Lorenzo from Italy came to Samara for one year with the EVS and volunteered at the hospital for war veterans. Not only did he improve his Russian, he also learned how to survive a Russian winter.
Why did you go to Samara, Russia?
I was a student of Slavic languages in Italy and studied Polish and Russian. At the end of my studies I was looking for an opportunity to go to Russia. I first applied for a scholarship to Saint Petersburg, but on a website I also found an opportunity to go to Samara with the EVS and work in a hospital for war veterans. When I received two emails one day, one from Saint Petersburg and one from Samara, telling me that I was accepted onto both I didn't know what to do. I had only one day to decide and after talking with friends and family I decided to go to Samara. The project was really interesting, the time period longer and I thought that in Samara I would experience "The Real Russia".
Tell us about your project
The hospital building is something I would definitely describe as "Soviet": a big, rectangular grey concrete building with a huge mosaic of soldiers from the Soviet period. Inside the hospital they had also parked some military vehicles and rockets. Just to keep the atmosphere I guess. Everyone at the hospital was very polite and kind to me from the beginning. I immediately felt like part of the staff wearing my nurse’s coat. I worked on the neurology ward and since I don't have medical education my working tasks were quite easy and didn’t relate to medicine. I brought veterans to medical checks by wheelchair, delivered medical documents to the doctors, carried medicines and tools to and from the ward and provided the patients with food. Sometimes at special events, like the famous Victory Day in May, I also had to sing.
What was your biggest challenge being a volunteer?
When I flew to Russia in December 2012 I was very excited but also a bit scared at the same time. I was not just going to Russia, I was going somewhere in Russia where people don't usually go. It was not Moscow or Saint Petersburg. It was Samara, a city just 200 kilometers from Kazakhstan and about 1 000 kilometers from Moscow. Not just around the corner! I was also scared about people and cultural differences. I knew everything would be very different from Europe. The first week my host family and mentor helped me around the city and taught me basic things like how public transport worked and how to survive the Russian winter. I am from the south of Europe and had only seen ice on ice creams! The language barrier was also something difficult.
What did you like the most with being a volunteer?
At the hospital and in Samara in general 99 percent of the people speak Russian and ONLY Russian. As you can imagine, Russian is not an easy language and although I had studied it before I found it difficult in the beginning. I had to understand so many new things and at the same time try to speak and interact. When I worked at the hospital I realized how important knowledge of the Russian language is. Not just to understand and carry out the working tasks, but also to talk with patients and people working there. When they see that you understand and speak Russian they will treat you as a close friend and sometimes even as a grandson! They show you how much they appreciate your help and sometimes tell you stories about their past, experiences from the war, but also of peace.
This is something I really enjoyed and it made my EVS experience very interesting. I didn't expect such strong gratitude and warmth. My time as a volunteer in Samara is one of my greatest experiences in life because I was able to achieve my professional objectives, such as gaining some work experience and improving my language skills, but I also achieved personal objectives like traveling, discovering Russia and Russian culture and just having fun.
Would you recommend volunteering in Samara to someone else?
The EVS experience in Samara is something I greatly recommend, but I also think it requires very strong motivation, patience and open-mindedness. Even if we think that meeting different cultures is nice, sometimes it can also be very hard to understand certain attitudes and customs. Furthermore Samara is completely different from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, cities with more western customs. On the other hand differences can be fun and with the right motivation and spirit, you can laugh about certain situations like broken roads, marshrutka drivers doing hard-core multitasking while driving and people talking to you and offering you food and drinks just because you're a foreigner.
I also strongly recommend that you learn some Russian before coming to Samara. Surviving in a country doesn't require a deep knowledge of the language, but to understand and get to grips with people, the culture, the country, is something different and there you will need more than just a basic level. With that said, if you want to come to Russia and experience it, you have to pass through Samara!