When I arrived at Acarbio, I had no clue about what would happen in the future months. Although I had some expectations, on the first day, I realized I had to forget them all and just go with the flow. While I had traveled extensively in Italy with my parents, I had never been to the south, so I still felt like there was a lot to discover. And discover I did, for months and months, nourishing myself with good food and knowledge.
I initially expected all my roommates to become my best friends, which was a bit naive because, first, I am not the type of person who has a lot of friends, and I have a somewhat old-fashioned soul, which may not align perfectly with young people. However, I found something even better. Yes, I made good relationships with the volunteers, and some became my friends, but I felt like part of a family with the locals.
I had a project of teaching English and French in the local school for the kids, and it was amazing. Due to the language barrier, I had to change methods to build a connection with the kids. Also, the Italian school system is different from the French one I grew up in, so it was great to learn and be a part of it.
In Acarbio, yes, I did projects and was part of an association, but that’s not what I remember most. I remember living in a village and feeling like it was home, even though I didn’t speak the language. When I returned to France and talked about it, I referred to Tramonti as if it were my town, because, in a way, it was. Even though I am now back in France, Tramonti and the people who live there are a part of me.
Here’s a funny story: A week after I arrived, it was the birthday of the president of the association, Enzo. This man intimidated me a bit at the beginning, as he did for almost everyone, but I felt that a man with the idea of such an association couldn’t be just scary. So, there was a pizza party, and I baked a cake as a present, wondering whether he would like it or not. In the weeks after, I asked him a lot of questions, such as how he came up with the idea of Acarbio and what he was doing before. I talked to the others, and no one knew much about him and his ideas because no one had asked him. He taught me so much about the local culture, food, and community spirit. Not only Enzo, but the rest of the Acarbio staff, Antonio and Cornelia, also imparted a lot to me. I don’t know how many hours we spent talking in the office, sharing meals, and how much I learned from them and their experiences.
I believe that before going to another country, you need to expect your daily life to change. You have to ask questions and take the time to understand the culture you are now in. Only then will you see how much of a treasure it is to do a volunteering project abroad.
Written by Laura Clement