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European Volunteer: The Concept of Arts of Survival Is Relevant in My Hometown Too

A European Solidarity Corps volunteer from France joined the Tartu 2024 team in July. Why did he choose Tartu 2024? What are his first impressions of Tartu? Read more in the interview with William Lagache.

Portrait of our volunteer William.
24. Jul Kaidi-Lisa Kivisalu

William, how did you learn about the European Solidarity Corps?

I met people in Pau, my hometown in France, who had been volunteers at some point and I discovered this kind of opportunity. Since I had never travelled before, except for short holidays, I thought that the European Solidarity Corps would be a good way for me to go abroad and live in a foreign country.

What made you choose to volunteer at Tartu 2024?

With the ESC you have many offers. One of them was Tartu 2024. I applied to two projects, the other project was in Bulgaria. I finally chose Tartu 2024 because it seemed so interesting, and it was something that matched with my previous experiences from internships I had done and my university studies. That was the first reason. The second reason was that the town itself, the country and the region was something I had yet to discover.

Some volunteers decide to go to a project, because they are really drawn to the project, but they may not be that excited by the country, others choose a country they really like, but unfortunately have to work on a project that is not that appealing to them. But I am really lucky, because I like both.

What did you know about Estonia before coming, if anything?

In my view, Estonia had the reputation of a modern country, due to the IT development here. I knew that it was one of the smaller countries of the European Union. In France we have about 67 million people, we know other big countries like Germany or the UK, but it is hard to know smaller countries. We know the name, because every young European has to learn the list of European countries and their capitals in school, but do not know more. When we try to explore a little bit we realise that it is an interesting place.

There is also a gap between generations. I see Estonia as a modern country, but my parents saw it as the old Soviet country they knew nothing about. There is a huge difference between young and old people.

So clearly you had heard of Estonia and the capital Tallinn, but what did you know about Tartu?

Absolutely nothing! I only knew Tallinn. I simply Googled Tartu and read about the town to learn more.

Now that you have arrived, what have been your first impressions of Tartu and of our team?

I feel that Tartu is very dynamic. In France a town of the same size is less dynamic. It will not have a vibrant cultural life or many cultural events happening. Here there is a lot to do. The team seems very efficient. You have a lot of stuff to do and you have to do it very precisely. In France, the working culture is different. We always have a lot of ideas, but there is less focus on practicality or implementing those ideas, making them a reality. Perhaps there is less focus on idea generation here, but you are more fixed on creating. You take more time, but you are more precise. That is my impression.

Have you noticed any similarities between your hometown Pau and Tartu?

I see a lot of similarities! The concept of “Arts of Survival” is relevant in my hometown and region too. My home town is of similar size to Tartu and it is the heart of the region with a strong identity. Both regions have strong identities and a specific cultural background. Another common point is that both regions and towns are not well known in Europe and the world. They both deserve to be more popular. The people may not know much about both regions now, but when they learn, they are very impressed.

What are your goals during your stay?

I really want to discover the culture of the country and the language. It is very hard now, but it is one of my goals to go deep into the local culture. The Estonian language is very hard. I try to identify words in conversations I know, but there are more words that I don’t know obviously. But I am learning.

Now lastly, imagine that it is the summer of 2021 and you’re about to leave. What do you think that you will have achieved by then and what do you hope to take with you?

I’d like to take with me a new way of working, I think. A new language as well, I hope. Also to be more open minded. And I think I will be sad and disappointed when I leave, because I will undoubtedly meet many people who will become a huge part of my life here in Tartu. When I leave I will definitely want to come back.

What is the European Solidarity Corps

The European Solidarity Corps is a European Union youth initiative, which aims to create value-based opportunities for the youth to participate in projects that benefit the society. The programme supports volunteering activities, traineeships and jobs.

The founder of the project, which brought William to Tartu Lemmit Kaplinski introduced the “European Solidarity for Partnerships” project. “Our project brings together three or more volunteers, who will work in different organisations (Tartu Nature House, TYPA, Tartu 2024, Tartu Art School etc.) in Tartu,” said Kaplinski. According to him, the objective of the volunteers is, in addition to supporting their organisations in their daily work, to carry out joint activities, which would combine the knowledge, skills and opportunities of the different institutions to instill new cooperation forms.

“I hope that William learns and develops as much as he can. In conclusion, William’s contribution will help to make Tartu 2024 more diverse and contentful and to share our experiences with engaging with volunteers with the wider European community” stressed Kaplinski, who was elected as the Chairman of Tartu City Council

in February.