My name is Vreni. I’m 19 years old and I come from Germany. I graduated from high school last year and decided afterwards to start a voluntary service abroad to get new experiences for my future. So, I applied for an ESC-project in Liège, organized by Views International.
Doing voluntary service means working in an association or institution and supporting the staff there, but also learning something new for yourself and contributing your own skills and experience.
So, during the last 9 months, I worked at a special school for disabled people. This includes both physical and mental disabilities.
However, I have mainly worked with blind and visually impaired students, because I already had the most competences in this area. As I am blind myself, I learned the working techniques with the computer or Braille at an early age and was able to pass on my experience to the children at school.
I worked with students of different ages. The youngest were 5 or 6, some of the oldest were already over 20, so older than I am. My tasks were also different depending on the age and knowledge of the students I worked with. I played with some very young children with Lego or dominoes. With others, I started working on the computer and taught them how to write on the keyboard. With the older students, I also worked on French grammar or mathematics. But sometimes it was also about helping the students with everyday challenges, such as using the cell phone, which can be a great tool for everyday life.
Group activities were also part of my work, for example making music or playing games together. These kinds of activities were very challenging for me. It’s not so easy to control a group of children and make sure that everyone does exactly what they are supposed to do.
In general, it was not easy for me to settle in the school at the beginning. I felt very uncomfortable at times, on the one hand, because I was in a completely new environment where a foreign language was spoken and I still clearly noticed this language barrier, especially at the beginning. On the other hand, this was my first volunteer work experience and I didn’t know how best to support the children. But of course, it all got better with time. Above all, it became easier and easier for me to speak in French and explain exercises and tasks.
Of course, these challenges also manifested themselves outside the work area. For me, it was the first time that I lived far away from my usual environment, friends and family for a longer period of time. I had to orient myself in my new surroundings. To make mobility a little easier, I received support from Views in the form of mobility training, where I was shown the important routes. Over time, with the support of Views staff, I also developed my own methods for other everyday situations, such as grocery shopping, and was able to cope very well with daily life after a while. This time also helped me to live more independently, which will also be important for the future.
I also developed my foreign language skills. 9 months ago, I couldn’t have imagined having a long and deep conversation in French and I didn’t feel very comfortable in English either. Now it’s part of my life and I really enjoy talking in several languages.
Communication is very important, not only for everyday topics, but also when it comes to making new contacts and friendships. Fortunately, I quickly made friends here, partly by chance and partly by starting various sporting activities such as climbing, jogging and hiking, which helped me to meet new people. Since I lived alone in my apartment for the first time, this connection was especially important for me.
All in all, I can say that my experience was mostly positive. And even if something didn’t go so smoothly, that’s part of life and it’s also a good experience to learn how to deal with it. In my opinion, a stay abroad is always a very formative time for the future and I can only recommend everyone to try something like that. Don’t think too much about possible problems you might be confronted with. They exist, for sure. But there are always ways to deal with them and make the best of the time.