BLOG – VOLUNTEERING – TIROL

Auf dem Blog-Volunteering-Tirol wird Freiwilligen, die in Tirol tätig sind, eine Bühne gegeben. Sie berichten in Blogbeiträgen über ihren Alltag, was sie beschäftigt, was ihre Motivationen sind, was sie lernen und über vieles mehr.

Die POJAT (www.pojat.at) ist ein gemeinnütziger, überkonfessioneller und überparteilicher Verein. Als Dachverband verfolgt er die Vernetzung, Stärkung und Professionalisierung der Offenen Jugendarbeit in Tirol. Zudem ist die POJAT Supporting Organisation für ESK-Projekt (www.solidaritaetskorps.at) in der Offenen Jugendarbeit in Tirol. Derzeit unterstützen fünf Freiwillige aus unterschiedlichen Ländern die Offene Jugendarbeit in Tirol und werden dabei von der POJAT begleitet. Der Blog wird von der POJAT in Kooperation mit Kommunity (www.kommunity.me) betreut.

Sollten Sie Fragen, Ideen, einen Blogbeitrag zum Veröffentlichen oder ein Feedback haben, freuen wir uns, wenn Sie uns schreiben unter europa@pojat.at.


On the Blog-Volunteering-Tirol, volunteers who are working in Tyrol are given a stage. They report in blog articles about their everyday life, what keeps them busy, what their motivations are, what they learn and much more.

POJAT (www.pojat.at) is a non-profit, non-denominational and non-partisan association. As an umbrella organisation, it pursues the networking, strengthening and professionalisation of Open Youth Work in Tyrol. POJAT is also the supporting organisation for ESK projects (www.solidaritaetskorps.at) in open youth work in Tyrol. Currently, five volunteers from different countries support Open Youth Work in Tyrol and are accompanied by POJAT. The blog is maintained by POJAT in cooperation with Kommunity (www.kommunity.me).

If you have questions, ideas, a blog to publish or feedback, we would be happy if you write us at europa@pojat.at.

Volunteering at a Youth Center

I am currently volunteering at a youth center in Telfs, Austria.

Womans day in the Youth Center

It takes 45 minutes by bus to the city of Innsbruck. It is a small place where many Turks and immigrants live. I wanted to apply for such a project because I wanted to improve my German and work with immigrants. Currently, I support the integration process of the children of families who immigrated to Austria from various parts of the world. Since I can mostly speak the same language with them, they explain their problems more easily and I can find solutions more easily. They allowed me to realize my interests. Since I care about gender equality, I have a mission to inform girls about this. I talk with them and find it very important to encourage them to do what they can. We ensure that all children spend quality time at our center after or before school hours. I am very satisfied with my co-workers and my sending and hosting organization.

Fixing problems in the Youth Center…

The house given to us had everything available and we feel quite comfortable at home. There are 3 people living in the house and I have not encountered any problems so far. My host organization is very interested in my every problem and provides me with support. From the moment we arrived, we started taking German courses in addition to our working hours, and it was very beneficial for me both socially and educationally. Thanks to the course, I made new friends and it helped me a lot in my integration process. If I talk a little more about my working life, I love what I do. My boss and co-workers also supported me a lot in every adaptation process. They are always kind and helpful. My project is about 1 year and I have completed my first 6 months. I had a very good 6 months. Thank you very much everyone.

Thankful to get to know a lot of different people

Every person is the gateway to a new world

Hi. I am Denizhan. I arrived in Austria from Turkey on October last year. Since then, I have been working as an ESC volunteer at Telfs. I feel like I’ve been in a dream since I got on the plane from Istanbul. When I set off, I realized that a whole new world was waiting for me. And, indeed, it was. After my plane landed in Vienna, I met up with my friend, who will be volunteering with me on the same project, and we started waiting for our train to get to Innsbruck. It was going to be the first train trip in Europe for me. After a long train journey, we arrived in Innsbruck and my colleague at the place where I will be volunteering picked us up from the train station and then dropped us off at our new home. This is how my first night in Austria started.

