Few years ago, as an unemployed citizen of Kosovo, during a random evening, while killing my boredness and scrolling news feeds on Facebook, a very interesting story from a German girl living in Iceland pop up on my feeds. Iceland was a country I was google-ing a lot at that time, furthermore watching a lot of documentaries about it. Somehow, I was obsessed and impressed by the nature and the culture there. As we know from the algorithm of social media and internet, your searching field will be appearing everywhere. That’s how this girl’s story showed up on my feeds. I read her one-year volunteering story in Reykjavik, and was absolutely amazed. As a personality, I am very explorational and curious, so no surprise that I researched all her ways into this volunteering opportunity. I found the one organization that received her as a volunteer, liked their page on Facebook and hoped for the best. Just a few weeks later, this organization announced a call for volunteers from all the EU countries. It was a volunteering job for the Red Cross in Reykjavik. The project had to do with mental health and I had a degree from the department of psychology. What a match! Knowing that Kosovo wasn’t an EU country, somehow I had no right to be part of this project, or better said, no right to apply. But, I did the opposite, took care of my CV and wrote a motivation letter from my heart – not a very professional one but strong enough to catch their attention through their European applicants – made all the documents ready and hit SEND.
In the next weeks, while waiting for an answer from this Icelandic organization, after a few interviews I started this amazing job in “BONEVET” as a psychologist. I was literally working in a place every person in Kosovo would dream of. Just then, after a month of enjoying this workplace, the Icelandic organization wrote to me, they were happy with my application and would like to have a Skype meeting as an interview. I said yes to them and did the interview straight away. Just a week after the interview, I received the email that I am on the list of new volunteers for September 2018. It was such a good news for an early spring I was living at. For a few days I was confused, I was working in an amazing place with such lovely people and mind-blowing conditions, and now I am having this opportunity to leave and go do this one year volunteering in Reykjavik for an organization as prestigious as the Red Cross. I had a little reflection on this and made the decision: the EVS opportunity won. Being a citizen of Kosovo does not give you lot of opportunities to travel and live abroad. It is a hell of documents and efforts which can very often lead you to negative answers from the embassies or specific countries.
To finalize an EVS project, a sending organization, from the country you travel from, is needed. I always knew GAIA as an organization that takes care of this, so I contacted them. I was impressed with the willing of GAIA to help with my documents and the whole process.
Anyway, after five or six months of documents and visa kind-of-things, I received my resident permit and had to leave in September for Iceland.
I still remember my first day there, when I went to this house where I was supposed to do the volunteering. “VIN” was a Red Cross project, a daily center house for people with mental health illness. Halldora was the name of the first person I met, the director of this center. I still remember the super warm hug she gave to me as a welcome to her house. I didn’t know Icelandic people were hugging people, it was my first new lesson of this new experience of mine. I was introduced with my project, and I really liked it. People cqme and went there to socialize with each other, do social activities and eat lunch all together. What a lovely place to be in, I thought!
Months after my volunteering started, I also took part in some other projects of Red Cross, all of them based on asylum seekers and refugees activities. In 2015, I also did volunteering in Gaziantep, Turkey, a city 50km away from the board with Syria. During this volunteering time, I was involved in some projects that had to do with refugees there. It was a raw and life-changing experience to work with refugees. Because of this experience, I also started lead myself during my volunteer in Iceland into these projects. A few months later, I asked if there was any possibility to change my project and be a full time volunteer with asylum seekers and in refugee projects. Luckily my request was approved, and I was very excited to work in this field once again. I would like to mention some projects we did. “Open house” was a project that helps refugees to create a new CV, find a job and a house. It was twice a week for three hours. “Youth Club” was another project with asylum seekers and Icelandic youth. This project came as an idea of creating an intercultural place for all youths living in Reykjavik, no matter what their nationality was.
During my volunteering year, I was living in a very big house with many others volunteers coming from different countries. Learning to cook different ways of boiling eggs, shakshuka or fattoush made me a quite colorful chef.
Weather was probably the most difficult change I was struggling to adapt with. Windy weather was the new way of living, and due to this, during rainy days would not prefer holding an umbrella… or you would look pretty silly and embarrassed. The rainy coat was the solution and my favorite investment for my whole year there. Travelling around Iceland was literally some of those mind-blowing documentaries we watch on National Geographic and I thought it was impossible to have any chance to experience that.
“þetta reddast “ is the most popular sentence in Iceland and most typical. It means “it will be okay” – “ everything will work out good”. If something made these people terribly special was this, no pressure no hurry, just “þetta reddast”. “Jà jà” was another way of expressing in Icelandic culture. When there is some awkward silence, Icelandic people would say “jà jà’ for as many times as new topic will start. It’s also for the guests, if the host thinks it’s time for them to leave their house, they say “jà jà” three times and makes the guests understand that it’s time to go home! What an amazing country to be at!
Now it’s been almost a year since I have come back and I feel very nostalgic writing about it. Right now, I am working as psychologist at KRCT. My project is in partnership with UNHCR and is focused on refugees and asylum seekers. My responsibility is to provide psychological service and organize psychosocial activities for different ages.
Taking in consideration former experiences with my volunteering, somehow my ambitions and ideals have been shaped by it. I always knew I wanted to study psychology, but I was never sure which field or which target group I would love to work with. Through all of these experiences and by spending time working with it, now my goals and ideals in my professional aspects are definite. Knowing the lack of the opportunity to explore who we want to be or what we want in life, the EVS opportunity must be taken more seriously and used.
The braveness to explore and try new things is definitely the best way to meet what we could never meet if we did not give it a shot! Our country often cannot serve us that, perhaps it is us who should take the lead and look for it.
Malisa Zymberi, 2020