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ESC Volunteers – Il secondo mese di Weronika

    I found myself at a point in my life where the question, “what’s next” in my mind kept arising more and more. After 3 years of study, I decided to take a break to explore the world and take a direction for the future. And that’s how I stumbled upon an offer to volunteer for 2 months in the city of Orta Nova. Since Italian language is my passion and I’ve always dreamed of getting a taste of the small-town Italian lifestyle , I sent a resume, a cover letter and so began my adventure with Beyond Borders. Without high expectations, but with a good attitude, I left the snowy Polish landscape and moved to sunny Puglia. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. The scenery of Orta Nova, although inconspicuous,  was almost movie-like. Elegantly dressed older men sipping coffee in local cafes, old cars, fresh fruit stands on street corners. I shared our house on Via Sacra Corona with two volunteers from Poland – Adam and Weronika. We were practically inseparable during our volunteering. I am grateful for every person I met on the project. From the first moments, the volunteers and coordinators made sure that Orta Nova became our second home. The city game they organized shortly after our arrival was a hit – we tried the local tarallo, even played the instruments of the church orchestra – as I mentioned earlier, an experience like from a movie. We quickly acclimated to the place. Drinking five espressos a day, siesta, breakfasts outside with pistachio cornetto…. I’ll miss it when I return.
    I even convinced myself to watch the Premier League! I was a complete ignoramus of football, and now a magnet with Maradona hangs on my refrigerator. 

    During these two months, a lot really happened and I certainly couldn’t complain about monotony. Our activities at Beyond Borders were really varied. From helping out at local Caritas points to teaching at a nearby high school and promoting ourselves on social media. I am grateful for each of these experiences. They allowed me to experience Italian culture from the inside out. In the Caritas kitchen, we helped two women that were big-hearted and temperamental at the same time. Brigida and Maria, despite speaking only Italian and mostly the local dialect, welcomed us warmly into their kitchen and tried to feed us every five minutes. In the evenings, we went to assist Enzo and Natalino in distributing food items to the needy. We also learned many valuable lessons from them (I will always remember how to tell the difference between good oil and bad oil).

    My favorite part of volunteering, however, was the activities at the high school. We had the opportunity to work with Italian youth, and learn about informal education techniques. I was finally able to break the language barrier and communicate completely in Italian one day at school. Local youth were fantastic, eager to participate in debates and brainstorms, even on difficult and controversial topics, proving how much their voice counts. 
    With Beyond Borders, I really had a chance to stimulate my creativity. The previously mentioned “informal education” classes were not typical lessons I ever had the opportunity to participate in during my entire education. Energizers, agree/disagree, quizzes, paste tower…. Each of these engaging I will definitely smuggle it with me to Poland as I tie my future to teaching.

    But that’s not all. At the Beyond Borders office, together with Weronika, I created my first project in Canva. We helped organize various events. One of them was a talent show at a nearby school. We created an “English corner” with “speed dating” type questions. People were eager to talk and proved that regardless of the level of English, with a good attitude, the language barrier does not exist. My favorite events, however, were the “Intercultural Polish Night” and the ProLoco carnival. 
    For the organization of the Intercultural Polish Night we were given a fully free hand, so we could show our creative ingenuity. And so Melagodo bar turned into the most Polish place we could imagine. We expected a maximum of 30 people at the event, and there were twice as many. Participants enjoyed themselves to Polish music, had a chance to taste the pierogi we made, and faced Polish tongue-breakers. Bringing the motherland to Orta Nova was a great success.

    The carnival was prepared by the local Misericordia Organization. We helped create the decorations, including a green monster with “ghost busters.” At first I was skeptical about this task, since I am not one of the artistically talented people, but it turned out that there was no reason to worry. I had a great time creating our “Shrek” that took to the street on the day of the parade. The carnival really brought Orta Nova to life. Children dressed up as their favorite characters, music, confetti… The atmosphere was indescribable!

    My volunteer experience would not have been even half as successful if it were not for the people I met here. We could always count on the support of the coordinators and local volunteers. They were the ones who took us under their wing, taught us local customs and even the dialect. Their energy and warm attitude were irreplaceable. I will remember for the rest of my life Sunday’s delicious lunch at the home of one of the volunteers and a walking tour of the unique city of Stornara murals. We’ve spent most of our free time with local volunteers from partying together, going for walks and participating in football match. 

    Two months in Orta Nova have passed like one week but it felt like one year at the same time. I’m leaving Orta Nova with  a lot of positive energy and a hopeful attitude towards the future. Taking the risk and leaving my life in Poland has brought me a second home and I’ll be always grateful for that.