The place where I work as a volunteer is a youth center. The children who live here have a quality and fun time coming here. So we chat with them and spend time with them. We try to help them with everything. All of my colleagues at the youth center are beautiful people from each other. I feel like I’ve been one of them since the day I arrived. Their behavior and approach to me, the fact that they help me with everything, shows that they are wonderful people.

The view from the youth center where I work

Since I came here, I have met many of my friends who work as volunteers in Austria, like me. Everyone has their own characteristics and energy. They are all people with a completely different world from each other. I realized that these people, who grew up with different cultures from different countries and are different native speakers, can somehow gather in a common place and have a lot of fun. This is an amazing experience for me.

Tyrol has an amazing nature. As a person from the metropolis, I was amazed by the cleanliness of the air and the beauty of nature here. It’s the first time for me to live in a place surrounded by mountains. Every morning, when I look out the window, I come across a mountain view. This is where I found out what it’s like to live with nature.

Bärenkoft, 1991 m

It had only been 1 month since I started living here. One day, while talking to my housemate, she came to me with the idea that Halloween time was approaching and that we could invite your friends for a celebration. I thought that was a great idea, we made our plans and invited our friends to our house for a celebration.

Halloween was not something that was widely celebrated in Turkey, so it was going to be a whole new experience for me. We decorated our house with traditional ornaments. Everyone came in their own costume or makeup. So I gave myself a special make-up for the concept. We had a great night where we ate together, drank something and talked and danced until later in the night.

Halloween decorations in our house

Volunteers are required to participate in 2 trainings within the scope of ESC projects. The first training is the on-arrival training, which takes place in Vienna, and the other training is the mid-term training, which takes place in Salzburg. The time for the first of this training had come. Together with my friends, we took the train from Innsbruck to Vienna and then checked into the hotel where we were staying for 3 nights. We were already starting to meet new people from the moment I walked in the hotel. They were all valuable people from completely different countries who, like us, worked as volunteers in different parts of Austria. Everyone was very energetic and friendly.

In the training, we watched presentations with a lot of information about ESC projects and Austria. We played games and did workshops together to increase interaction.

2nd stage of education on the day, we were divided into random groups and each group was given a list of tasks to do in Vienna. To be honest, it was great to get lost in a city of dreams like Vienna. I don’t even understand how time passes with my bandmates. I’m sure I won’t forget this experience for the rest of my life.

Task 1 : Listen to the city for 5 min, closing your eyes on a bench in Vienna.

Another great event was the night when every nation made its traditional meal. We ate, drank and had fun together. Never before I have never felt decently the environment where such a variety of people are together. At the end of this 3-day training, the wonderful people I knew had become my friends. I am looking forward to the second training that will take place in the future.

From the hotel with wonderful people

Christmas is not something that is widely celebrated in Turkey. More often New Year’s Eve is celebrated in Turkey. As I was talking to my friends, I realized that most of them would return to their country to celebrate with their family. I also wanted to use this long vacation. I have set a holiday route with my friends who have not returned to their country. This route consisted of Vienna-Budapest-Prague-Berlin. All of these cities were magnificent from each other and fascinated me with their own unique features. Being on the roads for 1 week was a new experience for me. My first Christmas adventure in Europe was actually like getting to know a new World for me.

When I started volunteering, I knew that I would meet many different people and learn new ways. My new journey, which started at Innsbruck station, has changed my life greatly. I don’t know where the next station will be for now. But this station is a turning point in my life for me, I’m sure of it.

The place that became the turning point of my life

Life has very different dynamics. It may not always be possible to control the dynamics. I think the important thing is to be able to move on. This journey is sometimes full of difficulties and sometimes perfection. I hope everyone will find their own way. Thanks a lot for reading.

