Living with the EVS pocket money

Let’s say it straight: Finland is quite expensive. Compared to Italy it definitely is.

As an EVS volunteer you don’t get any salary.  Though, such an experience is free of charge for the ones taking part in it (accommodation, food and other main things are provided),  and in addition to this, you will have a pocket money,  a small monthly budget, which may vary according to your “volunteering agreement”.

So you may have a chance to afford social life during your EVS, even in Finland.

It doesn’t matter how small it’s your budget, I will give you some tips in order to use it in the best way.

  1. Second hand shops: in Finland you can find many of these. Usually the stuff it’s in very good condition and if you are lucky you can really make great deals. For instance, I think you could go there when you are looking for winter clothes and you want to be sure their are really good for Finnish winter!
  2. Super Markets: the product you want to purchase it’s almost always sold also by the “Market’s brand”, that is way cheaper than the other ones. There are different of those: Pirkka, K-menu, Rainbow… depending on the Market. Look at the lower shelves, the prices are lower as well!
  3. Travelling: Finland has a lot to offer, there are many places that you could visit. Trips can be expensive if you have to take public transportation. One solution is buying beforehand the tickets, since the Finnish train company offers “saver tickets” for the clients who book earlier their trip. Then, if you don’t mind to spend long hours on a bus, this is also a solution. There are different bus companies which are very cheap, the most famous one is Onnibus, but you can check also Savonlinja or others…
  4. Night-life: well, I would say that get a drink in a bar it’s not so cheap. But sometime there are special offers on a specific day. If you want to hang out without spending a fortune, check it. You can find bars offering a beer for € 2.50, not bad, right? But remember to drink responsibly.
  5. General advices: actually the better persons who can give you very good tips are Finns themselves. So, don’t be afraid: ask people at your work place or where you live! They will be glad to help you! I am sure!

Ok, I hope this list can help you to manage your volunteer’s budget! Sometime probably you will have to make a choice, not all is affordable for a volunteer. But still I believe that this is a vary good teaching! It’s not always reasonable to get everything!

Good luck! See you soon!

 

Chapter 9 – Winter clothes

Photo from Paolo (L'illuminato)

Yes, you can see a smile on my face! Yes, you can smile in Finnish Winter!

But believe me, if you don’t dress properly it’s hard to be happy when you are outside.

Ok, let’s put few premises before continuing: I’m Italian (and in Italy it’s warm most of the time), I spent just one winter in Finland and I really like snow and outdoor activities. So now you can judge my statements considering these hints I gave you.

The goal of this post is to make you understand that Finnish Winter is not so bad. You can survive it! Trust me! Even if you come from the South of Europe and you think that at -25 degrees no life is possible.

Actually, Finnish Winter can be very fascinating.

When comes the snow, everything is white and it’s awesome! You can have a walk on the frozen lake, go out for skiing or ice fishing, or you can just built a snowman!

My trick (not really a secret) is to dress with many layers of clothes. You can also find very good jackets nowadays that are meant for the cold winter, but they are really expensive and I still prefer to have many layers, since it’s easier to “fix your status” if you feel too much hot.

You can put double gloves when it’s very cold, and of course two pairs of socks! Then, let me tell you this: tights under your pants make the difference!

Of course, you can choose how to dress according to the way you usually deal with cold and low temperature. But pleas, don’t start to wear your winter clothes in September, otherwise you won’t know what to do next.

Anyway, it’s not always that cold. This Winter we had few days at -25/-30 degrees, but just few days. And if you wear properly and you put your “snowpants”, you’ll be fine!

Generally, remember always to check the forecast before going out. And if it’s cold, remember also that you will need time to dress up. So, if you have an appointment, make sure to consider 10 to 15 minutes more in order to get dressed! I was always late at the beginning of the Winter, because I have never considered before the fact that you could need more than 30 seconds to put the jacket and leave your apartment. Of course “Paese che vai, usanza che trovi” (Different country, different habits).

