Dear diary: I am becoming an IVY

Monday, 11th of March 2019 : My phone rings as I am hardly trying to drag myself up to catch it and wake up after a long party with other volunteers.

At that moment, I am doing a volunteering in Poland within an NGO that promotes non-formal education with young people. It ends in one week, and I have no idea of what I will do next with my life.

It continues ringing, I can hear it resonating in my head. Gosh, this bar was really nice, and no need of Happy hour in Poland, everything is so cheap for a French person that used to live in Paris. Ok, Elisa, you have to get up and catch it. I have it…almost..

My volunteering experience was amazing, I don’t want it to end. I was living in a bubble for 4 months, and I just want to start another adventure, discovering more about the EU and what it does for people.

Wait… In which language do I pick up the phone ? I am French-Spanish, doing a volunteering in Poland, speaking English most of the time. Let’s pick English, it’s a solid value, and if it’s my parents well.. they will understand I am international.

“Hello ?”

Come on, Elisa, try to hide that it’s not 11 a.m. and you just woke up with a hungover on a Monday.

The woman on the phone is really nice, I already had an interview with her last week. She tells me I have been selected to become an Interreg Volunteer Youth at Interreg France-Wallonie-Vlaanderen.

At that moment, my heart starts beating wildly. I hung up the phone after a few minutes of conversation and cannot hide my joy : I hug my 18-year-old German roommate and start jumping in the typical flat from the Communist era that I am sharing with 3 other volunteers from the European Solidarity Corps : I am going to Belgium !

The thing is, I am starting in one week.

Book a flat in Namur. Finish my EVS in Poland. Pack my things. Pass by Paris to say hello to my family and friends after months not see, unpack my things. Pack again. Done!

Monday, 18th of March : I just arrived in Namur yesterday night, today is my first day at work as an IVY volunteer at Interreg France-Walonie-Vlaanderen.

My father calls me on the way, asking me what’s up and what’s going on with my life.

“Well, I am not in Poland anymore, dad, now I am starting a new experience in Belgium, at Interreg ! “

“Oh, that’s cool, you’re going to eat good fries and waffles ! What are you gonna do there, what is Interreg ?”

What is Interreg… How to explain that… I am graduated in European Affairs, I know about the Cohesion Policy. I also read the InfoPack IVY sent me with all the information during my 24 hours bus I took from Krakow to Paris (I like living dangerously…). But now that my dad asks me, well, I kinda don’t know how to explain it.

“It’s a cross-border territorial cooperation programme.. You know, EU funded programmes”

“Did you just read the first sentence of their website ? What are you going to do exactly ?”

The thing is, I don’t know. I have one month to figure it out.

Monday, 15th of April : It’s been 5 weeks that I started volunteering. I just came back from Kortrijk, in Flanders, where I had a meeting with the technical staff from the 3 regions (France, Wallonie, Vlaanderen) targeted by the territorial cooperation programme.

As the train goes, I am contemplating the landscapes and enjoying the view over the Belgian countryside. It kind of makes me thing about the North of France, with these castles in the middle of nowhere and large red-bricked houses. I had never lived in Belgium before, but I really don’t feel like I am in another country. I still feel like home, as a European citizen. I mean, Belgian people are different from French, they don’t even speak the same language everywhere, but there is something that join us together.

I have 1hour42 left before arriving in Namur, and I am thinking about this amazing experience and especially about the projects I discovered.

I have been really surprised by the number and the diversity of projects we are dealing with at Interreg. Some of them support local farmers in implementing biological agriculture, others aim to organize joint research in the medical field between Belgium and France to fight together against diseases, others support little companies and even schools !

At first, “territorial cooperation” for me meant something vague and large, involving projects at a big scale, some that citizens will never know about. On the contrary, citizens are the core of the projects, and their daily lives are improved thanks to it. I have one project in mind that twisted my interest. It aims to create a medical care service that provides pediatric heart surgeries for babies and children with a heart deformation in the French-Belgian border area. Indeed, families that live in the cross-border area won’t have to move to Paris or Brussels anymore, causing travel and accommodation costs - that they can’t always afford -for an undetermined period of time. With this project, babies and kids will be able to access pediatric surgery in Lille, much closer, coping with the lack of medical services in the region.

I like it here because I really feel like the projects Interreg is supporting are helping people and have a real impact on the local community. It erases frontiers and make us not only Belgian and French, but Europeans and Humans as a whole.

I can’t believe that one month ago I was in Poland and now I am here. I already feel like I am a complete different person than I was before volunteering, and I would not go back, in any case. I learned so much about myself, and my own specialty. By studying European Affairs, I though I knew a lot about it, but this month at Interreg showed me how the EU is impacting out daily lives without even knowing it.

The train stops, destination reached. I almost missed my stop, time flies when you are thinking. I brought some chocolates from Kortrijk for my Belgian flat mates. I am eager to come back home and tell them about my day. I have 4 months left in here and I don’t want to miss any bite of it.

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