The World Is Yours

My name’s Stuart, I’m 24, I’m from Scotland and since October of 2021 I’ve been volunteering at a youth center in Jenbach called Point. After only 3 months, I’m unmistakably sure that this is one of the most important moments in my life. Being in Austria has changed my perspective on life, work, language, and friendship. I don’t think I could be here at a better time in my life. There are one or two things I’d like to explore in this blog, such as the relationships that can develop between people from different cultures and the purpose behind these ESC projects.

The Otherworldly view overlooking Achensee.

I’ve met more incredible people in the short time that I’ve lived here than I did in 24 years living in Britain. In Austria I’ve made friends with some of the most astonishingly genuine, excruciatingly generous, sweet, unpretentious, and supremely interesting people that I’ve ever had the fortune of getting to know. I’ve shared experiences with these people that I’ll remember fondly for the rest of my life. Whether it’s coworkers within the project, other volunteers, or loosely connected friends of friends that you meet at a party, it seems like everyone here is implausibly smart, funny, talented and above all, friendly. I’ve been surprised at just how fast friendships can develop, some people just click in a way that I’ve rarely experienced before, with concepts like language barriers and different cultural upbringings being forgotten as the conversations develop. Don’t get me wrong, I feel incredibly blessed to be speaking English, and to have nearly everyone I meet able to understand and communicate in my native language, but again I think this speaks to just how fantastically smart and cultured everyone is. It’s indescribably lovely to hear imperfect English spoken with a Turkish accent, or near perfect English spoken with a Spanish accent, or an Italian accent speaking it better than I do. I feel like there’s so much more to connecting with people than just saying the right words in the correct order, it’s something much deeper than that. The human element of this project will, I believe, remain the defining component of the experience for me in years to come. The friendships and connections that I’ve made here are absolutely unparalleled, and that really amazes me.

Marina, Diana, Abozar, and I at a restaurant in Vienna. I’m the one that’s not smiling.

In November we went to Vienna and met with other volunteers from projects across Austria. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of such engaging and unique people, and ones with which I felt I had so much in common. I really believe that after meeting the others, there’s a certain reason that we’re all here in Austria, doing these projects together, connecting, sharing our cultures, and exploring new ones. I think there’s a lot of justification for ESC projects that can be listed on a website or a PowerPoint slide, such as fostering relationships between different European countries and cultures etc. but there’s also an intangible energy that surrounds the concept as a whole. Maybe the projects are just a catalyst for this connection, but I think they play two distinct roles: On one hand they bring you here, give you a reason and a means to live in Austria for a year or so, and thus provide a platform to make these connections, and friendships with others, to meet new people. On the other hand, they can create intrinsic motivation to work, to help others and to experience a lifestyle that isn’t primarily focused on just making money for yourself, but rather on creating an environment in which you can make a difference. I believe that the incentive stemming from living your life – albeit temporarily – with the goal of helping others, is an incredibly powerful and interesting source of motivation, and one that seems increasingly illusive in modern life.

Final moments of the On Arrival Training. Very cool bunch of people.

There’s really been too many truly exceptional moments for me to talk about in one blog, perhaps I can write another one after I leave and talk about all the great times I’ve had working with the kids at Point and exploring Tirol. At the end of the day, everyone volunteering here decided to apply for a number of reasons, but I think there’s something more to being here than just how we felt when we sent in the applications, it’s a process that creates its own value as you participate in it. In essence, it’s a privilege to be a part of this project, to be in Tirol right now, and to spend my time with my friends and colleagues here. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing at this moment. Thanks for reading. Peace.

Enjoying some well-earned rest.

About Kelli and her first month in YUNIT Schwaz

Hello, my name is Kelli and I am Volunteering in Yunit Schwaz youth center.

I am from Estonia, but last year before coming to Austria I lived in Latvia. In University I studied hydrobiology and from there I got my bachelor degree. I love nature and everything about that, but not so much about working as a researcher, which is basically too much paperwork, too less being actually in nature. (: After University I finished some more studies. These are accounting, youth work and truck driving. As you may understand little about me – I love studying and am not afraid to get experience in different fields.

