EVS in Belgium - De Kruiderie

First of all I need to say that I am really happy that I decided to do this voluntary service and the experiences I made, the people I met and things I learned go far further than I ever expected.

It was possible for me to start a few days later, so that I went directly to the On-Arrival Training organised by JINT, the Belgian National Agency. So I could immediately meet all the other volunteers and also Jesus, who stayed in the same project and host family like me. I guess that it is to expect, when people from all over Europe come together for that kind if project, but with the group of volunteers we had a really nice, open atmosphere. Although I have not had a lot of contact with many of them over the months, we met occasionally. Also when we all came together again for the Mid-Term Training in June, we spend a great time together.

Jesus and me took the train together to go to Brugge, where our host parents and picked us up. We spent the afternoon and evening there, walking around in the city with typical Belgian weather: rain. Through a lot of times crossing the city with the bike and also sightseeing with everybody who was visiting me, I got to know the city quite well. I have to admit I prefer Gent because there are still a few less tourists and I just like the young, more alternative atmosphere.

Beforehand I was a bit afraid about how the communication would work, but it turned out that it was really uncomplicated, because our host parents speak really good English and did not expect us to speak Dutch. I also found out, that they were hosting volunteers for years so they were used to have people from different countries and backgrounds in their house. They gave us a lot of freedom and support over the whole period of time and beyond. If it was about getting picked up somewhere, hosting family and friends who were visiting or just having a nice, interesting talk. I could even stay in their house till the end of August because of a summerjob.With our host parents we could not have been more lucky. Not to forget the great house with the huge garden they were living in.

De Kruiderie is a social workplace that is growing, harvesting and also processing herbs and eatable flowers. They are selling plants, dried herbs, selfmade beer and gin, syrup, herbal oil and other products in a shop on the property. There are also always orders for wholesale businesses which need to be prepared. At first we were mainly working along with the normal workers. After some time we knew the daily routine and started to do different tasks also. It was not like that we had big responsibility, but we were trusted with various tasks and I always felt valued in the working environement. From the beginning on we could also participate in the weekly meetings. It was mainly about organisational stuff but also about evaluations from the social services. Because the Kruiderie is a social workplace two of the three managers were social workers. There were working people, who were unemployed for a certain time before and got money from the gouvernment. These people were allowed to work in the Kruiderie for a certain amount of time, mostly 1,5 years, and the goal was to send them back into the open job market afterwards again. The others were people who had mental issues in their past. The stories we heard went from drug addiction over suicidal tendencies and depression to several stays in a psychiatric ward. That sounds quite extreme at first but the point is that they are just able to work there if they can handle their life by that time. I got to know them without knowing about their backgrounds and they are also just normal, nice people. Normally they could stay there as long as everything was working out. Also here was the further goal to bring them closer to a daily working routine so that they would be able to do a regular job in the future.

Of course the main language was Dutch but almost everybody spoke quite good English. I could understand some things anyway, although the westflemish dialekt is quite difficult, and with time it got constantly better so that I can understand Dutch and mostly westflemish by now. Also we could always ask our supervisors anything, if we wanted to know something about, what we do, why we do it or about the background of the people working there. They were of course speaking good English. With some of my colleagues I became good friends and I am sure that we will also stay in contact afterwards, my host brother Jesus and me as well as with our colleagues.

We both went to language lessons to Brugge. Our host mother helped us to organise it. I started in level 2 and changed twice so that I finished in level 4 (of 10), which should be a good B1 level. I guess by now at least my speaking level should be better and also reading is not a problem at all. I took me quite long to really start speaking. Everybody is used to talk English with you and its just easier, also I was afraid to make mistakes. I am sure I still do a lot but I am glad nobody ever reacted negative but always supportive. I would not say I am fluent in Dutch but I can have a conversation without having any troubles. With Jesus I am speaking English anyway.

After my voluntary service I was working for 6 weeks as 'jobstudent' in the SummerBar of the Kruiderie. I am really happy that I had this opportunity, although they knew I was not fluent in Dutch. Because of that I could practice my Dutch skills and spent a really nice summer there.

The fact that I asked if I could work there also shows howcomfotable I felt in the environment, because I wanted to stay longer. In between I went home for a few times because I had the luck that it was not such a big distance. It both felt like going home, first going to Germany but also coming back to Belgium.

When I look back I would absolutely say that I developed. I became more independant, open minded and self confident. I learned a lot about plants, social work, cultural differences and how easily we can overcome them. It sounds maybe a bit clichee but I also feel like I learned a lot about myself and life in general. One reason for that might be, that in most situations I was the youngest person in the room with almost 10 years of age difference. Which was not a problem at all by the way.

For the future I am thinking of doing an Erasmus in Gent at some point. Also I would really enjoy to come back to my workplace for example on the „opendeurdagen“ and to see everybody again.

Lisa