On arrival seminar 2019

Journey to the Czech Republic was a huge challenge for me, firstly t because of all the paperwork me and coordinators from Slezská diakonie - Pavla and Tereza - had to go through, then there was plenty of days not knowing if my life’s going to change, if I should quit my job, pack my bags and go into the void.

Český Těšín is a lovely town I had a pleasure to come to on 29th of September; the moment I entered my new home, the swirl of joy and happiness wrapped me.

I was told to arrive as soon as possible because of my placement - primary school for children with mental disabilities in Český Těšín, which started school year in September, but surely, before the on-arrival seminar, which was due on October 7. That’s why I had to celebrate my 30th birthday with total strangers I just met a couple of days ago and who were yet to become the dearest people.

After lunch on the 7th of October we boarded the train to Návsí, then took the bus to Písek, and that’s where they picked us up, and took us to this very amazing and marvelously located cottage.

The weather was welcoming, the grass was greener than ever, seclusion was absolute, we were provided with everything a 21 century young person might need but in the same time our privacy and solitude was kept.

All the girls were divided into 3 a group, and out only Gentlemen - Pasha, occupied a single room, but we barely stayed in our rooms, we were mostly together either in the lunch room, or on the third floor, where it was supposed to be just the seminar room, but... we were comfortable there, sitting in a circle on the chairs, or simply on the carpet, a nice and a bit childish carpet from Ikea depicting the city map in vector.

Let’s take some time and let me introduce the group!

Your sincerely, Tamari is the first on the list so I’m gonna start with myself.

Hey, I’m Tamari, I’m 30, as if it defines anything. I permanently live in St. Petersburg, Russia but originally come from a beautiful city of Kutaisi in Georgia. I am a linguist and that pretty much does tell my story. I love learning languages, I sincerely believe that learning a new language is the best way to get to know a nation and its culture but also learn a lot about your own self and your mother tongue.

Introducing my roomie from the seminar and flat mate in Cesky Tesin - Valentina. She is 22 and she’s from St. Petersburg as well. She is a psychology student at Herzen university on her sabbatical year with radiant green eyes. She likes singing and taking long walks. She’s very easy going and smart.

Virginia (God forbid you utter G as in gym) - with a beautiful “h”, is a wonderful person from Spain. She plays a Spanish guitar as a pro, and we usually sing “señorita” with her. She’s 30, and if you think that you can stereotypically suggest anything, you can’t. She’s a social worker both in Spain and Karviná. She’s plays rugby, she dances, she cries when you cry.

Room 2: Antonia, Dana and Ricarda are from Cologne region in Germany. They are 18, and that’s a story for the whole paragraph later. Spoiler alert: Rici turned 18 on Friday, while we were on our seminar. They are very young and surprisingly mature. All of them Vegetarians, eco-conscious, very active and cheerful. Rici does her voluntary service at secondary school for children with mental disabilities. She’s a traveler, she does sports and dances equally well. Her shelf in the fridge is usually filled with colorful veggies, she prefers to eat clean. Dana is an amazingly smart and lovely person. She usually leads our small group to leisure that brings pleasure from learning new things or getting new experiences.

Vale is a tall, sporty and very loud Italian girl, and oh I wish there was Italian emoji I could add here. She cooks amazing pasta after which she will probably make you go hiking or climbing, which she enjoys doing with Ricarda. She’s a social worker back in Italy.

Lili and Nicolette are amazingly nice Hungarian girls, who made amazing sweets for the first evening meeting-greeting.

Nicky just finished school and is doing volunteering service at school in Bohumin. What struck me is her open-mind and heart.

Lili is so far the only volunteer in Krnov at school for children with disabilities. She is a professional illustrator and she draws well too! We had a line of those who wanted Lili to braid them. You can see that on the pictures.

Pasha... girls and Pasha is what our group chat is called now. He’s so far the only gentlemen in our group. He is 18 and he’s a fashion photographer from Ukraine. He is very stylish and self-confident.

There were supposed to be 3 other volunteers from Turkey but they couldn’t make it due to some visa issue – Ahmet, Ezgi and Arif. Guys, if you’re reading this, we wish you were there with us. Promise to tell you all in details when you finally get here.

We arrived in the afternoon and had some time to enjoy the good weather outdoors.

Our daily schedule was pinned in the seminar room.

