A tourist story

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The well-known French author, Albert Camus, wrote once that “what gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country…we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. This is the most obvious benefit of travel. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being…”.

It would probably be a mistake to bring these thoughts to nowadays. When you are walking around the Staroměstské náměstí or crossing the Karlův most over the Vltava and give a look at these big groups of tourist focused on following the guides with the umbrellas, you realize that fear or any other deep feeling are not part of what they are experimenting. Now, everything is so organized that there is no time to be spontaneous, all is arranged in advance in order to not have any worries or inconveniences. Experiences are prefabricated in packages so everybody could see, think and feel absolutely the same about the places they are visiting. No more cultural shock, no more individual challenges, no more surprises…

Fortunately, there are still some ways to get closer to what Camus says. For example, if you are an EVS in a little village in Czech Republic, where nobody speaks English, you will definitely feel it more than once –no matter how helpful your mentor is or how much your organization prepare your arrival…-. In general, when you are having a long stay abroad, everything can affects you more, the good and the bad things, so your mood can easily change from ecstasy to melancholy and the experiences you live are undoubtedly more intense and deeper in some way.

But regarding to travelling there are two possibilities if you don’t want to be part of the pack. You can go to unknown places far from the tourist map, or you can travel to the most common cities but in a different way. For example, by hitchhiking or coachsurfing, two familiar words for every EVS as the budgets are not always high enough for a more common way.

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Margo, from Georgia, and Mariia, from Ukraine, can talk a lot about it. They are probably the ones who have travelled more during their EVS. In only six months, they have already been in ten different countries: Austria, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, France… “We can be talking like this and decide to go to Italy tomorrow by hitchhiking.  We don’t need to have anything prepared”, says Maria, who highlights that the only support she needs is Margo, her best friend here.

They both arrived at Czech Republic last May. Margo is 25 years old and was born in Tkibuli, a town in the west-central part of Georgia, but lives in the capital, Tbilisi. She studied History and specialized in European Medieval Age. In two years she will be a doctor of Cultural Studies but before she wanted to see “the reality” in Europe. “I was always reading books and studying theory about Europe but now I have gained a lot of experience, a lot of informal education”.

Both Margo and Mariia are considered Europeans but at the same time they can explore the continent from a foreigner point of view. “In Ukraine it is not easy to get a Visa and travel for a long time, and this project lasts one year, so I asked myself, why not? I love travelling and I wanted to see how people are living in Europe”, says Mariia.

She is 21 years old and comes from a little village called Pidberiztsi. She left her work at a bank in Ternopil -a city of more than 200.000 inhabitants in the west part of Ukraine-, and her studies in International Marketing and Education to become an EVS. “This project has completely changed my life. I am happy here but you are always wondering if you chose correctly… I left a lot of things in Ukraine and I don’t know how it will be when I come back…”.

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Their new life takes place in a very special place. Not in a big city, as they used to, neither a town nor a village. It is in the middle of the nature. In Švýcárna, an ecological leisure center located in the breathtaking Moravian Karst, about half an hour far from Brno and close to the industrial town of Adamov, in South Moravia. The yellow, brown and orange of the fallen leaves shapes now all the slopes and hide somehow the amazing deep and long caves which are on the way.  The complex, formed by three main rural houses located in the lower side of the mountain, with a stream flowing next to it, looks as if it were painted for an old beautiful postcard.

Margo and Mariia live and work there together with other three volunteers: Francesco, from Italy, Mylene, from France, and Artyom, from Armenia. They all help in the cleaning of the area, organize projects with kids (handcraft activities, environmental education…) and participate in weekends or long term events (summer camps, volunteer weekends, etc.). “It is a different kind of work, a different kind of life, a challenge at first, but I like it. And it is healthier for sure”, says Margo.

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As her personal project, she decided to organize a weekend about her country. Me and other 14 people (some EVS, Erasmus, and other ones) went there and could taste “Khinkali” and “Lobio” or dance “Acharuli” and “Rachuli” for the first time in our lives. Her aim was to encourage people to visit their country in the same way she is visiting the other ones: getting to know their people, their traditions, their culture, their music…

Mariia is also planning an intercultural event: a youth exchange between Caucasus and Central Europe with people from Georgia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Czech Republic. The topic will be Intercultural Dialogue and they will be able to see and understand better their differences and similarities in education, religion, culture… As Margo says, “Czech Republic and Georgia are really different, the people attitude, the behavior, the culture, the human relations… but in the end, we are all humans, we all have the same feelings, we love, we hate… and this is common for everyone in the world”.

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Both Margo and Mariia surely have missed their home more than once during this year but despite their desires to come back, they couldn’t help keep travelling everywhere. “A new country is a new book, to read something in internet is not meaningful, if you just see it for once, you will understand it”, affirms Mariia, who admits that hitchhiking or coachsurfing can sometimes be a risky experience: “It is really great because we meet different people who told us many interesting things about their places which we couldn’t know otherwise, but you must know that you can also have a bad experience, not everybody is honest and you must be ready for that”.

What is sure is that if any of us decide to visit Georgia, Margo will help us to have an experience full of knowledge and emotions. For the time being, we can at least be satisfied with her dance lessons or her exquisite cuisine. And now we know we must go there. And learn about it. And feel it. And experience it. And get lost among its amazing mountains. And be “seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back…”. And let ourselves be surprised and touched. And “quiver to the depths of our being…”.P1030983

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