Chapters 6, 7, 8 – A lot happened

Well, I didn’t write anything in a while!

Sorry, I have been busy and that’s a good thing actually for me. I told before sometime can be a kind of boring as a volunteer abroad, especially if you live in a small town (like me). But after the first weeks (or months) if you don’t give up, it is possible to meet interesting people and hang out with someone.

I am not going to tell you all the things I did in these months. Otherwise it’s going to be very boring for you guys.  I can show you just some pictures!

Though, I realized that it could be more useful for people to know how to deal with some practical issues here in Finland.

Tips for future volunteers will be the topic of my blog from now on.

I’ll start with winter clothes! Catch you in the next post!

Chapter 5 – The school where I am

Ok, let’s talk about my Finnish daily routine!

I will give you some general information, and I really hope that this can be useful for anyone of you who will decide to spent few months volunteering here in the North.

What do I concretely  do here in Seurakuntaopisto?

First of all, I am in one of those schools that in Finland are called “opisto”. That means people live here during the week days. I also stay here in the student dorm. Other schools are named “Koulu”, and there is no dormitory there.

Other thing, this school is a Vocational School. Students learn a profession here. The school that prepares better for university instead is named “Lukio”, and it can be compared to the Italian “Liceo” (though, I don’t know what it can exactly be in the Anglo-Saxon tradition).

I understood that Seurakuntaopisto is a kind of unusual place.

So, what’s different? In Seurakuntaopisto there are lessons for Special Needs Students and for Not Special Needs ones. In the same place you can see both, this is the peculiarity of the school. In fact, many changes are currently taking place in the Finnish school system and one of those regards Special Needs Education. They are trying to integrate more and more Special Needs students. Otherwise, the mainstream solution here in Finland (as in many other countries) it’s to make them study in Special schools.

So, back to my personal experience! I live and I do my volunteering work in the same place, that is quite comfy since I don’t have to take any transportation and I don’t need to wake up too early. Remember this if you search for a project in Finland! Check the distances! It can be very annoying if you have to travel a lot. The weather is not always good and even if public transportation is not bad, buses have to deal with snow and ice. They can be late, and in Winter outside is freaking cold!

What about my duties? Well, volunteers don’t have many responsibilities. On the one hand this can be great, it makes you feel more relaxed. On the other hand, it means that sometime the day could be too relaxing. But the point is to understand that as a volunteer, first of all, you should observe and learn. You have to be patient, and when you feel confident enough don’t be afraid of putting yourself in action. In Finland people do appreciate personal initiative (at least the ones I met in Pieksämäki).

I can work either in the morning or in the evening. The morning shift starts at 6.45 and it ends at 14.45, the evening shift is from 14.00 until 22.00. During the morning I go to the special needs students dormitory and with them we have breakfast in the dining room of the Campus. After breakfast students have one hour of free time and usually at 9.15 the lessons begin. In the free time we can play some board games in the living room of the dormitory, then we move to the classroom and I attend classes with them. Most of the time I can help and support the students during their activities. The teachers always give me some tasks.

Just few words to describe the classroom. I was really amazed by it.

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When I write classroom you probably picture in your mind a room with one teaching desk in front of several student desks, that’s kind of normal in Italy. Here, it’s not like this! The classroom is a sort of little house. Inside this house there is the teacher’s office, a couple of “living rooms” with couches and a computer, a kitchen and then also the actual classroom with desks for the students (but not for the teacher).  I think that using the space in this way is amazing.

Let’s finish with the description of the volunteers daily routine in this school.

The evening shift is totally different. It’s not really structured. Students are in their free time and they can join activities or they can just relax in their rooms.

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A good way to survive these long evenings is to find something else to do, like reading a book or studying the language. As there are no students sometime If you do something by yourself is not that bad!

And that’s all about everyday work-life in Finland. For now!

Chapter 4 – Learning new things

I am back and I proudly survived the autumn break week here in the School, alone!

