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MY FIRST STEPS IN MACEDONIA

First, I would like to start by commenting the reason why I chose this volunteering. After ten years of studying, two careers, three masters, and a doctorate, I decided to stop in my life and live a new experience in another country, learn about its culture, its food and places. After so many years of studying, I needed a disconnection, a change in my life, to leave the comfort zone I was in and look for new experiences, gain new knowledge and share as well. I think this volunteering is a perfect occasion for it.

Secondly, the choice of the destination was a bit of a coincidence. A friend had gone to Tunisia to volunteer and when I talked to her about her experience, I didn’t hesitate to contact the same organization. Of all of  the projects they presented me, I liked the most this one in Macedonia.

I really like traveling, getting to know new cities, cultures and people. It is one of my two passions: traveling and teaching. For various reasons I haven’t had the opportunity to meet the Balkans, although I am very interested in its socio-cultural situation and its natural aspects. That is why when I got the opportunity to come to a city like Bitola, I did not hesitate to choose this country as a destination.

I believe that knowledge is one of the most beautiful things that can be given to a person, because through the learning he/she receives and the interaction with the environment, his/hers thoughts, ideals, aptitudes and attitudes are built. When I saw the news about the project through a Spanish organization, from the very first moment I found it quite interesting, because it is related to my training as a psychopedagogue. Working with ethnic groups at risk of social exclusion is something that I consider fundamental to produce an improvement in society in general. For the simple fact of belonging to a social group, there are usually fewer opportunities for personal and professional growth. It is sad that even today we live in a world where people are valued or judged by their skin, color, their religion or their beliefs. Knowing firsthand the way of thinking, how they live and the difficulties that the Roma community is going through in this city and in this country, was the thing that encouraged me to do this volunteering. For a long time I wanted to provide social assistance to this community and there is no better way to do it than to volunteer in a country where this community is very high.

Thirdly, I want to comment that the three weeks I have been here I have felt very loved and accepted by the people around me, the neighbors, the organization staff and the new people I have met. The treatment received, the kindness and hospitality of the people here, make this country one of the countries in which I have felt the best. From the first moment I arrived, I felt at home, despite the barrier that always involves having a language so different from mine. Many times already people have been interested to know more about me, but because of the language limitation it has not been so easy to have a communication. Although, in this sense, I have to say that I was surprised by the number of people who have a fluent management of English and a knowledge of Spanish, and because of this I have always been able to communicate well in the daily routine. The challenge of learning another language with an alphabet so different from what I am used to, is another aspect to value this experience in a positive way, because I always consider the learning of a new language as something very rewarding. In the same way, at the end of this volunteering I hope to be able to communicate in Macedonian, at least in a basic level.

Fourth, I would like to mention that in this project we will work with two very different ages: children and adults. With regard to the work with the children, I hope to put into practice my knowledge as a teacher and develop activities for personal growth, values and management of students’ social skills, encouraging them to maintain a work environment and respect according to the values of the organization. From a personal point of view, it will help me to improve my level of English and learn a little Macedonian during my stay. This is the first time I face teaching in another language different than my own. This will allow me to improve my skills as a teacher, by knowing and developing new resources for teaching. Also I will learn to teach preschool children, finding solutions for the various problems that will arise in the day to day classes. All this will allow me to achieve a more complete teaching profile, since in this profession it is important that we are constantly evolving.

As for the classes with adults that I am going to teach, I would like to comment that I was surprised by the large number of people who were on the first day of class interested in learning Spanish. There were around fifty. In the days that I have been in Bitola, I have been able to observe the great interest that the Macedonians have in learning this language and the ease with which they try to communicate with you. After performing the level tests, we will form two groups: one for basic level and and another for advanced, which will allow us to work more deeply and in a more specific way with each of the students. Giving these classes offers me a great opportunity to improve my expression and communication in public, to learn to develop and teach the language classes and be able to transmit knowledge of a society as rich in culture and traditions as Spanish. This aspect satisfies me a lot on a personal level, because I consider it a good occasion to inform about my country of origin.

Fifth and last, the cities and landscapes I’ve known in these three weeks that I’ve been in Macedonia are incredible. I have to admit that this country has surprised me very pleasantly. When I arrived on the 17th August, I must say that I did not expect to see such amazing things. The first contact with this country was my visit to the capital, Skopje. As soon as I arrived from Barcelona, I could visit it during the weekend. I was struck by its new part with imperial buildings, as it has a great contrast with the rest of the city. Although I have to indicate that my favorite part was Old Baazar. The amount of shops and stalls that are in that area of the city, fill it with magic. The colors and smells that surround it give a very special atmosphere to it.

But without a doubt, today my favorite area of Macedonia is Lake Ohrid. The city of Ohrid, on the shores of the lake that has the same name, has amazing corners, the activities to be carried out are diverse and the gastronomic and cultural offer is magnificent.

The two things that I liked the most during my stay were the boat trip along the coast that we did, bathing in crystal clear waters, enjoying amazing views and the sunset that we observed from the top of the church of Saint Jovan Kaneo. In general, I can indicate that Macedonia is undoubtedly a great jewel to discover, both as human and tourist.