„What surprised me was the huge focus that was put on our feelings and wellbeing. We cared about each other, and the trainers cared about us.“ 

Few days ago I came back from one week long trip to Alfeld, a small charming city near Hanover. It was a national training, one of a two actually, that as a European Solidarity Corps volunteer, I have both the right and the obligation to participate in. The training sessions are directed towards people who are currently volunteering in Germany in the framework of the European Solidarity Corps.

When I arrived I instantly felt at home in the city. I love Stuttgart for variety of things but for someone raised on the suburbs, it can be overwhelming at times. Alfeld was very quiet and calm and we had the whole building to ourselves.

During the first days we focused mostly on presentations – each of us was supposed to say something about the place we work at, what our tasks are, and how are we feeling with the project. This allowed us to get to know more about each other and explain in more orderly way the things we talked about with others during breaks.

What surprised me was the huge focus that was put on our feelings and wellbeing. We cared about each other, and the trainers cared about us. If we didn’t wanted to participate in the activity we could just say so. On one of workshops the trainers even created the safe zone, where someone who got overwhelmed could sit and calm down, still seeing what is going on, but not being forced to participate in the exercise. Additionally, we had the whole small trip devoted to talking about our feelings. It was on Wednesday.

We went to the forest to talk about our anxieties, concerns and problems we had up until this point. When we got to the top of the small mountain, everyone was encouraged to quietly feel about something that really brings them down, bothers those, makes them sad, or all of the above. The leaders counted to 3 and we screamed together letting go of all those negative emotions. We scared a lovely German couple in the process, but other than that the exercise really helped remove the tension. On our way back, we focused more on solutions: What can we do in this situation? How can it change?

On Thursday Christine from the national agency joined us. She gave us the most important information regarding the project and our health coverage. In the afternoon we split up. Some people stayed in Alfeld to explore the city a bit more. Some went to the castle. The others, including me, went to the German Museum of Caricature and Drawings in Hannover.

On Friday we focused on ourselves. Each of us was supposed to pick an apple, closely examine it and then describe it to others. Some focused on the bruises and what the apples went through. Some on environment the apple grew up in and the factors that influenced its growth and the way it looks like today (its colour and shape). One person even pointed out that the apple was taken from the tree by force before it got ready to fall on its own. I really enjoyed how people were actually talking about themselves and their own experience hiding behind an apple. After this, we shifted our attention to what culture is. We focused on the same aspects. Surprisingly a lot of things we say shaped our apples can be said about people. We also were encouraged to create a kind of mind map or diagram. Our names were laying in the middle of the page surrounded by the things that made us who we are. Later on we also talked about our social situation – its state and ways of improving it.  

On Saturday came the open day. The assumption was very simple. Everyone that wanted, could do something for other people. We had a Spanish lesson taught by two guys from Spain, workshop on stage fight, German classes and workshops titled “How not to hate German” The best workshop for me was the one about consent. I thought that it will focus on sexual relationships. Surprisingly we talked about trusting our feelings, establishing boundaries and creating healthy relationships of all kind. The most eye opening was the statement that we live in the culture of compromise, not a culture of consent. That’s why we take on too much, we overwork, and we burn out. Here, we were gently pushed to take care of ourselves. For me this is something very important and I want to focus on it more in the upcoming months.

On Sunday each of us went home caring an envelope of notes we got from others. The cards were filled with kind words, many “thank you” and as many “please come meet me in my city”. This week gave us the feeling of community. The feeling that there is quite a lot of people who made the same decision that we did, and focused to move abroad for a year. The knowledge that we are not alone and can share the knowledge that we have with each other.