Open Your Eyes


Long term volunteering

Written by Geoffroy from Belgium

February 2024

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Geoffroy, who was a volunteer for INEX Slovakia for one year. We scheduled our interview for the last week of his volunteering journey. Being in the middle of my own volunteering journey, I could only guess that the end brought about mixed feelings, but judging by his demeanour, I got the sense he felt accomplished, or maybe fulfilled. Naturally, I was very curious to learn more about his journey.

To see how things lined up for people to make the decision to volunteer, I like to know what they were doing just before they decided to volunteer, so this was my first question.

He tells me he worked in digital communication for the Green Party of Belgium, so he wanted to find a communication volunteering experience. Motivated by his previous experience and the desire to do something new, he applied for the INEX Slovakia communication volunteer position. He also reminds me that the cut-off age for ESC volunteering programs is 30, and he was 29 – so he felt it was now or never for a new and challenging experience. Despite reservations about English proficiency, he embraced the opportunity, and to overcome the language gap, he tells me he watched Netflix in English, which helped him improve a lot. Additionally, he picked up some basic Slovak to get by in situations when local people did not speak English.

INEX Slovakia team smiling

All in all, English did not prove to be too much of a barrier, considering he took part in a workcamp, which is always with people from different parts of the world. With English being the common language, he was actually able to communicate easily and make friends. ‘I have a lot of good memories from this. I learned a lot about different cultures. I made friends with Spanish and Greek people, and people from Italy as well. It was nice sitting by the campfire, roasting sausages, being with yourself or with others.’ – he says when I ask him to describe the workcamp. They lived and worked together in a Slovak eco-village, exploring eco-living and contributing to the eco-village’s functioning.

He was also a camp coordinator, which means he coordinated the group and was the person people turned to when they needed assistance – or when they needed an energizer! – which he had learnt plenty of in a training just before the workcamp. He also had the chance to dabble in and learn a bit about financial management, which was part of the learning objectives of the workcamps. And finally, to recollect the workcamp experience, he tells me: ‘Honestly, it was very intensive, a lot of work, but we managed. It was great because I met a lot of people.’

Another workcamp he did in Germany was memorial work for a concentration camp, where he wrote pieces for a German newspaper, which also translated the works from English into German. This is not a classic workcamp, he tells me. And indeed, it is way more focused on history, and they also had the chance to meet people who had escaped the Holocaust.

Volunteering in general and these specific experiences are likely to change a person, even if only slightly, so I asked him how he thought he’d changed. ‘I think it gave me more proactive reflexes or habits, and it also gave me a taste for travelling because before volunteering, I was not much of a traveller. It made me participate in life, not just be an audience member’.

And travel he did. He went to Slovenia, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, which he found more mountainous than Belgium, which is more of a flat country. I ask him, finally, what advice he would give to someone who is thinking about volunteering. ‘Do not hesitate! Do not hesitate and ask questions before, so that you make the best choice. Make a big list of what is interesting for you, and choose based on that.’

What’s next for Geoffroy then? He tells me he will go back to Belgium, find a job and potentially travel a little more in the future. He also plans to meet a friend he made while volunteering. He wishes me a good rest of my volunteering journey, and I wish him the best, grateful to know that this experience has been valuable for him.


Written by Albanoi Retkoceri, Communication Volunteer at the International Secretariat of Service Civil International.