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Based in Berne, the 27-year-old is coordinating projects for interested volunteers for 12 months. Years before Bulgarian-born Slavyana Krushovenska travelled to Berne to coordinate exchange projects for Service Civil International (SCI), she spent so much time swimming that she made herself ill. Encouraged by her parents, she attended swimming lessons every day to get fit for her job as a lifeguard in the US capital Washington D.C. But she was suddenly struck down by pneumonia. "It was due to total over-exertion, but I did the job all the same," says Krushovenska as she strolls along the banks of the river Aare. She is particularly fond of this spot because it isn't as crowded as the city centre. And when she walks briskly up the slopes that surround Berne, she experiences a familiar feeling. Her Bulgarian home town of Samokov is also surrounded by mountains. "At 960 metres above sea level, it's even higher than Berne," she says.
Improving the world from the inside of big business
All things considered, Krushovenska thinks that Berne is a lovely city, but maybe a bit too quiet. The Swiss capital cannot be compared with New York or London, where she also worked for six months. The 27-year-old professes her preference for smaller places. "The smaller the better," she declares. She's not quite sure how to reconcile that with her liking for London, she says, striding out up a hillside. Arriving at the top, she pulls a carrot out of her shoulder bag. There's a crunch, then she begins to chew and reflect on the European financial crisis, on how rich countries are exploiting Africa and how this type of injustice can best be tackled from within the system.
It's for this reason that Krushovenska sees voluntary work at SCI as a form of training. "Young people get involved in voluntary work, gain knowledge, become aware of problems and then join large companies to improve the world from within them," she says. Having studied art and culture in Bulgaria, she is now organizing placements for young Swiss people in work camps abroad, and assigning young people from abroad to projects in Switzerland. Each year, SCI places more than 300 young volunteers, thanks in part to the Bulgarian, who will finish her twelve-month job in August.
Visa problems mar experience
Overall, Krushovenska has had a great time, but not everything has been rosy. Problems with her residence permit have marred her time at SCI. The authorities only issued her papers retrospectively because there was an error in her application. "This issue has cast a shadow over my job," she says. This is a feeling with which Julien Jaeckle, Programme Manager of Youth in Action, can sympathize. "We have to explain to the authorities time and time again that a work permit is not required for voluntary work. Only permission to study is needed, as for students. This grey area is a problem for all voluntary organizations," says Jaeckle.
Nevertheless, Krushovenska is extremely enthusiastic about her placement – for which she gives credit to her team. But she's not yet sure what she wants to do after her time in Berne. "I'll wait and see what turns up," she says, adding "Why not?" She does not intend to succumb to social conventions. Finding a permanent job, getting married and all the other usual expectations aren't her style. And Krushovenska is absolutely sure about one thing: "I'll do my best to remain active," she says, biting off another piece of carrot.