How to spend a year abroad – for free
I just turned 15 when I began to realize that staying in one place for too long was not the thing for me. All of a sudden, people around me started going abroad for a highschool year in the US and Canada or an Erasmus semester in Denmark or Spain. That was something I definitely wanted to try too. I dreamt of the whole wide world at my feet, in particular the great green landscapes of Great Britain. I did not need to go as far as the US or as foreign as Denmark – just out of the country was enough, a place where I could improve my English. I already pictured myelf in a cute Southern English school uniform, when I heard the one terrible word, a 15 year old girl never wants to hear her parents say: „NO“.
I was devastated. But I understood, that my dream of a preppy school year in England was a bit out of our financial reach. If I remember correctly, a school year abroad weighed in at about 5.000 – 6.000€.
However, I did not want to give up and kept an eye out for other, cheaper possibilities. It took me four more years until I finally packed my things, left behind my friends and family and took off to see the world.
So, what did I do? The option of backpacking and being on the road was not exactly what my parents had planned for my time after highschool, so I ended up with two other solutions – one was called WWOOFing, the other European Voluntary Service. And whereas most of you have probably heard about the first one (or similar networks, like WorkExchange), the second one usually still puts question marks on faces.
The European Voluntary Service (short EVS) is a programme of the European Union, aimed at young people aged 18 to 30, who are neither attending university, nor doing an apprenticeship. Whereas other EU-travel programmes like Erasmus and Leonardo are strictly connected to education or training, EVS tries to fill the gap for people who do not fit these programmes. Everybody should have the same chance to experience another culture and learn by living abroad. No matter who you are, you can apply as a volunteer for any project in any country.
Step 1: Find your local/national agency. The EVS works with NGOs in every European country. The NGOs probably have their offices and cooperation partners all over your country, so try and find the closest one. Here‘s a list of the sending organisations offering EVS.
Step 2: Register for the programme and start browsing the database for EVS-projects. Be careful, you HAVE to be 18 when you register!
Step 3: Apply for interesting projects. Everyone will find something in the EVS database. There are social projects, where you will work with immigrants, troubled youngsters, or elderly people; cultural projects, concerning local art and cultural education; environmental projects, dealing with sustainability and nature; and the „classics“, so projects, where you will work mainly in an afternoon club for kids/youngsters and plan all kinds of activities.
Some of my favourite projects I applied for included: staff member at the Kattegat center in Grenå, Denmark; warden at a horse-patrol service in Northern Greece; girl-for-everything at a „green“ hostel in Iceland; and guide at a center for renewable energy in Wales. You see – I was rather interested in Scandinavia, and environmental projects.
All countries of the European Union are part of the programme. In addition, there are several projects being carried out, ouside of the EU, e.g. in India.
Make sure, you apply for several projects. Some will not even get back to every applicant, so don’t get pessimistic when it takes a while until you get an answer! There’s also a continueously updated list of projects actively searching for volunteers. In the end you will find a place to go!
Step 4: Prepare for your trip, learn first bits and pieces of the local language and enjoy!
- The only requirements for EVS is that you must be between 18 and 30 years old, and that you are a European citizen. If both apply to you, feel free to join! The programme also supports applications by handicapped people.
- You do not have to speak the language of your destination country beforehand. Usually there is a possibility for you to attend language school. Even better, when you work with children they will teach you faster than any language instructor. Of course, speaking a language like English or French will be very helpful. But if you’ve been able to read this article down to here there shouldn’t be a problem with that.
- Your stay abroad is financed by the European Union. The programme covers your travel expenses, you will receive monthly pocket money (depends on your destination), and there will be supporting trainings before, during and after your stay.
- Another thing you will not have to worry about is accommodation and food. You will either stay with a host family (which does not get paid and therefore is truly interested in hosting you), or on your own (in that case you will receive extra money to buy groceries).
- The programme also pays for your transportation from your home to your work place – whether you have to take the bus or the train. Sometimes, they will also offer you a bicycle.
- The duration of your stay can be anything from 3 to 12 months.
I was part of EVS in 2007/2008 and spent 11 months in Denmark. I worked at a cultural office for children where we planned and carried out interdisciplinary art projects for kids, e.g. a super-roleplay with 300 youngsters from diffrent schools. Besides learning the language and a lot about project management, I also experienced Denmark and its people from all possible perspectives.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me at Kathi@travelettes.net.