I haven’t been abroad – what do I do?

By Mirjam-Meerit Mets

You might find yourself in a situation where you have stumbled upon an interesting EVS project, a Youth Exchange or a workcamp and you would like to take part in that possibly life-changing project. But you haven’t been outside of your home country. Ever. And fear of the unknown hits you. What to do? In this article I’ll try to tackle some of those fears you might have and try to come up with some solutions to them.

“My English isn’t good enough.”

This particular feeling is very common among people both young and old, many are not confident in their English as well, so don’t feel that you are alone. It might be that when you think that someone you are talking to has such good English, they, on the other hand, may be feeling insecure also. While English is important in Erasmus+ programs as the universal communication language, don’t regard yourself as hopeless if you (think that you) have bad English. You can improve yourself, and here’s how.

A good method to improve your spoken English is to use it as the main language for light conversation. You could do it at school with your friends or at home with your parents or brother-sister if they know it. Simply establish one day or even one hour as “all-English” where your main communication language is English, and try not to slip back to your native language when you hesitate. This helps you to develop the fluency of your English, which is the ability to speak without hesitation and be confident in everyday conversation. If your friends don’t feel up to it, it’s good to remind them that they will also benefit from this, not only you.

In the end, what matters most is not eloquency (using fancy and complicated words) nor being able to write in good grammar on paper but the ability to freely and confidently use the simple vocabulary needed for everyday conversation and get your point across. For developing fluency, practice is necessary. You just have to communicate in English. Even if you can’t make proper grammatical sentences at first, it is essential that you keep on talking, bearing in mind that your goal is to get your point across rather than thinking long about the right grammatical structure before saying something.

One important tip is that you should do it with people you feel safe with, who wouldn’t criticise and discourage you. If you haven’t got anyone to speak with or if you would like to practice more, we are glad to welcome you to a weekly English speaking club at Happy Kids association in Ankara where both experienced and inexperienced youth (also EVS volunteers currently volunteering in Ankara) can come and practice English in a safe environment. This could be your regular “only English” hour! We will mainly play fun games. There will be also native Turkish speakers who can help you, should you need it. We meet every Tuesday at 16:30 and hang out for about an hour. The location is: Hatay Sokak No: 4/20. You are very welcome!

“What if it’s not safe? What if I get lost?”

Your coordinator along with the other people organising the volunteering project have worked hard to make this project come to be, and part of any Erasmus+ project is safety. You don’t have to worry because everything connected to the programme (home and work environment) has been made so that it would be safe and that you could have an opportunity for help in anything if you would need it. In fact, Erasmus+ projects usually are not organised in places where there is a national conflict (war, social unrest etc.) or any other threat to the citisens’ safety at large. So if you apply for Erasmus+ projects, you will probably be going to locations that are considered very safe.

For any problems or questions, your coordinator and an assigned mentor are always there for you. They will give you any information about getting around your new “home” city or village, so that you wouldn’t get lost. Even if there is something out of the ordinary, your project organisers are there to explain everything to you, so that you would be informed and ready.

Even so, you should remember some elementary safety measures. Here are some of them:

  1. save the phone number of your coordinator, mentor, and co-volunteers (if you have them) to your phone;
  2. take your fully charged phone whenever you go out;
  3. if you have co-volunteers, tell them where you are going and approximately how long you will be away;
  4. be aware of your surroundings when walking in a new city or village, so that you remember where you’re going and won’t get lost;
  5. keep your personal belongings (bag, wallet, phone) close to you.

Another good tip is to download the offline map of your new city or village in Google Maps on your smartphone. This comes in handy when you don’t have access to wifi or broadband internet on your phone. This way, whether it be finding a coffee place or your way home, you will have a map of the city in your pocket.

“What if I don’t know the local customs? What if I say or do something wrong?”

This is called cultural differences, and it’s nothing to be afraid of. The only thing you can do is get to to know the country’s culture a little bit beforehand. You could start off by googling the country online and reading some articles or, my favourite, watching Youtube videos about general facts and brief history, which will help you to better understand some underlying reasons because of which the cultural identity has evolved into what it is now. Knowing a little bit about these important themes in the nation’s history, for example gruesome war in the past, you are less likely to make a blunder of, for example, making an inappropriate joke when talking to your peers on the project or to the locals. Very often, though, people are still very understanding when it comes to foreigners, and don’t make a big deal when you say something improper. People living in a small country also welcome every piece of information about their country or a word in their language that you might know. So don’t be afraid, just be open and respectful and you’ll do fine.

So here are the tips and insights to going to a project abroad for the first time that I had for you today. Please comment below whether this article was helpful for you – if not then what could be better? – and if you have any other suggestions for other people about to go abroad!

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