The day began with breakfast from 8 to 9. Then we had our morning devotions.

Coffee break

Seminar

Lunch

Team building

Coffee break

Evaluation

Dinner

Evening activities

Monday - our first day - was the get to know each other. After dinner and initial presentation on what to expect from the week and the seminar we shared some information about our home countries and what we like about it, and typical food (which clearly was the best part). It felt like travelling, thanks to the people who really enjoy sharing. The task was the same for everyone, but the performance was different. Some of us made some room in their suitcases, even though that was extremely hard others prepared their countries typical food, and I have to say that I am intrigued to visit Hungary on a food trip. Introduction to the country and its culture would never be complete without music. That’s when we remembered long forgotten Macarena, guess some of the skills stay with you forever.

We created the path we will have to walk on this year. The first part was to decorate it and start with what brought us there. What was before the arrival.  As it happened quite often that week, we exceeded what was the original plan and finished the decoration only when we were stopped as the time was running out. You can see our handprints on it. But that wasn’t the best idea. We all wrote our favorite poems in our languages.

That is all I can tell about the activities for not to spoil it to the next generation volunteers.

I would like to concentrate more on what I got out of this wonderful journey.

There is a theory of cultural shock of when you move to another country.

intervia arrival sem

Those stages are as follows: first comes the honey moon, when you are all excited about the new place and new people. You enjoy every second, you love everyone, you are happy to be where you are.

Then you start realizing there are things that they do differently from what you are used to in your home country. Sometimes people are irritated and appalled by those differences, they seem to be alien and weird. This could be a thing when you taste local food or beverages. (Kofola forever!)

Then you give it another chance and get adjusted to it, so, from now on, you never run out of Kofola. That is the phase of acceptance. You understand how things work and how to be careful with the names of the stations, so that you don’t miss one again.

And, finally, you accept the traditions, sometimes you feel like you’ve lived like this forever, you adopt some and take them with you, so that your friends think you are a creep. Sometimes those customs enrich your own culture, because they come naturally to you and you can share the experience.  

That is a natural way of things, everybody goes through the same phases more or less. 45 days after the arrival and I’m still in the honeymoon phase. I still enjoy every moment. But I went through all the phases with the local food. Still struggling with knedlik, but recently ordered kofola as a beverage at a café as it was the most familiar and I missed it. I’m excited to know what are the traditions, from what I’ve heard, on Easter you wouldn’t want to be a woman… Intrigued? I’ll leave it like this, go and check and get your sweet portion of cultural shock.

So, 10 people, locked in a house in the middle of nowhere, sounds like the beginning of the horror story!? No, We are fine. Living and prospering! There might be different scenarios, but from what I’ve experienced, we were all opened to new things, welcoming them. We were in the same position, all of us. So, we tried to make new friends, start lifelong relationships with those, close to us. Plenty of opportunities, myriads of tasks and games let our inner child out. Discussing politics and social issues, our strengths and weaknesses, our fears and expectations, best and worst moments, what brought us here and what we want to take with us.

We had several trips – hiking to the mountains and a quiz-trip to the nearest town. Not giving away the exact things we did there, we have seen the main touristic attractions, interacted with the locals, checked all the upcoming cultural events and what to expect in the nearest future, as the city of Jablunkov is pretty close to my residing one. The trip in images is available in our Instagram. More on that in a bit.

Hiking was scheduled on a different day. Very much needed physical exercises after a few days of wonderfully prepared delicious food! After a coffee break we went hiking to the mountains. On top of it there was the lunch prepared for us. But, of course it wasn’t the most memorable. The precious time we spent together was more valuable as we could spend time together in a very beautiful place, breathtaking view. The special place tradition. Each of them have the stamps we could use, which we did.

I will just describe one day, as it is different every time. We prepared some parts of it and were very active during the day. Good luck with that, future volunteers.

Wednesday was the supervisor visit day. They started arriving right after breakfast, while we were still on our morning devotion. We were requested to come out of the cottage and find the stone we liked the most, one that caught our sight in the place full of stones. Mine was small white quartz with sharp edges and a bit dusty. I chose it because it stood out among the gray dirty stones it was surrounded by.

We held the stones for a few minutes trying to remember, share our energy with it, get attached to it. Then we put them together and had to guess which one was ours with our eyes closed. Easy, you’d assume, but it wasn’t. In the end we all got our stones and a lesson that we were handpicked just like those stones and it was our year to get to know each other, and then decide, if we want to keep to it.

