„Not only the landscape, but also the people made the whole week a great experience.“  / February 2024

On Sunday I came back from my second seminar. This one was hosted in Benediktbeuern – a small city one hour by train from Münich.

The place was quite different from the one I visited during the last seminar. In Alfeld, we had a whole villa to ourselves. It was very cozy and gave us a lot of space to hang out, including a beautiful garden, here, on the other hand, we were guests in a Monastery which was build over 1250 years ago. The place was enormously big and even had a Church on its grounds.

The seminar started on Wednesday and lasted 5 days.

The first day we spent getting to know each other. We were asked to pin our names on the map, of Germany to show where we currently live, then on the map of Europe, to show when we come from. Most people were living in the south of Germany, but there were also people living in Berlin, who had to drive here over 8 hours. I was lucky because I was one of the ones who lived the closest.

Second day was devoted to presentations. Some people chose PowerPoint, but most did them on paper. We talked about the tasks we are doing daily, our colleagues from work and people responsible for us, our living situation, our social life, the stage of our German learning journey and our Mentors. Additionally, we were asked to talk about some small projects we did by far, and a project we would like to do before completing our volunteering.

During presentations I learn that the variety of projects is quite huge, and so is the life of the volunteers participating in them. Coming from Stuttgart I was surprised that a lot of people are living in very small towns, surrounded by nature. Their living arrangements were also different from mine. I will give you few examples. Oskar, who comes from Spain, is living in the childcare home with kids, aged from 10 to 16 and his job is to make this place feel more like home for them. He talks with them and plays games but also helps in cooking and managing the house. Olena lives in a very small community, who is focused on meditation and caring for its members. They take pride in growing and cultivating a plant that they consider sacred. Brian lives in similar place, but one focused more on religion and cultivating one’s spirituality. Another person, a girl from Bosnia and Herzegovina, works with refugees and got a chance to spent 3 weeks in Africa in addition to her volunteer in Germany. There were of course people who live in big cities as well. One of them, Lyna, who comes from France, is working in the French Institute in Berlin where she teaches French, if I understood correctly. It was, unfortunately, very hard to remember details about everyone, because all the presentations took place in one day.

Additionally, everyone discussed their “Stimmungs – kurve” – a curve showing how our emotions looked like over the course of the last few months, since our arrival in Germany, till now. What’s interesting is that there were two types of people and their experiences. For the first group, the graph showed that the beginning of their volunteering was challenging, so their mood dropped significantly, but then improved over time as they got to know the project, their surroundings and things expected of them. That happened within first two to three months. For the other group, the curve was more like a series of very harsh waves, that were going from one extreme to the other – from deep sadness to a huge happiness and back. Regardless of this, most people were satisfied with their projects.

On the next days a lot of emphasises was put on cooperation. The best exercise we had was a one where each of us got a piece of gutter. Together we were supposed to work together and transport a ball from a place outside, into a basket, placed in a seminar room. That was a fight! At first, we formed a line. The ball started rolling. When it passed a person’s gutter, the person was supposed to go and stand at the beginning. But we haven’t discussed it. So, everyone was running for their life, screaming in panic, almost ramming each other. After like two times, Lazar, who by now was just loudly complaining that we are all chaotic, suggested that we should put some people on the corner, since that was the most problematic area. Me and two different people joined him. After a few improvements, like changing position of people, and their role, we managed to bet the ball into the basket. The last person almost sabotaged the whole mission, so when it went in everyone was started screaming with excitement.

There was also one exercise that failed its purpose quite miserably. We all came to the room to see the chairs stacked on each other. We were divided into 3 groups and given instructions. The common rule, for everyone was that we couldn’t talk during the exercise. My group was supposed to take the chairs outside. So, we started doing just that. Some people started taking the chairs back and putting them on the side, but after less then a minute, just decided to leave them outside, on the sides, nevertheless. Then another people put them into a line. We were finished super fast. The leaders told us to come back and sit in the circle. They looked devastated. It turned out that it was an exercise where we were supposed to argue, but literally no one did. Maybe it was because the previous day we did a lot of cooperation exercises, maybe because at 9:30 in the morning everyone is more compliant. There was only one moment when someone wanted to steal someone else’s chair. It was Alesia who grabbed my chair, but she wasn’t really fighting for it, so I just took it. It was funny, because this was supposed to be an introduction to the topic of conflict management, and we failed to create a conflict.

Besides from aforementioned, we also had a walk in the surrounding area, on a patch that had many musical instruments incorporated into it, and a tour of the Monastery, explaining us its history. There was also an option to go to a climbing wall and a walk in the dark with the torches.

On the way back, I decided to explore the Stamberger See Lake and Munich. It was a nice trip.