Faruk is looking to us. At his back the river and buildings of the city.My name is Faruk Demir and I am a candidate for the European solidarity corps (ESC) program, soon to be volunteering at VIEWS International.

Journeys always begin with an excitement and thrill that promise you different people to meet, new sights to discover, and further things to learn. My advance planning visit (APV) which is a hallmark of an adapted ESC project was not an exception. During a short but memorable trip lasting three days in Liège, I was able to explore what a volunteering project at VIEWS International could offer me and got a taste of what would be waiting for me once my project officially started in the beginning of March. If it is not going to be too much of a spoiler to tell right in the beginning, allow me to say that I more than enjoyed what I have experienced so far.

My schedule during the APV included a preliminary practice of all the basic skills such as orientation & mobility (O&M), independent living, and French that I would need once I arrived in Liège. I was introduced to people who would support me in the first weeks of my project and after with learning my way around the town, brushing up on my unused French, and acquiring any independent living skills that I might be missing.

Among those people whom I met, Carine helped me explore what the streets of Liège provide in terms of O&M accessibility and public transportation. Selma informed me of the independent living skills that we might practice together based on my needs and areas of improvement. Finally, Philippe told me about French tutoring. Perhaps what summarizes my motivation best about my whole project was my response to Philippe’s question of which French skills I would like to practice first: Everything!

I got also introduced to my tasks and responsibilities as a volunteer. It will be a great learning opportunity to work at the VI office and visit La Baraka every week. I also believe that I have much to gain from the mentorship program which comes with the adapted ESC volunteering.

During my stay, we also got a visit from Bernard, the National Agency project officer. We had a face-to-face conversation which is a luxury these days and I got the chance to explain my motivation for participating in an ESC project to him in person.

Our conversation with Bernard was also closely related to my visa application process. If you are someone from outside the EU and want to reside in Belgium long-term, you are required to apply for a visa which is a long and arduous step and comes with some bureaucratic procedures that costs valuable time, effort and money. Not to mention the stress it causes and delays it leads to. If it were up to me, I would like to start my project as soon as possible but now, I have to wait due to visa despite everything related to my project being ready. Alas, visa is an obstacle but not an insurmountable one and after the APV I feel like my starting date is closer. Still, here is hoping for a world that is still safe but without borders.

One thing I also look forward to is the VIEWS International apartment where I will be living and practicing my independent living skills. The apartment is adapted for the use of the visually impaired as well and has everything one may need during daily living. I will be staying in the apartment with a flat mate and my visit was a good chance to meet her too. I have no doubt that we will get along well and learn from each other. The fact that we are from different countries gives us an opportunity for cultural exchange and surely we will try to take advantage of this too.

All in all, an advance visit to the city where I will be volunteering was the perfect way to familiarize myself with the environment where I would be staying and meet people whom I would be working with. Learning and development take place at the intersection of challenge and support and I think this opportunity will be just that for me. Following my APV, I now look forward to the rest of the journey more than ever.