Rosario Sanchez Tiscornia is from Argentina and took part of the South-North component of weltwärts. She volunteered with the organisation IN VIA in Cologne.
I’ve been in Germany seven months now and the time since I landed on German soil has just flown by. I arrived full of expectations, dreams, hopes, preconceptions and energy, wanting to give my best in this project of a lifetime – my volunteer assignment.
“That was just the beginning!”
Germany impressed me right from the start. On the plane, I felt a strong sense of anxiety. Obviously, that was because I didn’t know what was waiting for me on the other side of the ocean. But as soon as I arrived in Germany I felt at home. IN VIA, my host organisation, was already waiting for us at the airport. From there, we took a train to Cologne and it was during that trip, watching the landscape pass by and chatting to the other volunteers, that I realised I had finally arrived. It seemed like a dream but it was reality!
After two weeks of seminars, we started our assignments. My project sort of sets the stage for all the other volunteer projects. My work involves administration, finance, organisational matters and a little communication. We provide organisational support so that the other projects can work efficiently. It’s incredible how many tasks an NGO performs, how many people are involved and work to ensure everything else runs smoothly with a wonderful aim – helping others.
My job is very varied, which is what I like most about it. One of my tasks is helping to check the accounts for two projects to see where and for what purpose money has been spent. I also check the funding provided for volunteers and keep them informed about how much they’ve raised in donations. Another of my tasks is helping with applications from future volunteers, and I’m also involved in organising and preparing orientation seminars for Germans looking to volunteer abroad. I take part in various activities and talk about my experiences as a volunteer, the fears and challenges I’ve faced and my country.
“Silence is important to the new me”
It was difficult for me to start with because Germans tend to work in complete silence. In Argentina, I was used to working in a loud environment where everyone listens to the same music or just talks loudly to each other. Here, it’s very different and that was hard for me. I felt a sense of tension because I couldn’t understand the language at all. Now, seven months later, I’ve got used to the silence and – what’s more – I need it in my life. Silence was a gift for me because I need it now to clear my head, hear my inner voice and find my centre. I can’t imagine my life without that silence any more because it allows me to listen to what my body is telling me about my feelings and needs. Silence enables me to be conscious of the moment and the environment around me.
“At the beginning, the language restricted me”
My work team is the best! My colleagues have taught me a lot but most of all they were very patient with me and my language skills. They also enjoy learning Spanish and I like the fact that they’re interested in my culture. I think I was really lucky because I don’t feel like a foreigner at all when I’m with them. At the beginning, I had some language problems and it was difficult to understand jokes or take part in conversations. Having to express myself in a different language made me feel like I wasn’t being me but everything got better over time and now I feel better integrated, am the real me and can get involved in conversations. That’s a major step for me. Thanks to my colleagues, I’ve learned lots of German. And I’ve learned that you have to be patient. It’s hard work but it’s worthwhile.
In my spare time, I go to a salsa class once a week and attend a yoga course with one of my colleagues. I also enjoy just being at home, practising the ukulele, watching a series or, now that the weather in Cologne is good, cycling along the Rhine and stopping at a beach to read, do a bit of sunbathing or drink maté.
I’ve never been a fan of generalisations: Don’t listen to biased opinions, communicate with and open yourself to the people around you, and draw your own conclusions!
On the subject of German culture, I didn’t understand at first why Germans behave the way they do. I had to work my way through lots of misconceived prejudices that people in Argentina have. A typical thing people say is “Germans are cold”. My experiences have been totally different to what I’d been told about German society. Most Germans are completely the opposite. The people at my place of assignment are very emotional, friendly and lovable.
Once, I was walking along a road with a map in my hand and a man stopped in front of me, asked where I wanted to go and helped me find the way. Another time, an old lady sitting next to me on a train started telling me about her life and was very interested in me and Argentina when I told her I was from there. It’s true that they’re not as expressive as us Argentinians. They’re just different and that’s fine because it’s a different culture. They have their own traits. I’ve never been a fan of generalisations but now I’m even less so. Don’t listen to biased opinions, communicate with and open yourself to the people around you, and draw your own conclusions!
“I’m more open”
Naturally, there are lots of moments when I miss my family and friends. Especially on Sundays though I think they’re difficult all over the world. But things are going so well that I don’t have much time to feel homesick. I feel truly happy and grateful for this experience, for all the people I’ve met and everything I’m doing.
In the past few years in Argentina I didn’t have much time for myself. This experience came at the perfect time. I can see how much I’ve grown here, how much I’ve changed. I’m learning a lot about myself, I’m enjoying being me, my new friends and my new perspective on life. I’m now totally motivated and more open. I no longer believe things I used to believe. I’ve changed my perspective a little and am developing a new idea of what family, friendship and love are – what life is in other words.
I still don’t think much about what will happen when I go back to Argentina. I try to enjoy the present although I do have lots of ideas for when I go back. But, for the time being, I’m here! One of the things I’ve learned here is how important it is to be well organised in order to be efficient. But I do combine this new realisation with my Argentinian culture and tell myself you can’t plan everything!