Have you ever volunteered abroad? Being a volunteer in Tunisia shares incredible chapters in my life: teaching, travelling, making waves, challenging my biases and making friends. But nothing was as ordinary as it seems. And it all happened in just 5 months.
How Do you Volunteer in Tunisia?
Let’s start with the beginning: I have not chosen Tunisia, Tunisia chose me! Five months that felt like five years. I went to Tunisia as an AIESEC volunteer for three months, but I stayed two more. Just before this program was offered to me, I received an offer to India. And when to confirm, I panicked thinking I can’t go for 6 months to India all by myself. So I backed down. At the same time, I had an interview for an internship in Paris. But I failed because I didn’t speak French. I was going through a rough patch, my personal life was a mess, so I had to escape. The invitation came, and after the interview, I accepted the offer.
The whole month of September, I will share 30 stories with you. One story each day. You will find out how I travelled, what countries I called home and how many times I repeated a travel in the same place. But most importantly, you will get to know my comfort zone stories. Would you share yours?
It was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome (at the time) and as difficult as things felt, I would do it all over again in a second. You know I’ve talked about it on my podcast, Travelling Inside Out, right? But believe me, you will want to listen to those two episodes. Why? How else are you gonna learn about the insanity of having the Tunisian version of Don Corleone as a landlord, about being catcalled on the street every single day, being the only woman in a bar and so much more?
teaching English in Tunisia
It was October 2012, two years after the beginning of the Arab Spring and the Tunisian Revolution. Since then I’ve written about my experience a lot: on my Romanian blog, on IG – when I used to update it -, and on my personal Facebook account. So what can I say now, to sum up my life in the North African country? It was my first time teaching English and I was very worried that I won’t be good enough. Another comfort zone threshold was pushed farther away.
And even though my English wasn’t the best, my bubbly personality really made my students happy with me. After the first week, I got congratulated by my boss. My life as a teacher started then and it continued years later after coming back to Romania. It was not easy at all. For example, I didn’t speak French. So I had to use google translate quite often to make them understand what I was trying to teach them. It was frustrating at times when students would just tell me they want to learn how to speak. They don’t want grammar or vocabulary. Haha, very wax on/wax off moment.
Making International Friends
The most important thing that came from my Tunisian life was friends. I am not just saying this. In fact, it’s been almost 10 years since going to Tunisia and, even after so many years, there is still a WhatsApp group with the people I shared the apartment with. In fact, one of them visited me in Romania from Singapore and I visited some of them on my trip to South America. But more about that in a future article.
I stayed in the same house with people from literally everywhere in the world. Antarctica was the only place we haven’t covered. I will always remember the time we spent together and the way we stand up for one another. And when the winter holidays came, we had each other. The best international family one could ask for.
Travelling in Tunisia
As I mentioned, my volunteering was happening in Sfax. So in a way, we were closer to some amazing attractions. But at the same time, I have only visited Tunis in my last two days in the country. My favourite spot was… surprise, surprise, an island! Hahaha! What is it with me and islands? Kerkennah is the place where I spent the Romanian National Day, New Year’s Eve, and my birthday in March. I sooo wanna go back there.
As part of the AIESEC program, we were offered two trips included in the price. And one was for two nights in Sahara! Do you remember how the world was supposed to end on December 21st, 2012? I know, I know, we have been through so many ends of the world by now that the date might seem redundant. Well, if that would have been the end, I did have an amazing time. So not a bad way to go. Except I had a lot more to live since then. Back to the travels, we visited Jebil National Park and other places in Sahara, but also Sousse and Monastir outside of Sfax.
This intense Tunisian experience asked for two episodes of Travelling Inside Out. So in this second part, I also mention the incredible and unexpected connection I had with my students. Girls would confine in me like never before. Maybe they really didn’t have anyone else they could talk with. I have also talked how I annoyed the representatives of the organisation so much that they threaten to be expelled home. All that and more:
Challenging My Biases
Before even living in Turkey, I have to admit I was scared of people different from me. Especially people coming from a specific area of the world. But at the same time, I hated it when people would judge me just because I was born in Romania. And I really wanted to face my fear. Living in Turkey was a great transition while moving to Sfax in Tunisia was for sure going the extra mile. Did I chew more than I could handle? Probably. Did I make it work in the end and learned more life lessons in the end? Absolutely!
What is your biggest comfort zone challenge story?
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