At the beginning of the 2021 I started to learn truck driving and ended my studies two week before coming to Austria

More or less I have done youth work ten years from my early 20’s. I started to volunteer in a youth center already in high school where I replaced the local youth worker when she had to be in University. In 2017 the whole year I volunteered in an orphanage and for that I received a letter of thanks recognized by the municipality. I have been a volunteer coordinator in an Animal Society organization and at the same time I was also a group leader for some youth exchanges and wrote one Erasmus + YE project about animal welfare by myself. Two year I worked in Estonia as a youth worker in a youth center.

What I like about youth work is a similar example with city Rome. Rome took thousands of years to build, and it will never be ‘finished’. Youth work grows and evolves over time. Some of the basic things will always be the same – like youths wish to be accepted, loved, listened to and tolerated by others. But there are many things which change in time. So it is important that the youth worker himself is open to changes in youth work and ready to learn anything new at any moment – in youth work, none of your days are exactly the same as the previous one! 🙂

2020 we made trip with my youth center kids to forest and stayed there one night

2019 after my short term volunteer service in England I knew I wanted to do a long term volunteer service before I get 31. Because some of the people in that project were from Austria and I really liked how they talked about Austria, I just couldn’t get Austria mountains outside of my head after that. But at that time only one idea was clear: that I want to practice youth work abroad to give later a little fresh air and energy back to Estonia or Latvia youth work. And the other thing I knew what I wanted was that this youth center can’t be completely different from Estonia’s average youth center, because then the changes and ideas will be too big or even impossible to make.

Example in Finland, where they have youth center houses, which are the same sizes as Estonian countryside schools. Inside there they have big gaming rooms, a psychologist, job counselor, hall and so much more. Which all looks very nice and are with a big purpose – youth don’t have to go outside of his/her safe room to get the services he/she needs. I visited Finland youth centers and it was so nice to see and experience it, but it was a little bit far away from Estonian youth center work at that time. Then I started to do my research about Austrian youth centers and found out they are quite similar to Estonian youth centers, but they had little difference, like bars and party rooms inside youth centers. And I decided to give it a try..

And here I am and beside the difficult corona time and lock-down I think I made a perfect choice about the place. In my workplace I am doing youth work – being there for youths, helping them spend their free times, supporting their ideas and building trustful relationships. What I like about the YUNIT is that every worker has a different role to carry and it is fantastic to see how everyone is very professional in their role. I definitely have a lot of things to learn from them. We have a lovely hostess, we have a trusty super active character, we have a fun but specific role and me a trying-to-find-my-role one. Every worker is supported by their own ideas – all the new ideas are welcome and supported by others.

Kelli:”Youthwork is so easy.” Also Kelli after one week of being a youth worker in YUNIT Schwaz. Of course it is a little joke, youths are very welcoming here – it was our Halloween party. 🙂

Because right now we have a lock-down we had to change our working style and we are doing activities only online. Within one week I built the E-YUNIT Schwaz Discord server where we are making public video meetings or individual video meetings with youths, posting hand craft ideas, making cooking class live and challenging ourselves with physical activities. Every week I am doing weekly photo/video challenges which we great later as Instagram reel. For celebrating advent time I created an online advent calendar where every day is opening some new idea, challenge or tips on how to make still going corona time easier for yourself and every day remind us also to youth that we are there for them by our contact written.


This is basically my first month volunteering in YUNIT Schwaz youth center. In my free time I like to go hiking and I would like to talk about that also in one moment. Right now I think this post is already too long to read – so thank you if you manage until here. 🙂 So next time I will talk about how I am filling my free time here and maybe share some hiking pictures and tips.

