Irina from Germany came to Samara for one year with the EVS and volunteered at a Waldorf Kindergarten. Being half Russian with relatives in Moscow she already knew a lot about Russia, but her stay in Samara brought challenges, new insights and long lasting friends.
Why did you go to Samara, Russia?
My father is from Moscow, so I'm basically half Russian. I have relatives living in Moscow and I visit them very often. My Russian was not so good however because I never learned Russian as a child. So when I met my relatives or we talked on Skype I didn't understand what they were talking about, which made me really sad. I wanted to be able to communicate with my relatives so after I finished school I said "Okay, I'm going to Russia because my father can’t teach me Russian!" and I decided to volunteer in Russia. I already knew a bit about the language and the culture before going to Samara. I was interested in the Waldorf Kindergarten because I went to one myself when I was a child, and when I saw this project in Samara I applied for it. First I wanted to go to Moscow, but I'm really happy that I didn't.
Tell us about your project
I worked at a Waldorf Kindergarten. For those who don't know, the first Waldorf Kindergarten was established in 1919 in Stuttgart. The founder, Rudolf Steiner, was not only the author of an idea and a school head-teacher but also the founder of a special pedagogical system, therapeutic pedagogy and medicine, and a spiritual school. The main idea of the Waldorf pedagogical system is that childhood is a unique period in human life and it's very important to give children an opportunity to develop in a natural way, according to their age and abilities. I took care of a group of 15 children and participated in everyday activities. I played with them and read books, painted and took them for walks outside. I also cleaned the floor, did the dishes and sometimes I also worked in the kitchen. It was a big event to put all the children’s clothes on when they were about to go outside and take them off again when they came back in! The children were all very cute and I had nice colleagues.
What was your biggest challenge being a volunteer?
The biggest challenge for me was the first three months because I had some problems with my visa. In the beginning it was also a bit difficult because my Russian was not so good. I had problems communicating with the children and they didn't accept me as a teacher first, but everyone was very nice to me.
What did you like the most about being a volunteer?
I liked pretty much everything, especially when spring came to Samara. I also traveled to Karelia and Saint Petersburg alone during my project, which was very exciting. Russians didn't understand why I was traveling alone: why a young European girl would travel alone? It's dangerous according to them and I should be afraid; but I wasn't afraid, I was just happy traveling. When I took the 40-hour train journey back to Samara from Saint Petersburg I met a man who looked exactly like Lenin. He said that he was Lenin and that he was an artist who dressed like him. He also played a little piano, sang songs and told anecdotes and stories and it was all really funny.
In Samara I lived with volunteers in a flat but I also lived for a bit with a Russian host family and experienced Russian everyday life. I learned to talk with people in different languages and I remember all the small situations like how to ask people for the way on the street. I also learned not to be so shy and I became more relaxed. The Russians are not really stressed like people in Germany are, for example.
Would you recommend volunteering in Samara to someone else?
Definitely. I think it's a really big opportunity to challenge yourself and leave your comfort zone, to have a big experience and to learn more about yourself and other people. I also think you become more self-confident. You should not miss this opportunity!