ESC: Simone's experience in Latinovac (Croatia)

I started my EVS in Latinovac, Croatia, very spontaneous: After a very nice skype interview with Ivan, one of our coordinators, he set me up with my sending organisation. After another meeting with Jason from Kulturlabor Trail & Error NGO, finally, aproximately one week before the project started, it was safe: I will spend my next two month in Croatia in an ecological center - the first time I will go abroad all by myself!!


Whithout very high expectations (it all went so fast!) I arrived in Latinovac – and I was not even as shocked as I thought a girl from a big city should be if you come to a village with only 60 villagers. The nature with its rolling hills and green forests such as the open minded people I met made me directly fell in love with this place. So I moved together with a spanish and hungarian girl in the house of a villager.





It is hard to put in words how much I learned now in the next two months: together wit 10 more short term volunteers and 4 long term volunteers we learned many practical things: Chopping wood, natural building (we built a whole wall out of mud and straw = clay !!), gardening, firemaking, we built a greenhouse, learned composting and I was allowed to attend the lectures about (urban) permaculture and water management…





But much more than this practical knowledge, it is the invisible learning process that I did not expect, but that made me also very happy: Our group, 15 people from 8 different countries, got to know each other so well in such a short time. We learned to work together, take care of each other, accept each other; Because of the intercultural evenings we saw through presentations, how different people are able to live in Europe – especially this opened my mind and I saw that there are so many different ways of living, what I had not noticed before. But I also learned a lot about my own culture: how do other people see Germany, what do they think about german goverment and what stereotypes about Germans are true or not? These discussions about our countries were again very usefull to learn more and to sensitize yoursef about different topics.





This unformal, invisible learning was one of the things I appreciate now the most.


But this intercultural exchange was not just between us, the volunteers – we went many times to schools to speak with them about our cultures and volunteering. Also, in our free time, we were allowed to went to villagers to help them - so we were able to learn something real new and practical and get in touch with them and their culture at the same time. One of my favorite days in Latinovac was when on a free day some of us were allowed to help one villager in the forest – just the ride on his tractor was a new experience for me. In the forest, he teached me how to chop wood – and after maybe one hour of trying cutting one and the same wood, suddenly I really understood the whole process. It is an indescribably proud feeling if you see all the wood you cooped – now I, a girl from munich, is able to choop firewood all by myself!





Of course, the spring festival we had at eco center in the beginning of May was a big happening, too: we were allowed to organize so many things by ourselfes, realize our own ideas – and, again, unexpectedly we got in touch with our own culture: the price for our cans throw game were specialties from our countries; this was the first time in my life when I baked prezels by myself – with the help of an amazing reunionese friend!





I am thankful for the little, almost invisible things as well, that you do almost every day and what became so normal here: For example when you go to your greenhouse to visit the pumpkins you planted 3 weeks ago and you see them now, almost 10 centimeters high - an incredible feeling.


But next to the work, you sould not forget about the free time and the intercultural friendships you made. Of course for this our trips in our free time to Zagreb and Sarajevo helped a lot – if you spend so much time together in buses and hostels you can not avoid making friends; when you stand together in front of the big waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes, nearby Zagreb or if you spend almost 8 hours talking together in bars up to 5 o’clock in the morning in Sarajevo, you know, that you will remember these people in your heart forever.





One of the main reasons from all volunteers to come here was because we care about our world, we want to do something meaningfull and usefull in our time. And to share these values is the best basis, to find really good friends.


I leave Latinovac as a different person as I was when I came here in the beginning of April. I have learned so much! I want to grow my own tomatos, built a greenhouse, make my own compost, try french and hungarian dishes, not use so much plastic anymore and so much more. I want to bring a bit Latinovac back to my country.


I am not afraid anymore to go abroad with my English – because I know, I improved it here where it was totally okay to make mistakes, and I will survive out there.


But most of all I got the feeling to know a bit more about the world we live in: there are so much more things, that I don’t know yet, so many beautiful things in the world I haven’t seen yet. I learned, that there is the possibility to live a happy life besides big cities. That long walks are healing for the soul. That we just have to go through this world with open eyes and we will see so many beautiful things: A red flower on the street, a singing bird even in the city, you can meet inspiring people everywhere - you just have to be brave enough to encouter them open minded.


I know that life goes on, even after Latinovac, and it is good the way it is. And as a comfort when I miss my friends or this peaceful place, I know: A bit of Latinovac is in my heart, forever, always to remind my that you can turn everything into a good or at least into a better way, just if you really want it.


Thanks to everyone I met in Latinovac, I have learned something good and useful from every single one.


Special thanks to Mario, Ivan and Daniela, our coordinators and supervisors in Latinovac. And of course to my sending organisation Kulturlabor Trail&Error NGO, especially to Jason, my supervisor from Kulturlabor, who was always there for me – thanks to all of them, for giving me this big chance, to make all these experiences.