What I am doing in Tenerife ? Part 1

First things first. Where is Tenerife? That’s the first thing I googled when I found out I was coming here. Tenerife is one of the seven Canary Islands belonging to Spain, situated off the coast of Africa.

Now here’s the answer : I’m in Tenerife doing an EVS.

EVS stands for European Voluntary Service. It is a sub-action of the Erasmus+ program which is a European program in the fields of education, training, youth and sport from 2014 to 2020. Erasmus+ allows young people to participate in non-profit projects in different countries of the European Union (EU) to gather new ideas, new perspectives and new experiences. Erasmus+ aims for “the empowerment of young people and their ability to participate actively in society”. – Erasmus+ Guide.

EVS can be done in a variety of organizations such as sociocultural animation, heritage preservation, information for young people, helping the disabled and disadvantaged, sports, art, etc. The activities are based on non-formal education allowing people by direct experience to learn and improve skills by being active in their learning process (learning by doing). There are no academic prerequisites to do EVS, you just have to be super motivated and between the ages of 18 and 30 to participate.

I chose this program because I just wanted a professional experience abroad while feeling that I could make a difference for my community. When I finished school, the Erasmus exchange program was no longer an option for me so I looked for alternative solutions and found out about Erasmus+. In October 2016, I got the opportunity to participate in a training course for youth workers from outermost regions: OUTERMOST YOUTH.

The training course is another type of sub-action of the Erasmus+ program. During that week of training, a lot of things shifted for me. I met so many inspiring people who gave me a much-needed dose of hope. I was reminded that there are still people out there working towards building a better future for the youth in outermost regions. It opened my eyes to the possibilities available to islanders and showed me how I can become an actor to promote these opportunities. During this training course I met Junita from the Solomon Islands and Karim from Indonesia that were doing their EVS.  That’s how I found out about EVS and that’s how another seed was planted. Some seeds take time to grow, but if you keep watering the seed, it grows! The idea stayed in my head, I kept doing reserach and 18 months later, here I am.

What have I been up to?

Don’t get it twisted, EVS is not about living some kind of touristic laid-back life. I volunteer here during the week from Monday to Friday from 9:15 am to 3:15 pm. The hosting organization where I’m doing my EVS is called FIFEDE (Fundación Insular para el Empleo, la Formación y el Desarrollo Empresarial). FIFEDE is a foundation established by the government of Tenerife since 1998 to work towards the development of the island. They specialize in orientation with the priorities of boosting employability, vocational trainings, entrepreneurship and international mobility. Of course, it’s not the ordinary 9 to 5 but it’s still work accompanied by objectives, deadlines and positive challenges.

I spend a lot of time in the office working from the computer trying to come up with ways to change the world 😊. Ok that’s a bit exaggerated, but yes, I work with the hopes that my time and investment here can make a difference. One of the main objectives of my project is to work on a network of youth organisations in order to collaborate on more Erasmus+ projects and growth opportunities for our youth in outermost regions. My professional goals have always been centered around working with these regions because as an islander I understand first-hand the difficulties that the youth face at home or abroad. I want to inspire hope and I would like for my work to be an example to those that still have doubts in all the possibilties that the world has to offer.

I’m in Tenerife for 6 months with another volunteer from Martinique, her name is Sandy. Since we’ve been here, we’ve learned how to write an Erasmus+ project proposal. Within the first 15 days our EVS, we wrote out first project proposal. The project entails hosting another training course for youth 14 youth workers and youth leaders of European Outermost Regions and Overseas Territories (Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch islands) to work towards providing solutions for our youth. The project got approved and will taking place really soon 😉. Look out for news on that !

