us were unable to go home over the winter holiday, so we spent Christmas together. I’d like to organise a Burns Supper in January for my flatmates, but I doubt I’ll be able to find some of the traditional dishes, such as haggis, here in Germany!

Living outside of Scotland during the pandemic has been a strange yet worthwhile experience. Strangely enough, I feel more connected to my Scottish culture now than when I lived in Scotland: I enjoy sharing the culture, traditions, humour, and stories with my friends, and I find it very funny when they use Scottish dialect and words that they’ve picked up from me, such as “wee” and “aye”. I’ve tried teaching them a couple of ceilidh dances too, which always goes down well!

Over the next few months I would like to gain further insight into how these Erasmus+ opportunities are organised and developed. I have benefited greatly from Erasmus+ and would like to learn more about these projects, as well as continuing to promote them to get more young people in Europe involved. Once the weather is better and the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, I would like to do some travelling around Germany, and go on more bike rides and explore the countryside surrounding Bremen.

Eilidh