Written by: 
Stamatia Koutzagkoulaki Wednesday, 14 August, 2019 - 14:39

Volunteering Makes The World Bigger

The most distinct influence volunteering activities have had on me is that they have pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and embrace the fear of the unknown, a fear everyone carries inside of them.

Curiosity to explore the world might be awakened at an early age in all of us, but the need to discover it occurs in different ways for everyone, and so does getting the chance to actually do it! 

After my first year of university, I started looking for a way to connect with people who shared common interests with me and I didn’t turn down any chance I was given to do so. This is how I stumbled upon ESN and as the years went by, I realised how lucky I was to come across it so early. Now, 4 years later, the influence of people I have met, who come from different backgrounds, and the conversations I had with them, have come to shape the way that I experience the world.

Exchanging opinions with people who have learnt to perceive the world in ways that are not familiar to me has challenged my views. Most of the time, these conversations urge me to research more about things that I haven’t heard of up until then, or to discuss about our different approaches, and in some cases, find out  our common views and talk about them. All those times, the outcome had been the same, these interactions helped broaden my horizons when it came to how I perceive the rest of the world, places outside my city, my neighbourhood and my country. 

The best example of this from my own experience comes from my involvement  in ESN. Having met so many people from different places, both within my country and outside of it, I have been exposed to their reality simply by talking with them. They have raised my awareness on current matters of the world, they have shared parts of their culture with me and some of them have inspired me to make changes in my way of living. My fear of what I have been taught to be different, and what I should keep my distance from, slowly disappears and is being replaced by new friendships, some of which I treasure deeply no matter the distance and obstacles. Of course, I often talk with people whose opinions don’t align with mine, but even that has made me more sure of my own views.  



Getting out of my comfort zone did not happen only by talking to people. It began when I decided to contribute to the activities that were being organised. I started with small actions and as I grew more confident and gained more experience, those actions became bigger and bigger. This resulted in me having to confront some of my insecurities but also trying out some practices which I’d seen people around me use to manage the tasks they undertook more effectively. I realised that in order to keep a balance between the amount of effort I had to put in volunteering and being a full time student, I needed to put some good time management and prioritisation in practice. ESN helped me acquire those skills, alongside others like project and crisis management, and communicating my thoughts to a group of people, which were rather useful when, later on in my academic years, I had to complete big projects. 

In addition I was given the chance to explore some of my own interests and practise my field of study. I study computer engineering and had originally decided not to practise that in ESN, as my desire was to discover and develop other interests through volunteering. My approach changed after a while. I thought it would be a pity not to contribute to something I enjoyed spending my time on with some skills I already had. This only brought good results as I was able to practise my knowledge and gain some hard skills.

 

Part of these skills, opportunities and achievements where mostly the result of people who encouraged me to believe in my abilities. The people who supported me when I doubted my own abilities and grounded me when I tried to go after something I wasn’t in a position to handle yet or even at all. Through working with these people in order to achieve our common goals, I learnt the reality of working with others, even those with whom our opinions might differ. It became obvious to me that communicating my opinion respectfully and effectively was something that I had to work on if I wanted to have a good cooperation with them. Being accountable, responsible and more disciplined was something that I realised I had to practise not only when I was working alone, but also when I worked with others. These and many more continue to contribute towards my personal growth, the only thing I had to do was to be open to exchanging ideas and opinions with people I meet. 

Joining ESN was the first time I was able to see how volunteering can affect my everyday life. At first I just saw the skills I could develop but as the years pass by, I see how it shapes my approach to the world. It is the reason I decided to venture upon the most unforgettable experience of my life, going on Erasmus in Budapest. I still get the chance to discover new ways of expressing myself, but also to develop important skills for my future life; skills and experiences that I know I don’t have to wait until I finish with my studies to prove useful, as it is already happening. And all that, is thanks to a group of people who embraced me, supported me and became my friends. 

The list goes on an on but,unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to describe all the things that volunteering in ESN has offered me, even if tried.

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Volunteering
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