On a daily basis, here is what keeps me busy at FIFEDE :

  • Preparing informative documents for groups that we host.
  • Translating documents and emails in French, English and Spanish.
  • Writting project proposals : first one approved and waiting for the results for the second one.
  • Brainstorming and preparing activities for the training course we are about to host.
  • Reading and getting informed about the employement situation and the different needs of our partners.
  • Working  on our partner network : online research, contacting existing network, e-mails, project proposals, etc.
  • Public presentations about the Erasmus+ program in academic institutions with my supervisor. We explain what the program consists of and the modalities to apply. We also talk about our experience to dissolve some of the fears students might have about going abroad.
  • FIFEDE also hosted a delegation from French Guyana for an internship in April. Sandy and I were in charge of translating, presenting the different activities, helping them get around and making sure they felt comfortable.
  • Sandy and I go once a week to an immigration detention center to do activities with the immigrants while they wait for their departure. We do hand crafts, play games, sports, talk and just try to help them forget where they are for a few hours.
  • Writing articles. Deciding to start a blog is an outcome of this project.
  • Learning to make videos. My first video was a summary of the first 3 months of my EVS experience.
  • Helping candidates prepare their cover letter and CV to apply for Erasmus+ internships or EVS application.
  • Helping with the selection of candidates for exchange program between Tenerife and Belgium.

Mobility as a means of change

I wanted a change, I needed a change… I’ve had enough of France !

Ever since I was a student I wanted to live abroad. I’ve travelled a bit around Europe but I didn’t want another vacation, I wanted the full experience of living abroad, learning a new way of life, language and culture.

I watched movies, documentaries, went to conferences and spoke to people about the riches gained from travel and living abroad.

My comfort zone was no longer comfortable. I needed to grow.

I looked for solutions and EVS found me. I was led here by a series of people and events that helped put the pieces of the puzzle together: serendipity.

So here I am,

I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be, not just geographically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I’m also more and more pleased with my body. It feels like alignment.

I wouldn’t say new city, new me because it doesn’t feel like a new me. I just feel like I’m rediscovering a more authentic me. It feels like a me that is more content with being “different”.

Looking for a job in France was kind of a desperate situation. I was trying to fit in in an environment that had already disgusted me. Even so, I kept looking, hoping “they” weren’t all the same. A recruiter at a job interview told me she really likes my aura, that I felt like sunshine but she was hesitant to hire me out of fear that the bitter work environment would break my spirit. I dont know if she was right or wrong, either way that was another sign that I needed to leave and look for something different. I was tired of people trying to protect me because they mistake my gentle tone for weakness.

I know based on everything I’ve done and overcome personally and professionally that I’m stronger than people think. I have patience, faith and commitment to persevere in seemingly difficult situations and I’m not afraid of challenge. I just wanted these recruiters to give me a chance to prove it. I even considered squeezing my free-spirited personality into an air force job, I took the tests, spent my 27th birthday on the army base and made it to the last interview. I’m so grateful that I wasn’t recruited because that wasn’t where I needed to be. I would have missed the chance to be here in Tenerife, honoring the desires of my heart.

So here I am,

On a professional level, my EVS experience is giving me the opportunity to be myself. I’m more confident in my skills and natural abilities. I went from being desperate for someone to hire me to multiple job offers coming my way. Now that I see what a great professional I am when I’m simply myself, I can make better decisions for where I want to work and be bolder about the terms and conditions I would like to work in.

So what is this EVS I keep talking about ? Look out for my next article ! 😉

What unemployement taught me

This article is based on my personal experience of being unemployed. It can be considered as a summary of lessons I’ve learned when I was looking for a job, trying to find my way and my place on the job market. I understand firsthand how frustrating it can be, so I hope my experience can help and encourage you.

The most important lesson I learned in my hardest moments of unemployment is that every single moment was worth it. You know that saying “What won’t kill you can only make you stronger”? well it’s true. All those corny quotation, positive affirmation, I suggest you get some, write them down and stick them somewhere you can see them often. They are helpful because on the bad days they help you to change perspective when you start to question your worth.

