Jack went to Poland: What I did with my DJS volunteering day...

10th August 2020 12:56

Written by Jack Watson, Research Manager
For nine months in 2016, I lived and worked in Poland completing something known then as European Voluntary Service (EVS). The programme is little-known in the UK, but enables all young people legally resident in Europe, aged between 18 and 30, to carry out an international volunteer service for NGOs, charities, or public bodies for a period ranging from two to 12 months. The only other prerequisite is that the volunteering must be done outside of your home nation. 
Before starting my research career, I wanted to live somewhere outside of the UK and this provided a unique opportunity to come into contact with a different culture and acquire new skills and abilities that would be useful for my personal and professional growth upon my return. I jumped at the chance then to go and live with four other volunteers from France, Portugal and Macedonia, where we worked in a local volunteer centre in the city of Kielce.  
As well as being involved in the organisation of 'International Evenings' that brought together volunteers, local students and Erasmus students, I ran weekly workshops in Communicative English and a Current Affairs discussion through a programme called Przystanek MÅ‚odych, or 'Bus Stop for Youth', which provided a free learning platform for local residents in our city, and visited local schools and universities for cultural exchange sessions and discussions on the value of volunteer work. A proudest achievement was organising a ‘Human Library’, where people were ‘books’ that you could rent out for 15-minute discussions about anything and everything to do with that person, hopefully broadening the minds of those who came along to talk and learn.
Earlier this year, before the nationwide lockdown, I was invited to return to Poland to attend a week-long conference and evaluation meeting alongside other former-volunteers because in 2018, the EVS programme was replaced by something new, called European Solidarity Corps (ESC). The overall aims of the week were to think about how better to promote ESC projects amongst young people and how to encourage and prepare volunteers to participate in them. Once a volunteer arrives, it can sometimes feel like quite a daunting experience to be dropped in an entirely different country, so we also discussed how to manage a group of international volunteers well and how to maintain motivation and commitment to these longer-term projects. 
An amazing thing about working at DJS Research is that they provide you with one day a year to volunteer for something close to your heart. My nine months in Poland were a very formative experience for me and helped shape my openness and tolerance to anyone and everyone, so I was delighted to be able to use this volunteer day (alongside some annual leave!) to head back to Kielce and discuss the merits of the programme amongst like-minded people. I’m sure everyone at DJS Research is excited to be able to use their volunteer day in the coming months as the world starts to open up a bit more; I was just lucky enough to be able to use mine right before lockdown began!
It also felt important for me to attend the conference because the UK’s participation in these multinational projects is under threat as they are partly funded by Erasmus, a scheme which might end in the UK when the transition period of leaving the EU is over. COVID-19 has obviously thrown another small spanner in the works with regards to international travel but I wanted to write this blog post to highlight the fact that free travel and work opportunities are still available.  
If you have siblings, nieces, nephews, children who are unsure of their next steps… If you personally feel like a completely new and different challenge, then take a look at what alternative options are available to you. Living in Poland changed my outlook on life. Although I had free accommodation and local travel, I survived (and thrived) on €180 each month and met some lifelong friends who still today remain important people in my life. Every volunteer project is different, read up about them, find something you love the sound of and apply! There are short-term projects available through the ESC programme too for those who feel more constrained by time. It’s a big world out there; we should definitely take the opportunity to explore it!

Get more DJS News: 

Our contribution during the Covid-19 crisis
Confirmation Bias, Market Research and Dominic Cummings
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