Andra Onton – Life in Romania

Andra came to Baia Mare in March 2015, for 12 months. Part of her activities includes working with visually impaired people, organizing and implementing after-school activities for children and facilitating intercultural summer camps organized in the rural communities around Baia Mare. Her hobbies include sports, nature trekking and promoting healthy lifestyle.

Andra Onton, 20:

Of course, everybody has their own reasons for going abroad and experiencing the EVS volunteer program. I left University after one semester and I felt that I was searching for freedom. So when I found out about the opportunity to volunteer with EVS, I took it. My thinking was that it’s now or never.

I didn’t know a lot about Romania, except that it inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it has beautiful landscape, friendly and open-minded people, but also Roma people and it is very different from my home country. That was enough for me. I heard some negative comments from people that I talked to, like there are gypsies everywhere and that the country is about ten years behind Estonia in development. But I didn’t believe it. From the moment I got here and started building my new life, I’ve had many positive experiences.

[quote]People keep asking me: why did you choose to go to Romania? What are you doing there? For one year in Baia Mare; are you crazy? Yes, these are the typical questions that I’ve been getting since I`ve arrived. [/quote]

How much you get out of this experience is up to you.  If you want to make a difference as a volunteer, you need support and ideas. If you want to hang out with friends, you have many opportunities.  It’s possible to learn a new language if you’re motivated. If you want to take time for yourself, you can do that too. It’s possible to travel as well.

My project is related to afterschool activities for the kids and working with blind people. In the spring we planned afterschool activities for kids, but unfortunately we had a low attendance rate. I felt demotivated after this experience. I asked myself many times what I’m doing here. At some point I got my motivation back and everything was fine.

I decided to take a short trip back home in the middle of the project. It was interesting to compare what I have done and what my closest friends and family have been up to. While I was visiting my family, I couldn’t help but compare Estonia with Romania. Everything was the same, but it was my perspective that had changed. I gained a much broader point of view on things as a result of this experience.

We organized summer camps in rural areas. In Estonia I went almost every summer to camp.  Organizing and being responsible for children was something totally new. When I think back to my first day of camp I was so intimidated by the 20 or so kids. In this case, I have to say I learned a lot from my project member Aneta. She loves playing with the kids and planning fun activities for them. She encouraged me a lot. When we planned the second camp program, there were 40 kids registered and this time I was already fully prepared.

I wasn’t used to working with blind people, but I learned a lot about the unique challenges that they face and how to assist them. They are like us just with one exception; their imagination is bigger.  They have the same hopes, dreams and responsibilities as the rest of us and live life to the fullest. For example, I have friend, 17-years old Alexandra and she was born blind. She is a high school student in a regular school and very active.  She is a talented singer and also piano player. By knowing the melody and touching my hands, it took her only 20 min to get know one Estonian folk song on piano. It’s impressive how fast she learns and how well she plays the instrument.

I can’t forget to mention the abundance of nature in Romania. I am amazed. This is something fabulous and I stop to take it all in each time I discover a new hiking trail, mountain or lake. Every time that we go on a trip, I come back to Baia Mare revised. I have been able to find a lot of free time for myself, so I started practicing my Russian with a fellow volunteer named Nastya. I started to be more active by playing sports. It’s hard to describe my everyday routine, because I don’t have one. Life here is very spontaneous and I have learned to just go with the flow.

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I would like to recommend EVS to young people who are looking for a life-changing experience, getting out of their comfort zone, meeting with new people, improving social skills, learning new languages. You start to appreciate things more and more because of the wealth of experiences that you gain from volunteering.

The decision to come here and take a „gap-year“ was exactly what I needed. I have seen and experienced a lot. It’s hard to put down all details and emotions in words because so much has happened that I could write a book about it. I am still looking the way I did when I first got here, but I feel like I have changed my outlook and way of thinking.

Andra is hosted in the project ”Eye Care / Day Care”,  a twelve months European Voluntary Service (EVS) hosted by Team for Youth Association, in Baia Mare and financed by the European Commission, through the Erasmus+ Programme.