Well, actually not completely alone! I shared the dormitory with two students from Tanzania. Two guys who are going to be teachers soon in their own country and who were here to learn about the Finnish education programme for Special Needs Students. It was nice to know about Tanzania e and talk about their studies and about their opinion on Education. It had also been a productive week for me, since I wrote the introduction to my final project for my Master in Psychology. Now I’m waiting for the comment of my supervisor.

During that week the School was closed so I  volunteered in the place where asylum seekers from Asia and Africa live here in Pieksämäki. They are young and full of energies. It’s not sure for them to have a future in Finland (or in Europe), most of them are still waiting for the response of the European institutions about their refugees status. Meanwhile they can attend classes of Finnish language and now, after few months, they can speak a very good Finnish.  I really hope the best for them!

While I’m writing outside is snowing. It’s getting colder here, no more positive numbers in our thermometer. Yesterday walking by the lake we noticed that it was already frozen. And it’s the first time I can see a lake this big frozen!

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Frozen lake in Pieksamaki

Yes, it’s finally true, Winter is really coming! The Sun goes down around 15.30 and at 17.00 practically is night. But thanks to the snow is still quite clear even without the Sun! That’s great! I really hope that there will be snow in Winter, to contrast the darkness!

So almost three months are passed since my arrival in Finland and I start feeling more like home. I have my daily routine and even if sometime is not so exciting It’s easier now to find something to do. Indeed the tasks as volunteer are not so many… I really like to work in the morning, during classes! But in the evening can be quite boring!

I’m going to tell you about my work later!

Bye for now.

Chapter 3 -Silver lining?

Ok! Let’s keep writing!

I should find a moment during the week to do this and then starting to tell things in a chronological order. But for now I have to write down a little bit more about my first weeks here.

I told you that it was a kind of shocking my arrival in Pieksämäki. It was uneasy to find my place in the school. And in addition to this, it was (it is) very hard for me to find a way to communicate with students.

Language could not be our mean of communication so… how solve this problem?

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Well, it came out that there are other ways to communicate. In Italy we say di necessità virtù and it means that when you don’t have any other choice you are forced to use what you have to do your best, even if what you have is not that much. Maybe an English idiom which can represent this idea is If life gives you lemons make a lemonade. So I tried to use other ways “to speak”, like moving my hands, making sounds or putting Finnish words together as a baby. Hard to believe but it worked, and sometime it has been very funny! Though I don’t want to lie to you: it didn’t work always and not for everything. But for sure you can be creative and do your best to reach people around you. So, that is for sure the bright side of being far away from your comfort-zone, you can learn new things and challenge yourself. For instance, I learnt how many way I have to make people understand me and I think that this is an important lesson for me to use also in the future if I will work with Special Needs students, and also in Italy, because even in your own language often words are not enough to express yourself and you need more ways to make people understand what you want to say.

And with Finns who can speak English? Well, after a while people started to say few words in English, and then more and more. Now it is definitely better. I would say that the secret with Finns is to not force them. You have to be patient. I still don’t get it why people here don’t smile, that’s weird to me, because I think that smiling doesn’t cost anything (or is there a tax on it in Finland?  I don’t know they always complain about taxation so maybe…) but at least they speak to me now, so I don’t care too much about the serious faces. I have to say that in this case the bright side is that when you make a person smile you can really be proud. I’m so happy when I get “to steal” a laugh or a smile, it’s like a very big achievement. And you can imagine how hard it is to make good jokes in a different language. I mean sometime it is practically impossible to translate Italian jokes in English (and is so frustrating) but when you handle this kind of stuff….wow!

And for now…that’s all folks!

img_20161021_123212706I’m going to the train station (the famous one) with Isabel (my co-worker) since she is leaving for the week (the autumn break is starting today). unfortunately, I have to stay here (damn!) because I have to study! I really hope to survive the week, It will be booooring all alone in the School! 😛