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THE END OF AN EXPERIENCE MEANS THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING BIGGER

Three months in Sumnal came to an end and with it many farewells, tears and wishes for new reunions in the near future. But today, not only does my stay in Sumnal comes to an end, but also the stay in Bitola, the city that from the first moment made me feel at home, as if I had never left my village, as if I were one more.

By saying goodbye to Bitoloa, ends my life as an Erasmus student who started two years ago in Coimbra (Portugal), continued in Porto Alegre (Brazil) and that, by surprise and without much time to think about it, ends up here in Bitola.

The goodbye couldn’t have been better. The objectives I set for this Erasmus were to integrate myself into society, to participate more actively in it and, in a way, to become more human through cooperation between different cultures, try to understand the history of the Balkans and more or less understand the problems with which the population faces. Almost all of the objectives have been achieved, although understanding the Balkans in such a short time is an impossible mission.

However, I take many good things from Macedonia. I take knowledge about the situation here, I take ajvar (definitely one of my favourite foods) and I take friends, a small family that will always have a mark on my heart along with Macedonia.

But Macedonia not only means an end, it means the beginning of my more human self. It means the beginning of a new stage of inclusion, of acceptance of other very different cultures and of a spirit of change that, although it existed in me, is stronger today thanks to the experiences I have lived.

In addition to all this, Bitola has been a place of overcoming challenges. While I had no problems communicating or adapting to other cultures after two Erasmus courses, one of my biggest fears was to speak in public. My first day in Spanish class, when people started coming, I was just shaking and hoping I wouldn’t have to talk. I spoke very fast, almost vocalized and trembling. I could not contain my nerves and pressure in my stomach. After three months of workshops, I can say that I overcame the fear. The final test was my workshop “Can young people change the world?” where there were 120 people and I had to do it completely in English. There were no fears, nerves or stomach pain.

All this couldn’t have happened without Spanish lessons. Speaking for a small group of about 20 people has made me lose my fear of public speaking. But more importantly, I have learned to pass on my knowledge to others. I have learned to read the faces of doubt when something is not known, to prepare a class, to analyse if the students follow me and if it is necessary to delve into something. I taught Spanish, but they were the ones who taught me how to teach.

After two and a half months of classes (little time for a language), I have seen an evolution in the form of expression, vocabulary and spelling. I leave Bitola feeling that I have achieved something, that the goal is more than fulfilled.

Working with children has not been an easy task. Every day you have to think of something new, something entertaining, teaching without the children getting bored. The most difficult thing has been the language barrier. Sadly, it is impossible to learn Macedonian in 3 months, so that difficulty continues.

However, I am leaving with the thought of having taught them something. Ideas like recycling, becoming more aware of their environment or doing some chemistry experiments is one way to bring them closer to education and start to be interested in learning. On this part of the project I have learned a lot, mainly, to explain everything in a clearer and simpler way and to find other ways to explain something in a way that anyone can understand. I also take with me the affection of children and the evolution I have seen in some particular cases. When we arrived, they told us that there was a girl who didn’t play, who didn’t participate in anything and that we weren’t going to make it. After two months of insisting, we got her to play, and while she was saying goodbye, she held my hand. The first day I set out to involve her and, although it has been difficult, I leave knowing that we made it possible.

         

Erasmus does not just mean studying or volunteering, it also means travelling and the latter was not going to be any different. During these 2 years of Erasmus, I have visited 24 countries, and during my stay in Bitola, I took the opportunity to visit the countries around you. The first was Albania, followed by Serbia, Kosovo and Greece, ending with a trip to Bulgaria and Turkey. In all the countries I saw things that I did not expect, that surprised me and taught me a little of the history of the country. The trips have been a bit crazy, with unexpected decisions and endless walks, days of no sleep and days of experiencing traditional meals (within the limitation of a vegetarian). Cities like Ohrid, Athens and Istanbul will always be in my memory. I cannot describe in words the beauty of these places that made me feel moved and more eager, if possible, to continue to know the world.

In short, after so many trips, different meals and adventures, I can say that the experience has met all expectations. I take a lot of knowledge and a small family that is very big in my heart. I take with me the affection of a country that from the beginning welcomed me as one more and treated me as equal. I take away the laughter, the thousand and one emotions, lot of new experiences, friends and future reunions with them.

Finally, I thank Sumnal for this incredible experience they have given me. Viktorija and Fatma in particular, without which most activities would simply not have been possible.