About my new adventure

I arrived in Wörgl in mid-June 2021 on a beautiful, sunny day. My coordinator waited at the station, showed me around and gave me all the information I needed… She did her best to make me feel good and comfortable from the beginning. Thank you, Kadri!

This place impressed me from the first moment. I really like this small town, the fresh alpine air and the view of the mountains. I enjoy that nature is so close and I can easily go hiking or cycling.
During summer I spent most of my free time outside and discovered a lot of amazing places in the area.

Möslalm – the closest mountain to my appartment, which is higher than the highest point of Hungary

My project is very varied, every day of the week is a bit different and always something new is coming. I really enjoy it! I mostly work at youth centres in Wörgl and the surrounding villages. In addition to Jugendtreffs, I help with the office, Frauencafe, Lernfreude and various events.

At Flashpoint in Kundl

During my work I met a lot of people. The smaller kids are always nice and it´s easy to impress them. They are always happy to teach me something new in German during the games. With the teenagers it is a bit harder, but as I get to know them better and as my German knowledge improves it´s getting easier and easier. Luckily my colleagues are kind and patient. They help me a lot and make the work more enjoyable.

The first weekend I spent here there was a summer party, where I met nearly everyone who is working at komm!unity. It was nice to be there, even if I struggled with the language. I studied German at high school, but I didn`t really use it for a long time. This knowledge was enough to say some words about myself and to understand them when they talked slowly without dialect. Of course the conversation was mainly in dialect and when they talked fast to each other it was impossible to understand them. Nevertheless, I tried to concentrate all the time and catch some words, phrases. It was tiring and not easy, but funny at the same time.

I could have spoken with them in English, but I decided to talk in German from the beginning because I knew this is the best way to learn. After a month one of my colleagues was surprised how much I had improved. I already felt that my passive knowledge started slowly to turn on active again.

The other volunteers are nice as well. It is always good to meet people who are in the same situation as you. During summer we had some great adventures together. We went hiking, swimming, cycling together, visited a festival above 2000 meters and so on… It was a very nice time!

During a hike in Ötztal, near the Erlanger Hütte
Volunteer meeting on the Nordkette – the Top of Innsbruck

Unfortunately most of them left already, but now new volunteers have arrived. I am sure we will soon have many memories together. I look forward to it. 😊

All in all I really enjoy this project and I am glad to be here!

Anna Fülöp – volunteer in Wörgl, komm!unity

What a turn!

My name is Jesús, I am Spanish, and I have been a volunteer worker in Tirol.

In 2020, I decided to turn my life around – what a turn! Therefore I left Spain. Even though these were difficult times, Covid era, I thought it could be worth it. And yes, I have the Jesus of the past to thank for having made that decision despite all the difficulties.

For this reason I started looking for an association in which I could volunteer. I found one called Arche Tirol. At that time I did not know Tyrol very well, I only knew that there were many mountains, that it was very cold, and that Heidi’s house was there (more or less).

I contacted the association, who take care of people with intellectual disabilities. Just what I had trained for! I began to see photos of the area, the type of work carried out by the association with the users, and every time I was convinced more and more. I thought “if there is another quarantine, I want to spend it there”.

In the end, and after interviews and many emails, Arche gave me the go-ahead. I came here, as we say in Spain, “with one hand in front and one behind”. Not knowing German, not knowing anyone here, just traveling by plane alone, scared of turbulence.

Well, all this stuff just to say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have met great people, I feel like home here. I’m so good that I think I’m going to stay one more season… or two ;). Arche has hired me as a worker, and I am so happy! Spain can wait a bit.

From time to time it is good to say goodbye to your comfort zone and go out to find new experiences, to live new things, to meet new people …

Before I finish, I want to share with you the question that made me come here, and that I ask myself regularly every time I want to get out of my comfort zone but I don’t dare:

What are you going to regret, to do it, or not to do it?

Without anything else to say, I want to thank all the people who have supported me this year, who have helped me to adapt more easily to the country, the people of Arche Tirol, and especially also the people of my voluntary association, InfoEck, who have been working hard so that we all feel comfortable and warm.

