Looking for the perfect project via European Voluntary Service database can be a real torture. One NGO promises to teach you basics of photography while others are based in Barcelona or Berlin! How to choose and find the project that’s really good for you? After a year of preparation and a year on EVS, I can summarise it all in 5 simple steps!
STEP 1. CHAOS (September/October)
I knew a girl who’d submitted 98 EVS applications in 3 years before she got lucky. And I knew another girl who submitted only 1 application and went on EVS 10 days later. The difference between them is that the latter one knew exactly what she wanted.
In September of 2015 I was somewhere in the middle. Ready to move on after university yet not knowing exactly what kind of work I wanted to do. I started writing dozens of enquiries, got zero response and lots of frustration.
The only thing that saved me from pulling my hair is called “October deadline”. Believe me, deadlines are our truest friends, and without them I’d probably be still swimming in the hell waters of organisations database, submitting inquires to NGOs that no longer exist or won’t have an opening until the age I retire.
I changed my tactics and decided to choose for two reasons: geographical location and type of work.
Out of 16 applications I submitted 8 just because I really wanted to live in Berlin or Lisbon (and all of them failed, because organisations recognise a ‘tourist’ from first lines of their motivations) and 8 to projects connected with journalism that was my true passion.
STEP 2. MOTIVATION – NEVER WRITE ‘I LIKE TO TRAVEL’
With EVS you normally submit two things:
b) Motivation Letter
If CV was just a brief account of my stellar life and was the same, motivation had to be:
a) unique for every project!
Every NGO has a web-page. And on almost all of them you can find “About us” section, where this organisation writes about their philosophy and why they exist. I simply combined the answers to “Who we are looking for?” in the description of the candidate with my thoughts on the activities of the organisation and what I like about their history and programs.
b) Have One Original Twist about You;
Do something to attract attention. Write with green pen, or include a photo, entertain that poor person who’s spent hours reading standard letters downloaded from the internet!
Because I applied for media internships but my video-making skills were far from perfect, I decided to do the next best original thing – went online, found a generator of comics and described my volunteering experience in a short comic strip.
As for describing my personality (because it’s the most difficult thing to describe yourself), I just did several tests on work compatibility and copied traits that were strongest in the result (like “competent, hard-working, imaginative, etc.”) Here are some you can use:
- PsychCentral Personality Test .
- HumanMetrics Personality Test .
- Dr. John A. Jhonson’s Personality Test .
- The Personality Project’s SAPA Test .
STEP 3. INTERVIEWS – YOU’RE GETTING BETTER EVERY TIME (November-December)
Out of 8 applications I got 3 invitations for Skype interviews. And all of them were great.
It’s a test but it’s also a chance to ask questions about your future life and work.
To prepare for my interviews I did:
- Put a blouse over my pyjamas (to show I really care and put effort!);
- Read histories of the NGOs carefully;
- Wrote down questions I wanted to ask about the project.
The last point was the most important, because, firstly, it shifts the power balance of the talk, when you ask about conditions and work, secondly, shows you really thought about moving and working with these people, thirdly, when you ask “how far will I have to walk to get to the office?” or “will there be a shared bathroom”, interviewers start to see you already as a part of their picture.
This strategy worked and I got three invitations for EVS!
STEP 4. MAKE A CHOICE! (January-April)
But now I needed to chose among 3 approved projects – and that was also a challenge. The projects were:
1) community TV in Germany;
2) community centre for students in Estonia;
3) communications and media in a youth exchanges charity in UK.
My heart was leaning towards TV, but after an interview I learnt that the project was located in a very distant village with no access to public transport and that scared me off. As for Estonia, also during an interview I was told that volunteers live in a student dormitory, and being just out of college myself, I dreaded return to the old routines.
I chose UNA Exchange and Cardiff. It was the best combination of work and place, as it could give me some experience working with social networks and at the same time see the country I’ve been reading about for 10 years at the uni and at school – Great Britain.
STEP 5. PREPARATIONS AND VISAS (June-August)
Now before coming to UK, I needed to do a lot of formal documentation, and make a visa. Most of you probably won’t need that, and for those who do – here’s my article about the whole process in Russian.