Madeleine set out to explore Europe on Lattitude’s popular ‘Project Europe’ programme.
Project Europe is unique among Lattitude programmes, as instead of immersion in a single country, you can take part in several projects across multiple European countries! Madeleine was part of a 5 month excursion, and volunteered in Poland, Germany, the UK and Spain.
Well done on a great job Madeleine! Thanks so much for your amazing work and courage to head overseas to try something so different!
Madeleine has been kind enough to share a few insights with us:
What made you want to volunteer overseas?
I wanted to take the time before I started university to explore the world, give back and gain some valuable life experience.
I chose Project Europe because the diverse nature of the volunteer placements was appealing and I felt it would give me the opportunity to immerse myself in a range of different cultures and experiences.
What kind of things did you do during orientation?
During orientation our group of volunteers met with the three country coordinators involved with our projects to talk through our role, responsibilities and expectations as part of Project Europe. We also spent some time learning about our own strengths & weaknesses and how we can use those to contribute to our group. Amongst this we were able to explore Warsaw, engage in some fun activities & learn about the history of Poland.
Walk us through a day in the life of your placement:
A typical day varied at each placement in terms of hours worked etc. In Poland generally 4-7 hours would be spent assisting teaching classes during the day and the evening would be spent with host families.There was often free time to catch up with other volunteers and explore the city on shorter working days and weekends.
The camp placement in Germany was very routine starting at 9am each morning and finishing at 4pm. We chose to work without a lunch break and have lunch at the end of the day so we could finish earlier. In the afternoons we spent time together swimming, cooking and relaxing.
The Revitalise centres (UK) had a timetable with each day starting at 7:45am finishing anywhere from 8-10pm depending on the day with time given for meals and breaks when needed. Typically you would go on a trip with a guest and assist with meals & activities etc.
The week with host families in Spain was again varied depending on the family. With my host family I would spend some time in the morning at day camp with my host brothers and time with my host family in the afternoon and at night. At the language immersion camp each person was rostered on for a number of classes and activities during the day and evening with scheduled free time during the day as well.
In Poland & Spain I stayed with host families which was a great opportunity to learn more about each culture. I was with my host family in Poland for 3 weeks during which I was made to feel a part of the family. I was only with my host family in Spain for 10 days but even in that short amount of time they took the time to involve me in as much of their culture as possible.
Staying with host families are an incredible opportunity and there is so much to be learnt from experiencing a different lifestyle and culture. The camp in Germany, Revitalise & Immersion Camp in Spain all had similar shared styled accommodation in small groups.
How did you get by with the language barrier?
I think our group was quite lucky with the language barrier. The most noticeable language barrier was in Poland but we found that Germany & Spain we could manage well enough. In more touristy areas there is generally a higher number of English speaks which helps a lot! Making an effort to speak the native language goes a long way and is often appreciated. Even learning the basics will help you get by.
I was fortunate to do a lot of travelling during and after my placement! One of the benefits of Project Europe is being able to travel between each placement. In the four travel weeks I was able to travel to Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Edinburgh & Madrid. Krakow (Poland) & San Sebastian (Spain) were also possible weekend trips that I took during placement. Following my placement I spent 6 weeks travelling Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Denmark & Iceland. On my way home I also spent 3 weeks with family in the USA.
I got on pretty well with the local food! I’m not a very fussy eater and am always keen to try new things. Generally speaking across all countries I ate more meat and carbs than I would at home but I didn’t find this too much of a challenge. I tried as much food as I could and definitely found some new favourite foods!
One of my favourite moments was at the camp in Germany as this was the first placement we were all together as a group. I’ll treasure that time swimming in the lake, singing round the table after dinner, watching movies & cooking together. It was during this time I was able to learn so much from my fellow volunteers.
What positive impact, even small, do you think you made?
I hope that during my time volunteering I was able to make even the smallest difference whether it was teaching kids in Poland new English words, being a friend for the guests at Revitalise & making simple tasks just that little bit easier or helping the kids at immersion camps a little bit about Australia.
I definitely became close with both of my host families whom I remain in contact with and would love to go back and visit some time in the future. At both the Revitalise centres & language immersion camp I formed new friends with some of the other volunteers. During my time travelling I was also fortunate enough to meet some new people.
I think during my time away I learnt how to be fully independent and ok my own. Whilst I’ve always considered myself fairly independent living on the other side of the world to your home, family & friends requires you to develop a different kind of independence. I learnt how to work with a range of different people and that I have so much to learn from those around me. It was truly an experience where the more you put into it the more you get out of it.
After returning from my trip in September I have gone back to work at a local thoroughbred stud where I worked last summer. My plan is to stay on working there until February when I will head off to university to study veterinary science. Lattitude has not changed my plan but has certainly given me skills that will be useful in my future career.