My EVS Story

When I was 24, I took a decision, which changed my whole life. Let me tell you my story about how I got my lucky ticket to the North of Norway. I hope my story will inspire you to take a moment and think about what you want to do in your life.

I’m Karine from Armenia. It was in 2012, that I decided to apply for EVS. I took contact with my friend, who was EVS coordinator and who was quite surprised to hear from me that I wanted to do an EVS and travel abroad. Because after my first experience of living abroad, I was studying in France, I came back and announced to everyone that I can’t live other place than Armenia and that there is no other country or culture that I will feel attached to. But that was in 2009. In 2012 I felt that my life became very ordinary and that I wanted a change. I needed some new emotions. If I was a European citizen, most probably, I would just take a trip to some other country, without any projects, but to go out from Armenia is not so easy. You need a visa, and it’s very expensive to travel from Armenia. EVS was great opportunity to travel without thinking about expenses.

So, my friend put me on the list of people looking for approved projects and in few days, I got the first e-mail from him. It was about a project in Norway, in Narvik. I replied immediately that I wanted to apply for that project. That was the second surprise for my friend. He was asking me to think, he said that there will be other projects, somewhere where it’s warmer. Even better in a French-speaking area, so that I could improve my French etc. I remember that even during our pre-departure meeting, when he as a EVS coordinator was giving us information about our rights and responsibilities, he mentioned again that for one person it will be the most challenging, because it’s a country where is cold, dark, expensive, with unknown culture and where I would be the only Armenian. But I said to him: “come on, if I traveled on my own I would never choose Norway, I would prefer some European country which I know, but now I have possibility to discover a country totally unknown for me.

What did I know about Norway? I knew that Norway is part of tiger. Yes. That’s the only information I had in my mind from classes of geography. Scandinavia looks like a tiger. And now I will travel to the end of that tiger. And I would even be volunteering somewhere in Nowhere, or in the ass of that tiger.

I had no idea about language, people, culture, food or weather. But even if I googled information about Norway, I knew I would still be still surprised when arriving Narvik. Because the north of Norway is totally different from anything else. I remember that in April I got a message from one of my Armenian colleagues, with a picture, done probably in Stavanger or Kristiansand saying, OMG, lucky you. And I just took a picture and sent it to her to show how it was in Narvik.

And it was like this until end of May I think.

With this picture, I applied to become part of EVS story in Narvik. I got accepted and the procedure started. I was 24 years old and it was going be the first time I would live far from my family. My family was worried, because there would be no Armenian relatives who could come to help me if it was needed. I was really the first Armenian in Narvik. Excited and not scared at all. Not scared until the moment I entered the bus, which would take me from Evenes to Narvik. People were speaking a language which had nothing in common with languages I could understand. I needed to send a message to my new family member Lydie, a French girl who was supposed to meet me at the bus station. But my roaming didn’t work, so I was pushed by fortune to get my first contact with Norwegians. After 30 minutes of preparations, I asked a young woman if I could send a message from her phone. She was a bit suspicious, I think because with Norwegians it will never happen that their phone is not working. They always have at least data(internet) on their phone. Now, when Lydie was informed, I started to admire the amazing views from the window thinking that we were outside of the city, that’s why we were so close to the sea and surrounded by mountains. Soon I would understand that that is Norway. When you are living in Norway, it means you are living in harmony with nature. While I was imagining how I would be accepted in this new society, what I would do during the 9 months here and thinking about with what kind people I would share a house with, I saw the Blue House.

OMG. That is the house I will live in now. And that was the house which became a real home for us. It was accepting different generation of volunteers and for every generation it was special. That house will always stay as a Blue House, where the doors are open to everyone. In 2 minutes my bus stopped and in the bus station I saw Lydie, already waiting for me. I gave her a hug. She was not alone. She introduced me to Rubin, who was Norwegian. Of course, he got another Armenian hug from me, which made him astonished for a while. We walked to my new home to meet my new international friends. I was the last one from the project, I entered and started to hug and kiss everyone. They made a dinner for me. We chatted a bit about who I am, what I was doing etc… After a few months we talked about that day and I discovered that, actually, they knew me well. They were discussing all the candidates and because of my picture and the fact that I’m speaking French, Lydie and the Serbian guy convinced Svein Tore to take me as a volunteer. But that day, there was another discovery for me. Madeys, our Spanish girl, started to tell me that she was so happy when I gave a hug to people, because in Norway it is not so common to hug or kiss people. Then Rubin, our Norwegian friend, decided to confess that he was shocked when I gave him a hug and didn’t know how to react. Actually, thanks to Rubin, we discovered a lot of details about Norwegians. For example that they are really party people and really want to explore new things, but it is too hard for them to do that when they are sober and with people they don’t know.

