Irish girl on EVS in Finland
Catherine (Kitty) Terret, a 27 year-old woman from Tullamore (Co. Offaly, Ireland) recounts her adventure as an European Voluntary Service (EVS) volunteer in Kauhajoki (south-west of Finland) from May 2012 to February 2013.
Interviewer: Why did you decide to do EVS in Finland?
Kitty: There were a few reasons...Firstly, why not? Secondly, when I was a baby my dad went there doing a charity walk for the Irish Heart Foundation and I grew up looking at his photo album in Finland and thought that one day I would like to see those places too. After my dad died when I was 18 I wanted to see Finland more than ever. Thirdly, it’s a great way to experience a culture other than your own and it opens your eyes to what else is there in the world.
Interviewer: How did you find your EVS project?
Kitty: I found it through St. Mary’s Youth Centre in Tullamore where I volunteered in the evenings. The centre manager knew about an EVS sending organisation from Dublin that was looking for an Irish person interested in going to Finland and I applied. It was like winning the lottery when I heard that I was approved!
Interviewer: Did you learn Finnish or did you find the language too difficult for you?
Kitty: Yes, I learned Finnish. I immersed myself in every aspect of the Finnish culture which helped me to learn the language. Living with a Finnish host family was also very helpful. They had two small children with no English at all so I really had to learn Finnish to be able to communicate with them. In many ways, the two-year-old became my teacher! I learned a lot from playing with her. I also taught her some English. I love the Finnish language and learned a lot by reading baby food labels and singing Finnish songs. I had Finnish lessons once a week in a local school which really helped but I learned mostly from my Finnish family. It also helped that I went to Finland with an open mind and was willing to learn everything and try everything.
Interviewer: Describe a week in your life as a volunteer.
Kitty: I worked in a youth centre where I did the evening shift three times a week. On two days I did the morning shift. Every day I would cycle twenty minutes to work which definitely kept me fit. I even cycled to work during the winter months in the snow which was a new experience for me! In the evenings I had to make coffee for the youths when they coming to the centre directly from school. Then I supervised them and got to know them through playing snooker, pool or hockey or sometimes guitar hero with them. Sometimes we played card games or watched movies. It was also fun for me to teach them some Irish games which was easy for me as I had the experience from volunteering in St Mary’s Youth Centre in Tullamore. In the mornings I went to local schools and helped the teachers with their English language classes. I also did presentations about Ireland and Irish culture. On those days I spent the evenings with my host family which I really enjoyed. If I was in a bad mood, the baby always cheered me up and all my problems would melt away went when she smiled at me! It always made me feel better. I also loved when the older child wanted me to say goodnight to her. I would always say it in Finnish and English. She still remembers it now as I am still in contact with them. I loved every aspect of volunteering in Finland as every day I was learning and taking in things. It was never boring and I made many Finnish friends which made the experience even better.
Interviewer: What was your biggest challenge during these months?
Kitty: In this nine-month project, the biggest challenge was when the winter came as the darkness really made me feel tired and a little sick. In Ireland it also gets dark after a certain time but not to the extent that it does in Finland. I would be cycling to work at 12 and by the time I got to work it was already dark. It was hard as it was dark going to work and dark going home. It felt like I was not seeing any light at all. After a few weeks I got used to it and it didn’t bother me anymore.
Interviewer: Tell me a funny story from your time as a volunteer.
Kitty: Well it’s not so much of a funny story but it was definitely an experience. I woke one morning to be told we all needed to evacuate the house as it was raining and the whole town was flooded. The water was coming into the house. We had to get a lorry to be able to get out of the house. It was the worst flooding in Finland in over fifty years and I just happened to be living in the worst-hit area... Even though it was a little stressful at the time, everyone helped everyone and we stayed with friends during that time. It definitely wasn’t a typical EVS experience!
Interviewer: Why would you recommend other young people do EVS?
Kitty: It’s a great time in which you get to see the country you have always wanted to see, meet volunteers from all over the world, experience a different culture than yours and make long-lasting memories which will stay with you for your whole life. Most of all I see EVS as a challenge, a good one, whereby you allow yourself to be out of your comfort zone and experience things you have never experienced before. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, one that I am very grateful for as it helped me grow as a person.
Interviewer: Thank you for your time, Kitty.
Kitty: Thanks a million for the opportunity to share my experience!
Produced by Silvia Corral