Thanks for your attention, and greetings to all who are reading this!

Jesús

Back to my other reality

Lora Egle

Perks of volunteering from today’s perspective

Since I returned from my holiday, I miss Austria everyday. This is something I did not expect to feel. It has been two years since I finished my year of volunteering in the youth centre Park in in Hall in Tirol, and to be honest I rarely had a nostalgia about my great experience there. I truly enjoyed my project and living in Austrian Alps for a year, but I was as happy to return to Riga, Latvia. Despite the pandemic, my life after the project has been joyful and fulfilled – I have an amazing job, I have started to study again, and I am surrounded by great people. And during these unpredictable times I have realized how meaningful and beneficial the year of volunteering has been for my personal growth. While working in the youth centre abroad I learned an important thing that has helped me to stay calm and even enjoy the times of pandemic, it is going with the flow. Accepting the things the way they are. Not unnecessarily worrying about the things I cannot affect. Keeping a cool and open mind, and most importantly enjoying!

After returning to Latvia, I literally noticed my development because I felt more mature than my friends who have not done transnational volunteering. During my year in Austria I had to overcome several emotional challenges regarding the living abroad and it only did make me stronger, more confident, and more open-minded. A friend of mine from Albania who was an Erasmus student in Latvia once told me that I am more Western than other Latvians. This small remark stayed in mind, and I have thought about it quite a lot. I believe that volunteering in Austria added to the development of my European mindset.

A gap year of volunteering also added to my professional qualifications as I used the opportunities to learn by doing. In addition to European Solidarity Corps volunteering I did some more volunteering for an organisation Plattform Asyl in Innsbruck that works with refugee integration issues. During the work in a youth centre, I met many minor refugees and I got very interested in how the asylum and integration system works in Austria. Back then in Latvia there were few refugees, and I had a limited knowledge about the questions regarding their life, therefore I was curious to learn more. In Plattform Asyl I had a chance to help the amazing Kathrin Heis who was open to share her broad knowledge.

After working with refugees in person and getting to know about the institutional level in Austria, I was inspired to bring my new knowledge and understanding to Latvia. By fortuity when I came back to Latvia there was an open position for a social mentor within the project supported by the UN Refugee Agency and I got a chance to work in Latvian refugee integration system for five months until the pandemic. It was a great experience to compare both systems and contribute to refugee well-being in both Austria and Latvia which creates unique knowledge and understanding of integration issues in Europe.

Visiting Austria 2021

We had a plan with my colleagues from Park in that I will visit Tirol in the next summer after finishing my project but by then the pandemic had already made changes in our lives. Therefore, I postponed my trip and went to Austria this August. Before going back to Austria I was excited and wondering how I will feel being back to the places I have spent a whole year. I am not very good at keeping regular contact; thus I was thinking how I will be welcomed after two years. Will everything be different? Have the youngsters that I worked with grown a lot, do they even remember me?

But once I arrived, I felt like visiting my second home. Such an incredibly good and peaceful feeling! Seeing the familiar faces and streets, feeling the friendship and warmth – it felt like I was gone for a couple of months not almost two years. During just 10 days I met many people and visited many places, and absolutely would have liked to prolong my stay for a month. I especially appreciated the conversations with ex-volunteers and current volunteers. Everyone’s experience and path are different, but it is great to talk with people who understand and can relate to things and feelings only volunteers know.

And, of course, mountains! Living in such flat country as Latvia I did miss Austrian Alps, but I did not realize how much! I was sending photos to my friends and work colleagues in Latvia, and as one of them said: Lora, you are in a different reality now! And he was right. My life in Latvia and my life in Austria are two different realities. It is weird and awesome at the same time. After this holiday, I have realized how lucky I am to have those people and places Austria thanks to European Solidarity Corps. A part of my heart will always be in Tirol.

