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  • Writer's pictureVoluntar inTransilvania

Both student and a volunteer at the same time?

I honestly don't even know where to start, I feel a whirlwind of emotions trying to put all my experience into words. Well, I'll start by introducing myself: I'm Tania Oliynyk and I'm 20 years old, I'm Ukrainian and at the age of 7 I moved to Portugal. I've always been a very outgoing and dynamic person, I've always liked a new experience, a new adventure, feeling the adrenaline running through my veins. What I hate most is monotony, I've never been a friend of routines, they annoy me.

During my whole life I enjoyed doing everything, I did 42983 different sports because I wanted to experience everything, in every "Want to come?" my answer was always "Of course!!". I've always been a very traveled person, I didn't care if no one wanted to come with me, in fact since when do I need someone else? From one day to the next I was able to pack my backpack, get on a bus or train and go somewhere just to unwind a bit.

My biggest passion is the sea, in my circle of friends I am known as the "Sea Girl", I like to walk barefoot, I like to see the sunset, I like to wake up feeling the sea breeze and go to the water in the end of the day. I am happy in simple things. I'm happy when I eat fresh fruit, when I discover new music, when I finish a good book, when I go for a morning jog with my dog, when I hug the people I like, when people smile at me. I have every reason in the world to be happy. I learned to fall in love with taking care of myself. Fall in love with the path of the deep healing. Fall in love with becoming the best version of myself but with patience, with compassion and respect to my own journey.

In January I launched myself on the biggest adventure of my life: Volunteering with the European Voluntary Corps in Romania. It was something that I had wanted to experience for some time, but I always found some excuse or it was the work, or it was the university, or it was the lack of time, or it was the pandemic that appeared totally unexpectedly. But when I received an email with an invitation from the AUM Association to be part of "LOVE Project" I decided "No more excuses, I just go without thinking too much, without worrying too much" and that was it. I went, it was as if I plunged headlong into the total unknown without thinking about anything that surrounded me.

Honestly it was something I also needed, I needed to escape, I needed the unknown, an adventure, an experience, a challenge, after all life passes and time doesn't come back, it's the most precious that we have and if we don't make the best use of it, it will be just a waste.

So, it was with a spirit of wanting to live life that I went to Sighisoara. As a student at the Institute of Political and Social Sciences and as a future Inspector of Criminal Investigation and simultaneously volunteer in the long-term project in the European Voluntary Corps, if it was easy to manage to reconcile everything? Not at all. If it made me stop or want to give up? Of course not. I admit that there were tiring days, there were exhausting days, there were days that I just felt like ignoring all the responsibilities, however they were days that taught me, that made me grow, that made me mature to face the difficulties of life. I know it seems like I'm exaggerating here as if college life consumes so much, however, unfortunately, it's a fact, it does. After some conversations with volunteers about what university life was like in other countries, I understood that teaching in Portugal is, in fact, quite demanding. We are a small country with a lot of competition because the labor market is poor, so either we stand out or we spend our lives working on something that was not what we wanted.

Thus, Portuguese university students spend their degrees in a struggle between mental health, social life and grades, it seems that we are in a survival program on how to reach the end with mental health. Maybe I was also the one who entered university in a bad year, namely in the first year of the pandemic, where I didn't experience one iota of the fun part of university life, didn't make friends, didn't socialize with anyone, didn't participate in any events. My university life was reduced to a computer, a fight for notes and against the psychological distress that the pandemic caused. Although,from the first moment I arrived in Sighisoara, the association in general was a huge support, everyone from the coordinators to the volunteers themselves always helped me in whatever I needed, they were always present in good times and bad and I don't even know how to thank them for so much they did for me. They were a friendly shoulder, they were the ones who wiped my tears, who gave me the motivation to continue.

About my routine? It was a routine from morning until falling asleep. In the first months when the university exams were not yet close, I would wake up in the morning to take online classes, often have lunch in front of the computer and then go to meetings and work for the association, fortunately it was just 10 meters between my room and office, so I didn't waste much time. After the office, I would go home to have a snack, pack my bag and head to the gym. The gym was a great way to unload energy and a place where I felt away from daily stress. I put my headphones on full blast and it was just me, the music and the exercise, there was nothing but that.After the gym I would come home, make dinner, go to my room to still have a look at the university stuff and then go to bed. Was I going to sleep? Not yet.

There were things pending in Portugal, namely the change of nationality which required me to deal with a lot of documentation, help my mother with some family documentation because she has a lot of difficulties in the Portuguese language and also to help my little brothers (a brother aged 7 and a sister aged 11) who have difficulties at school, so I stayed in bed on my cell phone taking care of whatever was needed. When I went to sleep, I walked with my mind always separated between the projects and the university, I was a good student but I was too demanding on myself, if I didn't understand something I could spend hours and hours around that, but in the end I HAD to understand that.

But I also didn't want to be unproductive in the association's work, so I tried my best to get involved in what I could, but even so I felt constantly that it wasn't enough and that I should do more.I would go to sleep thinking how I could split up and there would be 2 Tania’s, one for the university and one for the project.However, none of this even made me question about finishing the project and returning to Portugal, I wanted to stay, I wanted to face it, I wanted to go through all that, because despite that I was living an incredible and incomparable experience, I was genuinely happy there, with that routine and those people.All the smiles, all the hugs, all the walks, all the movie night’s, all the nights on the Voynich were worth it. Things got even more complicated when the exam period started to approach, I had 6 exams and I didn't even know how to organize myself as it was also a time when we actually started to work and create a lot of content for the Association. "Free days" didn't exist for me, I didn't even know what it was to have a day off, every day was spent at the office. There were days when I was able to spend 13/14 hours in the office and not even see the sun. Do I complain? None of that. One of the things I learned is that with motivation we can achieve everything, and I was motivated enough.

So, for all those who think that a university student cannot do a long-term volunteer project, this is a lie. I'm not saying it's easy, it takes a lot of patience and organization. But believe me it’s worth it, volunteering teaches you a lot, shows you new cultures, different values, makes you face situations that make you learn and expands your horizons.I sincerely look back and I wouldn't change a thing, I'm genuinely grateful for all the days I've been a part of the AUM Association.Everyone asks me why I didn't take a break from university when I went to volunteer, but there it is, I thought there was no need to divide my time if I could reconcile both things, however difficult it might seem.I can't put it into words and explain how much I enjoyed all my time in Romania, how much I liked all the people I met and how much each one of them made a difference in my life.

Every day was really important to me. And today I miss waking up in my bedroom, getting dressed and going to the office, saying “GooooooodMorningggg” to everyone, drinking coffee with them in the midst of conversations and smiles. I miss all the shared beers on Voynich and all the super tuneless sung songs.

Time, do you have any idea how much value it has? I think not. We live in a fast-paced society, constantly in a hurry to work, to grow, to buy a car and a house. The problem is that when the time comes to an end there is nothing left, they spent their lives running by and forgot to stop and enjoy what exists.I think it's precisely because of this rush that people are afraid to get out of their routine and experience something different.So, you who are reading this, do not hesitate, leave your fears aside, leave your insecurities in a box, make no more excuses, immerse yourself in life, enjoy every minute of your life the way YOU want!

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