Community Goes Europe 2: ‘A Year in 3 Pages’ ESC Blog Post by Anna Pensler

Sending Organisation: Culture Goes Europe – Soziokulturelle Initiative Erfurt e.V.

Hosting Organisation: Associação Juvenil Rota Jovem

European Solidarity Corps Role: 12 Month in Cascais, Portugal.

The European Solidarity Corps aims to foster solidarity in European society, engaging young people and organisations in accessible and high-quality solidarity activities. It offers young people volunteering activities, traineeships or jobs, or run their own projects. For more Information:

“In October 2019 I started my one year journey of living in Lisbon, Portugal.

“I met my new roommate and my future colleagues at a so-called Kick-Off training one month before leaving for Portugal. I also met other volunteers who were in the same situation as me – excited for what the future will bring, nervous about the life changing experience of moving abroad and impatient for the journey to finally start. In the training we got to know our coordinators, talked about solidarity and how to plan our personal projects and just had a great time of sharing and laughing together.

“My new roommate and colleague Thea came from the same city as me – coincidently. We started our journey together and I remember her calming me down at the airport when I had a small panic moment of realising that it was really happening – I was going to move to Portugal, for one year, without knowing anything about the language or culture.

“We arrived at lisbon airport where our colleague picked us up and brought us to our new home where we went to bed immediately – tired but happy.

“The first few days were the most exciting, everything was new, we got to know the way to work, met our colleagues, explored the area, ate portuguese food, happily found out that beer is very cheap there and also got to know each other.

“By time I got used to a schedule and had a certain routine. I also joined some political collectives and initiatives that worked in the fields I was interested in. Our mentor Madalena showed us some opportunities and introduced organisations to us, for example Humans Before Borders, a collective that wants to raise awareness about the inhumane situation in the Mediterranean. Thea and I were part of HUBB the entire year and got to know amazing people and activists, educated ourselves in the field and more importantly made friends that enriched us with great memories and lovely moments which I still like to think about today.

“Time passed and I slowly started missing my friends and home. For a time I was really sad and wished the year to pass as soon as possible so that I could see my friend again. Phone and video calls really helped me to get through this homesickness, writing postcards and receiving letters from my friends were a good way to stay connected with home and so the homesickness passed by quite fast.

“Three months after our service had started we finally went to our on-arrival training where we met 70other volunteers from all over Portugal. We had a week of exchange, laughter, different nationalities, hangovers, hugs, long talks, flirting, small scandals, and a daily visit in the one and only bar of the village. We got to know a lot of volunteers living in and around Lisbon and kept in touch with them the entire year.

“Thea and I were also really busy with work at our organisation Rota Jovem and the meeting with the collectives. With the help of our mentor Madalena, we had started to write a so-called solidarity project aiming to create a small change in the local society. Writing the project was really time-consuming but worth it because it got approved by the national agency and we received funding to implement our project. This was probably the proudest moment of my ESC.

“March came and brought along an unwanted guest “the containment measures for COVID-19” and, in turn, the total lockdown once the virus was announced a global pandemic. Thea and I had started to work from home and were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to go back to Germany. So we decided quickly that we would move back home due to the uncertainty of the upcoming months. It was hard to leave Portugal, especially because we couldn’t say goodbye to anyone and didn’t know if we could come back.

“Back home, we had still kept in touch with our organisation and, in my opinion, worked better than ever. We set up online workshops, implemented our solidarity project online, set up online campaigns, and had meetings with our mentor, people from the collectives, and also our digital midterm training where we met other volunteers that we got to know in the on-arrival training.

“Our mentors did a great job staying in touch with us, giving us tasks, and checking up on us.

“June came and our hopes to go back to Portugal increased every day. Finally, our mentors gave us the green light that we could come back and start working again. Thea and I were more than happy to be able to spend the last three months of our service back there.

“I remember the feeling when we entered our street, walking towards the door of our apartment – I felt so happy and blessed, I felt like coming home after a long rough journey.

“Going to work felt so vaguely normal and good at the same time. Seeing our friends and colleagues again, continuing to implement our solidarity project, and also sharing a room again. Time suddenly passed so quickly, we met with our friends, went to the beach, had visits from our best friends from Germany and went on hiking trips.

“In the last three months, and for the first time, I had the feeling that I finally arrived in the new culture, and finally found my role there.

“Thea and I were in the same situation of deciding what to do after the ESC has ended. She was certain about starting university and which area she wanted to study. With me, it was more like a rollercoaster, some months I was really into starting university, but most of the time I didn’t feel ready for it. Working at Rota Jovem and talking to my colleagues helped me to figure out that I wanted to work in a social area, so I came to the conclusion to study social work. Thea helped me with my applications for university, and although most universities rejected me, I got a spot at a uni in a city in the south of Germany, where I am sitting now, writing this post, filled up with a lot of saudades.

“Looking back, I see that Thea and I have been involved in a lot of activities, manifestations, events, and protests. We went camping with the youngsters from Rota Jovem, taught German at, lead a language café for people to improve their English, were involved in HUBB, helped out in the community garden from Desassociada, volunteered at Movimento Claro, organised the Europe weeks together with our sending organisation Culture Goes Europe, and implemented activities from our own project InspiRota.

“I tend to always say “We” because I got so used to Thea and me being in a package, usually called “the girls” or “meninas”. Sometimes, people would confuse our names, and we always joked about us being the same person but a different appearance, because we literally spent 24/7 with each other –  worked together, lived together, were in the same collectives, and had the same group of friends. I never expected to get so close with someone who is so different to me, yet I am more than grateful that I met this inspiring person, happy to share a lot of wonderful experiences with her, and lucky to call her my friend.

“Overall, I had a year of a wonderful journey with ups and downs, heart-throbs and heartbreaks, laughter, joy, tears, good food, friendship, challenging moments, traveling, learning, inspiration, growth, and a lot of saudades.

“So, to anyone reading this – go and take advantage of the opportunity to go abroad! Travel, explore, grow, make a change, support and meet new people, and most importantly, have fun!”

European Solidarity Corps: The European Solidarity Corps aims to foster solidarity in European society, engaging young people and organisations in accessible and high-quality solidarity activities. It offers young people volunteering activities, traineeships or jobs, or run their own projects.

1 thought on “Community Goes Europe 2: ‘A Year in 3 Pages’ ESC Blog Post by Anna Pensler”

  1. Anna said two times “a lot of saudades”… 🙂
    That’s the proof that she really enjoyed the time in Portugal 😉

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