Lora Egle (European Solidarity Corps volunteer in Jugendhaus Park In October 2018 – September 2019)

Volunteering at a Montessori School

My name is Barnabé Albrespy, and I did a volunteering project in the SCHULGARTEN – Aktive Montessorischule Telfs in Tirol from September 2020 until July 2021. This is a Montessori school where children from 6 to 15 years old study. I worked the most of the time with a group of children from 6 to 9 years old.

The children work during the morning, which is divided in two parts. The first part of the morning is called « Free work time ». The students have to on different topics and different activities. During this time, I could help them, to make some activities or to propose some work if they don’t know what to do. After this part comes the « Free play time ».  During this time the children have the choice between playing in the garden, the school or to work creatively. Each day one teacher and once a week myself, propose a creative offer to the children. When I don’t make creative offers, I try to propose some games to them or at least I have a look to see how everything goes. At the end of the day is a short time where the children have to clean the room of the school. I also helped them to do this task.

I feel really happy in my work. The contact with the children is great. They are friendly and they have a lot of good ideas for work and for games. Also, the atmosphere between the teachers is great. My colleagues propose me all the time some nice work and games to do, therefore I always felt active and useful, which I really enjoyed.

Each Wednesday is the “Natureday“ – where we go on to the forest, the mountain or next tot he river. Same as the other days, there is a time of work and a time for games. I also prepared some work, activities and creative offers that I propose to the children. It’s all the time a really good day with a great atmosphere. Even if the weather is rainy or cold, the children are just happy to be outside. I also did Naturedays with the older group of the school. The Natureday I soften a very special day and we do great activities.

In addition to these nice moments in the school and during the Naturedays, we also do some projects with the children. We are actually doing a Garden Project with them. All the children, who want to participate, have a little area where they could plant some things. It’s also a really nice project because I think it’s great to get in contact with the nature. I was very surprise to see how many children were interested about this project. They have so much motivation to make a nice garden and to take care of the plants. Some of them go every morning before the school to check how the plants are doing an to water them.

This volunteering experience was really intense form me and the contact with the children was good. It was always a lot of fun to help them in the work and to play with them. It was my first working experience after high school and I think that going abroad during one year and work within this type of project was the best way to travel and to grow up. I’m really happy that I had the chance to discover a new country and also to discover a new way to do school. I was very interested about alternative and specially Montessori pedagogy. I think that this year thought me a lot of things.  

Barnabé

Up, Down and Further Underground

I arrived at the Backerei a good 15 minutes later than the time that I said I would be there, but no matter, because Maxime was not there either. That was good, unpunctuality in meetings is one of the things that I miss the most from home, where I would set up a meeting with my friends at 6 and everybody would send out a message at 6.30 saying that they were about to leave their house and that they would be a bit late. It was just like that, perfectly imperfect.

I weighed the option of waiting outside until I would eventually get a message back from Maxime saying that he was ready to meet me, but it is too late in the year to wait outside in the drizzle instead of bathing in the afternoon sunlight, so I decided against it.

There is always this small kick in my stomach when I have to force myself to enter unfamiliar and non- impersonal spaces on my own that is uncomfortable to say the least. You can draw your own conclusions about me based on this statement. If, however, you guessed that this must have been exactly the feeling I felt while I was sinking in my seat on that airplane that evening on September 4th, when I took off from SKG airport to come to Austria for my volunteership, I would pat you on the back and, in a very teacherly manner, reward you with a star-shaped sticker, because you would be undeniably right. The feeling is always the same, the intensity varies, but the kick is ever-present.

This time it was strong. The consecutive lockdowns have left me with few social skills and a fear of coming out of my shell, but walking through the door all those thoughts were interrupted, dissolved, evaporated into steam on my glasses as temperature change claimed my vision. And also because the cafeteria area of the Backerei is wonderfully cluttered, and could easily pass for one of the many student hangout spots back home in Thessaloniki, which made my shoulders immediately relax.