Let’s go back to my first day in Narvik. I was not speaking much, because I was afraid that my English wasn’t good enough. I wanted to tell something, but while I was thinking about the correct grammar and the right words the topic was gone. These few days of my silence some of the guys would miss. Once I understood that people don’t care about the grammar, it was hard to close my mouth. Yes, I forgot to tell you that I came in October and at that time in Armenia it was still 17C. In Narvik, the day after my arrival it was snowing. But I was not disappointed at all. I was ready to meet my project leader Svein Tore Aspelund. I was really worried about my English, about what he would ask and what I needed to reply. I was thinking about what I would do as a volunteer. Would I be able to complete that task? And you know what he said? He presented me the activities the other volunteers were doing and the possible activities he could arrange for me and told me: “Karina we are very flexible, no stress, enjoy your stay, and think about what you want to do. You can join one of those activities or just come to me with your idea and we will discuss it. We are flexible.” That is one of the qualities which is typical to Norway. Now, I’m used to that people here are not stressed and that “ta det med ro” is the main answer in many cases. That in Norway people are not judging you because of your mistakes, everything can be fixed here. In my country people are scared to make a mistake, because Armenian society is perfectionist and people are scared to disappoint parents, leaders, colleagues.

After the conversation with Svein Tore, my Volunteering service was officially started. I started to try different fields. We were helping with the reconstruction of an old farm, we were cutting grass, painting walls, doing translations, organizing activities in a local youth club, actually that was the hardest challenge. It is almost not possible to get common ground with Norwegian youngsters, when it was not about party. We were making exhibitions and concerts, trying to help local young people to discover their talents. Thanks to our organization we were fully involved in local festivals. Step by step we became part of that city. We were learning each day something new about Norway, about the language, about the culture and the differences. Local people were just happy to take us into their society. But it’s not only Norwegian culture we became familiar with.

We were living 8 countries under one roof. And of course, each participant was special, with his/her own culture and habits. It will take hours to tell you about what kind of funny stories we were facing because of different cultures, education and ways of thinking. But still, Norway was special. I don’t know how, but Norwegians were always surprising all of us, with their habits. I remember that one week before Christmas one of our leaders told us that he was inviting us for dinner at his house. That is a Norwegian tradition, the weekend before Christmas the family is meeting around a dinner. We were so excited. One week we were waiting for the traditional Norwegian dinner. We came with flowers and homemade truffles. Very hungry. You know what we ate? Risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge). We ate breakfast instead of dinner. For all of us, no matter if we are German, Serbian, French or Russian, that is a dish we are eating for breakfast or as a dessert, but no way for dinner as a main and only dish. But there was the second surprise waiting for us. They told us, be careful, because, one of you, the one who will find the Almond in his porrige, will get a present, and can you imagine the face of 25 years old Russian guy who get a marzipan pig …

But we were open to learn, to learn from each other, about each other and the main idea was to accept and respect the differences. During EVS, everyone is getting their personal experience and builds character that can help them in their future to become a great personality. We were also representatives of our countries. We were like ambassadors of our countries in Narvik. We were holding presentations, making dinners with national dishes, writing articles about the topics which was important to our history. I was proud to tell about Armenia, and that itt’s not only me who will learn about Norway but Norwegians will learn about Armenia.

Many people can’t understand why the EU is spending money on EVS or Youth Exchanges. And to be honest, when I applied for EVS, it was the same to me. It was just a possibility to travel and to escape some problems I had in that period of my life. But now, analyzing myself before and after EVS, I can understand the meaning of EVS. I can see the changes in me and in my friends. Unfortunately, some people are taking EVS and giving up after the first fail / mischance. EVS is a great opportunity and you can take maximum advantage, when there is collaboration between sending organization-hosting organization and volunteer. Organizations need to provide the right information. The volunteers need to know what to expect from the project. When collaboration is achieved, we are bringing one more open minded person to our society, who will respect, accept and become part of another culture, being faithful to their own culture and personality.

EVS is a very safe project. There are organizations, ready to solve the problems of volunteers, mentors helping with integration and of course in case of health problems, volunteers have a great insurance, covering almost all possible cases.

Yes, EVS is something perfect, opening another world and thousands of possibilities to explore different people and, why not, yourself.

I would like to mention as well that EVS is a great opportunity not only for young volunteers, but also for the hosting society. Volunteers are bringing fresh energy, a new breath of air, especially to the small cities. Sharing our culture and habits, we are helping society to be more open. For young people who were born in small towns, where everyone knows each other, it is difficult to get in contact with new people with another way of thinking. And we were motivating them to explore the world and not be scared.

But there are things I hate in EVS:

It’s not possible to repeat it and you will always live far from people you really love, the people you were living or working with, will be back in their own countries and now it will not be so easy to meet them again. During EVS, you are getting another hometown, which you will miss as much as the city you were born and raised in. Because in that city, in my case in Narvik, another me was born and raised. One who will never have a problem to live or work in a multicultural society, who will never be scared to become a part of a new story.

EVS is a dialogue. A dialogue between different cultures. A dialogue which is opening a door to some new and interesting adventures, where you are always safe.

I am happy that in 2012 I got the e-mail which brought me to Narvik. I’m thankful to my organizations, both hosting and sending, for the possibility to become a European citizen.

Written by Karine Zazyan