Learning how to feel comfortable outside the comfort zone

New experiences, excitement, fear, inspiration, surprising habits of locals, and cultural shock. These are only part of all the feelings that one has when he moves to a different country. For many people, it is difficult to handle these emotions and adapt to the new culture easily. Young people who choose to be a volunteer in a foreign country are not exceptions. In spite of all the opportunities and positive experiences, doing a volunteering project abroad has its challenges.

Thus, the National Agency of Poland organizes on-arrival training for volunteers to adapt to their new realities easier. Last week I had my training which was full of useful information, warm feelings, and new acquaintances. I met 15 new people from different countries and from different cultures. We shared our cultures, languages, and experiences. We laughed together and discussed a lot of serious topics too. We meditated and gave advice to each other. We discussed our projects and motivations, goals and methods of achieving them, plans and everyday work. Though we all have different backgrounds, we learned more about each other and understood that we are not that different after all.
Last week was all about exploration. I dug deeper to understand myself and evaluate why I came here. I had a chance to discuss the details of my project and write down some specific activities I will need to do for my volunteering experience to be as productive and fulfilling as possible. I explored not only myself but also others. Indeed, you can learn a lot about yourself through others. You compare and contrast, reveal new worldviews and gain new ideas. As a result, you learn to look at yourself, your life, and your work from a different point of view.

We learned how to deal with cultural shock. You may face a cultural shock when you change your environment and find yourself somewhere that is so different from your hometown. At first, it seems exotic and interesting but then you might start feeling uncomfortable. You may start missing your family, your home, and doubting your decisions. Cultural shock has 4 stages: honeymoon, uncertainty and doubt, acceptance, adaptation. We discussed all the tools we need to fight uncertainty and feel comfortable outside the comfort zone. We also discussed what we should do and what we should not do if we find ourselves in cultural shock.

One of the most efficient tools to fight cultural shock is learning more about your “host” culture. As for me, I had plenty of chances to discover Polish culture last week. We revealed many aspects of it: how Polish people spend their free time; what’s their opinion on the LGBTQ community, how educational institutions work; what festivals and art-related stuff happen in Poland. The topics were diverse, engaging, and of course informative.

I am sure, I will see the positive impact of this training on my volunteering experience. It was well-organized and even though it was online we still managed to have personal connections and have our training in a positive and friendly atmosphere.

– Syuzanna

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