Irina Nikolaienko from Oświęcim

In the International Youth Meeting Centre (IYMC) I took care of the groups of mostly German students who took part in study trips to Oświęcim/Auschwitz. As a volunteer I explained the house rules, gave guided tours in Oświęcim, led groups to the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, and prepared the seminar rooms. There were also other tasks depending on the program of a specific project. We sometimes gave guided tours in the Jewish Centre in Oświęcim, went together with the group to Kraków, or took part in the seminar sessions. It was always interesting. I also translated some information from the website in order to present the work of the IYMC in my home city in Ukraine, Sumy. The Institute of Postgraduation Education was interested in our work in Oświęcim and together with a colleague from the IYMC, Natalia Tkachenko, I made a presentation about the IYMC for their staff. I hope that thanks to establishing new networks with institutions from Ukraine students from my region will be able to take part in study trips to Poland in the future.

If I were asked what I would have done differently, I would say today– everything. Now I know much more and I can look back and analyze my work. The project has really changed me. Now I think I would have spent more time with my groups. As a volunteer you get to know many different people and it is interesting and important to talk with them. Through discussions you can understand the world better und see the social and political processes from a different point of view. You can even change your mind about something, diversity of thoughts and opinions influences our minds. And of course by talking to German students I have developed my language skills. The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a very important place to me, although it is difficult to understand all the aspects of its history. This place provokes many different thoughts and feelings. It helps to open that part of your mind and soul, which you would have never got to know without visiting this place. I still struggle to understand what happened there.

My advice to the future volunteers would be, don’t be afraid of living alone in a foreign country! It can be really cool. You gain a lot of new experience and you are never alone. The volunteers always have the support of a mentor, a supervisor and a coordinator. If you have a problem – tell, if you need help – ask for it, if you have something nice to say – share it. That is how we communicated in the IYMC and I have to say that I was lucky to be here. While living abroad, your perspective on your country changes. It can even change several times throughout your voluntary service. It can be uncomfortable, but it is also a rewarding experience. 

Iryna Nikolaienko, volunteer in the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oświęcim 2016/2017