Long-term volunteering at La Città dell’Utopia

The project took place in:


Long term volunteering

Written by Tanya Möller Forastieri from Sweden

March 2024

It’s December 2023, and I have just returned home to Sweden from La Città dell’Utopia, Rome, that has been my home for the past 11 months. La Città dell’Utopia can be translated to “The utopian city”, and even though the year might not have been utopian in the common understanding of the word, it has truly been a particular, and beforehand unimaginable year. For me, a similar year will most probably not be existent anew. In that sense it has indeed been a year in an utopia, a non existent place.

 La Città dell’Utopia writing on the wall

When I arrived in Rome in January 2023 it was with a bittersweet feeling. I had great expectations of learning Italian, trying out the life in a big city that I had not previously done in my life, and working for an international NGO. I also had one fear, namely missing my friends and family back home. All of my expectations played out – I now do speak Italian in a rather fluent way, I have dived into the big city life of accessible events, summer heated buildings and traffic outside of the window, not to mention all of the tourists in a city like Rome, and I have seen the inside workings of an international NGO both on a national and international level. SCI is a good organisation in that way, once you are immersed in the organisation it is difficult not to get in contact with many different branches and partners, and thereby feel a part of a wider movement through the network you create.

Tanya standing in front of the Colosseum

And although I am beyond grateful about these expectations turning into reality, the main thing that I carry with me from the volunteering experience is something else, related to my fear. After around a month at la Città dell’Utopia, the fear of not having a community of friends and family was but a memory. The other ESC or Service Civique volunteers who I lived with in the apartment were becoming more than my friends, they were becoming my family. From basically every training, youth exchange or volunteering camp we had, which were many, I also met at least someone that has come to mean a lot to me even after the end of the project. In our events I have seen the teamspirit of SCI and the guests at the social hostel we have, have almost never been anything but amicable. Therefore, this year has above all taught me the importance of social relationships. I have had to face my own strategies of interaction, conflict resolution, challenge my open mindedness and find new ways to communicate.

Tanya and friends smiling

Being in an international environment, you soon learn that the codes of conduct taken for granted in one context, will have to be modified in another one in order to create a common ground of understanding. I have learnt the meaningfulness of having a coffee to chat after lunch, to cook a good meal together and to share each others traditions and pursuits, cheering each other on. Through the help of SCI Italy I have also gotten to know both Non-Formal Education and Non Violent Communication as tools to talk about values, preferences and respect, as well as how you solve conflicts without blaming one another but instead take ownership of your own feelings. This will be the central thing that I take with me from this volunteering experience.

Tanya and group smiling

So Rome, La Città dell’Utopia and SCI Italy, thank you for the gelatos, for Leandro’s, for the sea and the lakes in summer, the world of social centers, the beautiful parks, the international network you have provided, the engaging spirit for a better world that you foster, the introduction to the world of projects and international volunteering camps, for enabling me to work on my personal project of an Actionkit for societal engagement, and above all, thank you for making me into a better friend.