With the supervisors we discussed plans for the coming year. When and what we are supposed to do. Played some games that were meant to be the icebreakers and introducers. Zip-zap was the game Rici, Dana and Antonia introduced. All of the players sit in a circle around one in the middle. Zip is for the person on your right, zap for the one on your left. If you fail to give the correct name when the person from the center gives you either zip or zap, or you hesitate, you lose and go into the circle and the one from the center takes your place. The catch is that anytime the leader can say zipzap which is a command to mix, change the place, sit between two other people, thus get to know them too, at least the names.

After the warm-up, we got to the serious topics, where the supervisors were divided into 3 groups according to their field: school, social workers, clubs and the volunteers were given a very rare chance to grill with the questions they wanted to ask but never dared. I believe it is an amazing chance to really get to ask the hardest questions and for the supervisors it was an opportunity to share the darkest moments of their career, why or how they got into it, what were their initial expectations, if they were happy with what they have achieved, what would they like to do differently, given the second chance, how they handle the most controversial situations.

We had lunch together and continued making plans for the future.

At school I will have to prepare a Russia Day.

This is how I’m planning to do it.

We are going to cook some typical Russian food, blini and pelmeni, tell the kids I work with Russian fairy tales, in the picture you can see the Oak tree with the golden chain around and a cat on it, and also the mermaid hanging from the branches - Pushkin’s famous poem. Flag just over the perfectly represented tree is another activity for the group - glue the pieces of pasta to the template and color them in white, blue and red.

We got many important and useful gifts from the coordinators and the hosting organization, but the most important and valuable I believe were bags. Plain linen bags with just a single INVY logo, but what was most previous, we also got the markers for the fabric and the opportunity to decorate them. I collected small drawings from each and every volunteer, Valentina drew the flags of the countries we came from, Ahmed, she saved some space for you too. Dana has the similar idea but the flags are in the shape of the puzzle pieces and the bag is ever ending one, we filled in with our own flags, I put both Russian and Georgian, the privilege of belonging to more than one nation. Most impressive for me was Virginia’s. She simply covered the whole space with a drawing of The Little Prince sitting with his back to the observer on the lonely planet and a rose nearby.

One thing I was happy to bring back from the seminar is Instagram. You, my dear volunteer will also be requested to do some kind of blogging. I did that for living and wanted to be as far as possible from any kind of pressure of posting all the time and anxiety caused by it. Social media is something I can talk about expertly for hours. And so I hadn’t started my project. But as one of the tasks during the seminar, I got the letter in the bottle from the former volunteer Phil who happened to be a very hilarious and positive fellow from France. We texted a bit and he suggested me continuing the Invy Insta account. You can follow us @invy_in_czech, where I’m posting sometimes, covering most important events in the volunteers’ lives and also sharing the everyday life. It isn’t stressful and there’s always content that needs to be uploaded. GDPR, though, causes some complications.

On Friday we had a wonderful surprise. We knew there was supposed to be a guest arriving for dinner. I will skip most part of it, just saying that hearing the story of a fellow-volunteers was much of a help for me personally.  

We prepared out own food, which was much of a difference from served at a certain time dinner. Good music (thanks to Antonia’s speakers), delicious sausages, most wonderful people around fire - perfect recipe for a dreamy Friday night... Friday is Friday after all…

Ricarda turned 18 on Saturday next day, we wouldn’t miss a chance to be the first to shout “happy birthday” and give her one of our special group hugs! But let me tell the whole story.

Back home we already had prepared the find-your-birthday-gift quest, but we weren’t at home so we had to improvise. Friday evening was the free one after the barbecue, so we danced all the evening till midnight, when we came up to the seminar room with the balloons singing happy birthday, 2 more hours of dancing and we were ready to go to sleep and welcome the blissful oblivion of dreams.

Saturday morning was slow and quiet. We couldn’t prepare the actual cake for the birthday girl so we drew one with the exact number of candles on it. She still keeps our masterpiece. It was the second time out of 3 she heard us singing “happy birthday” to her.

If the goal of the seminar was to bind us together, it was totally accomplished. This week was very important not only for our time in the Czech Republic, but we also believe that we have found friends for life.

by Tamari Dzhanelidze (volunteer 2019/2020)

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