“When I arrived to Võru I met my supervisor and mentor who – as a first thing – hugged me, so I understood already then that not all Estonians are so cold! From my experience, if you will hug Estonians they will not run away… well, Santa Claus from my Christmas story was exception of this rule.”
Meet Valeriia Bychkova, a Ukrainian girl doing her EVS in a kindergarten in Võru. Valeriia has lived in Estonia for more than a half year now and will share her experience with us.
Why did you chose to do EVS?
Because I want to change the world!
And how is that going?
I think I have some progress in it!
Why did you choose Estonia?
I didn’t chose Estonia. I chose this project because I really wanted to work with children. I believe that I’m really good in communicating and therefore, connecting with the kids. I found this project, send an application and it worked out.
How do you like living in Võru?
In the beginning, it was really difficult for me because I live in quite a big city in Ukraine. It was a little challenging for me and still sometimes is. Usually, I have a lot of people around me and I meet all my friends pretty often. Here it’s quite difficult to find some friends. Estonian people are quite calm while I’m a clown. So, most of my friends are volunteers who live in different cities around Estonia.
What is there to do during your free time in Võru?
Every weekend I go somewhere else. I visit other places and see all my friends. During the week, I have kannel lessons (an Estonian instrument) or handicraft class. I met a woman and we became friends and she introduced me to someone to do handicraft together.
How does a normal day of work look like?
I play a lot with the children. Another task I do a lot is collecting the children’s toys. Every day we go for a walk. I also often help organizing lessons. It’s pretty normal kindergarten tasks that I do.
Are there any funny stories of your EVS time that you can share?
Yes! It was Christmas time and we organized a Christmas party in the kindergarten. My teachers asked me to be winter at our Christmas party for children, they told me that I have to dance and smile, things that I do every day so it was room full of parents, everyone was very beautiful and I danced normal, I didn’t fall down, everything was ok. But then Santa Claus started to give us presents… At the beginning he gave presents to kids and then I heard my name! It was really unexpected and I was so surprised that I decided to show Santa that I’m going to hug him when I was in the distance of a few meters. Santa wasn’t very happy about it and he started to wave his hands showing me that he doesn’t want hugs. But it was difficult to stop me, so it was silence in that room for half a minute and Santa still didn’t want to hug me… I started to scream in English “Hugs! I want hugs! Hug me!” Santa was shocked but in the end he finally hugged me because he understood that I’m not going to give up! All parents were laughing very loud and I was so embarrassed about it.
Many volunteers say after their EVS that it’s a life-changing experience. Do you feel any changes so far?
For sure I became more independent in all ways of my life. My biggest fear connected with my EVS was that I will live in such a small place, because I’m that kind of person who need a lot of attention and people around. Also I hadn’t been used to living alone. But right now I’m really happy that I chose Võru! I can’t tell that it’s easy for me to live here, but it’s challenging and interesting for sure. I learnt that I can stay alone for a long time not being in the center of everyone’s attention. It may sound funny, but usually it’s a big problem for me! That I can manage some difficulties by myself. You know, now I’m even strong enough to open jars with jam! And I finally started to cook! So, yes, I became more independent.
How much or what did you know about Estonia before and how has this picture you had in mind about Estonia or Estonians changed during your time here?
Before to came here I heard a lot about this stereotype that Estonian people are very cold and unemotional. Some friends even told me that it was so bad decision for such emotional person as me to go to Estonia. So few last months before EVS I was thinking a lot about this stereotype and I was sure that people here will start to hate me from the first sight. But when I arrived to Võru I met my supervisor and mentor who – as a first thing – hugged me, so I understood already then that not all Estonians are so cold! My opinion is that people here are just not very emotional and they need more time to get know you, but from my experience, if you will hug Estonians they will not run away… well, Santa Claus from my Christmas story was exception of this rule. Second stereotype I heard was that if I will speak Russian in Estonia, people will hate me even more than because of my emotionality. Just to be clear I don’t know Estonian, so I use English and Russian and I haven’t heard any bad things about it.
What is surprising or very different for you here, in Estonia?
For me it’s difficult to work without feedback. I still try to adapt that people who work with me don’t tell me anything about their vision of how I am doing what I do. At the beginning I was worried a lot, because I could not understand if they like my working style or not. Once I even told them about it and they explained me that it’s „Estonian style“ – if everything is ok, they just don’t tell anything. Another thing that Estonian people normally will not ask you 100 times if you are hungry, because in Ukraine it’s quite a normal tradition.
What is the one thing that everyone should know about Ukraine and/or Ukrainians?
I even don’t have any doubts about my answer here… If to choose just one thing, it will be that almost all Ukrainians are very hospitable. You have to be very talanted to be someone’s guest and stay hungry. You can be a little bit shocked at the beginning but you will get used to it very soon. Almost all of my friends who visited me here told me that I’m like their grandmother. So if you have never been guest of Ukrainian – you are welcome in Võru!
Valeriia Bychkova stays in Estonia for 12 months within the project ”Broadening Horizons ” which is funded by Erasmus+ European Voluntary Service program.