A man walked up to me and said something, I was still trying to take in the welcoming wormhole I had apparently just stepped through, but I managed to say that I was looking for Maxime. He confessed that he did not know what Maxime was up to, but urged me to take a seat in the front room a wait. It’s just like a doctor’s appointment, I thought, and also said so out loud because I found the thought funny, and with that, I took a seat next to the library corner in the far end of the room that seemed to be extra comforting, even though the space already felt familiarly cozy.

I looked around, occasionally people walked in and out and there was chatter coming from the next room. The bookshelves were full of mismatched, clearly pre-loved books. There were plants, an old jukebox that probably wouldn’t play any more and raw elements everywhere. It all looked significantly different from all spaces I had happened in since September. It was not pristine, it was textured. It was authentic, a place where objects seemingly chose their own posts, rather than being arranged by a well-meaning, yet ignorant as to the object’s desired placement human.

When Maxime showed up, I had already swept the entire visible area with my eyes more thoroughly than the thoroughest of spring cleanings and was eager to sweep further in as well. Therefore I was delighted when he offered me a tour of the place, almost immediately after we said our hellos.

He seemed to be well practiced in the art of guiding one around the building and so we glid through doors and corridors, right and left, up and down fluidly like a flood from floor to floor. My head was swimming with information rushing in, my eyes jumped from surface to surface taking in every detail available.

Here are the offices and here are is the art studio, and here is a shower room that leads to another office where someone makes speakers out of old suitcases. Behind that door there is a room where somebody is living, probably. There, on the top of that staircase, is a creepy door that probably leads to some topsy-turvy dimension, and across, that is, behind us, is a door that is not particularly memorable, but behind it are some spare, unhinged doors and a kingdom of dust in an attic.

We stayed a while in the attic. There was a mass of old and dusty wooden furniture appendages piled up high, lining a small path. We followed the path while we were being showered with the last glittering light of the day that was slipping through big and small holes in the sloping roof and thus we were lead to a clearing where an old ornate dresser stood, centered and illuminated from a side window as though it was an ancient occult object of narrative importance that would change our lives forever the moment we touched it. I touched it. To my disappointment, there was no orchestral music playing in the background as I inched closer to it and nothing happened. It also seemed mostly empty.

Behind it lay a plain old trunk that delivered the intrigue the dresser did not. It was filled with old school notebooks from the 60s, where an unknown young child had scribbled notes in perfect and unintelligible cursive.

We went on. If left to my own devices I am certain that I would have stayed poking around in that attic until it ate me away and I was nothing but a pile of forgotten dry bones trying to pry open some sealed crate or locked drawer.

There were balconies with beautiful views and a mishmash of empty flowerpots that I imagined would be the perfect locations for drinking a sunset lemonade. Underneath there were bathroom tiled walls that were not belonging to bathrooms, bathrooms without bathroom tiles and a fridge with a busted light that was filled with all sorts of packaged meat for anyone’s taking. Underneath those where the guts of the Backerei, accessible through a steep rusty ladder underneath a hatch and resembling a lot an underground gymnastics mini-studio/ bike tire graveyard.

It was beautiful. And I was disappointed in myself for not exploring it earlier in my volunteership. It flared my imagination up more than the spring here has flared up my allergies.

When I was small I used to sneak into rooms I was not supposed to sneak in and snoop around all the dusty exhibits I was not allowed to be around because my asthma would take the better of me. My love for my grandma’s old pantry or my parents’ house storage room was drenched in tragic irony, and disapproved by the adults dictating my life back then. But being here alone, with my nearest relative miles away and led enthusiastically into this never-ending rabbit hole of unknown wonders, I was filled with immeasurable child-like joy that I had not felt in years.

My visit in the Backerei stroke a very tender cord and I would honestly describe it as one of the most interesting bits of my whole experience here. I can’t wait to visit again.

Foteini Tyrovouzi