I’ve learned that 90% of the time it’s really about perspective. How you preceive a situation almost always has an impact on how you will handle it. Shifting perception for me meant viewing myself in my situation as an actor and not as a victim. I don’t want to sound too utopist on this topic because a lot of the time this was easier said and thought of than actually done. All the stories about the sun that comes out after the dark (and rest assured it will) are nice and all but there are times when everything feels grey, messy, uncertain and everyone else seems to have a “life” except you. I kept trying, applying for jobs, going to interviews, and I didn’t see any results. After a while, I started to wonder what I was doing wrong, friends gave me advice as if I weren’t trying enough and some days, I just wanted to give up and stay in bed.

But when I made the extra effort to look for the silver lining or the bright side, things eventually got better, then I tried again and again. It a can be a long road, but you have to keep walking, you have to fight to not give up.

An excellent tool I used to help shift perspectives was writing.

Write about your situation, write about your feelings, resist the urge to judge them good or bad. There won’t be a teacher to grade your grammar or quality of the content so it doesn’t matter if it makes sense, just write. What matters most is that you externalize what is going on inside. Writing about your thoughts, feelings and emotions is a great way to analyzing your situation, making it possible to give yourself sound advice as if you were a third party. It is liberating, empowering and cost free.

Another problem I had when I was looking for a job was looking for a job seriously. I wanted to work, but because of some negative previous experiences, I kept finding distractions and excuses for why I wasn’t finding work. I got fired twice from my 2 first internships, my first boss told me “Basta” and the second one laughed at my face while I was talking because of my accent. These experiences left me traumatized and left me with a very negative image of what working felt like. This made me very picky about the kind of places I wanted to work and the type of people I wanted to work with. But of course, being picky as a young graduate didn’t really serve me in a job market where offers for vocational psychologist are quite rare.

Persevere!

Let me tell you something about success: it belongs to those who don’t give up. Here’s another corny quotation: “failure is your friend”.

It took so many failures, disappointments and rejection for me to have the drive and determination that I now possess. In my experience, unemployment was a bitter love story between the part of me that had a vision and the part of me that was afraid. It was a period of time I used to construct the version of me that I needed to be. Unemployment didn’t only make me stronger, it also gave me the knowledge, understanding and compassion I needed to help others. I’m grateful for this experience, because it made me a better professional.

Challenging times are moments of growth. If you feel lost now, don’t worry, you are growing and you will find your way. I spent a lot of time hoping for me people to see something in me before realizing on my own that I was brilliant. It takes time, so be patient and know that it’s all part of your process.

I chose to make unemployment constructive by making the best of all the “free time” I had. I had a lot of time, but I had no one but myself to structure or indicate how I should use it. This was wonderful news for the part of me that needed freedom but a great challenge for the part of me that struggles with discipline. Every day was a challenge between what I wanted to do, what people around me said I should do and what I actually did. It was a lot of work, but this work helped me to better understand what motivates me and which times of the day, week or month I was most productive. This knowledge of self was crucial for me to stop trying to change or fix everything about my habits and adapt my schedule accordingly instead.

When I wasn’t going to appointments, applying to job offers, writing cover letters, I used my extra time to learn new skills, identify the ones I already had and improve them. I read inspiring blogs, watched Ted Talks, YouTube videos and tried to set goals for what I wanted my life to look like. I tried my best to appreciate where I was and learn about topics that would serve me when you got the job I wanted.

There is a lot to learn online but going out and socializing in real life had the best impact. I got inspired by meeting and talking to professionals in my field. I tried to reach out to old classmates and surround myself with people with similar interest. I attended free workshops and events I found online. Some events were kind of boring, but the majority of encounters brought a little clarity. I just needed to stay open. At first, I was kind of shy, but I challenged myself to ask small simple questions when I was in a group and before I knew it I had more confidence and improved social skills. I also used volunteering as a way to gain experience and put my skills to the test. I didn’t get paid but it was work and the experiences I gained were absolutely priceless.

So there you have it, what unemploment taught me and what I gained from it all. And so my journey continues…