Mimi’s life at OCC and in Barcelona

Introduction

My name is Jamilla but everyone calls me Mimi. I am 20 years old and I am an ESC volunteer at OCC. I am British but I prefer to refer to myself as English; my mother is English, and my father is Palestinian. Unfortunately, I cannot speak Arabic, however, I have visited Jerusalem many times, where I have lots of family, and I am very proud to be half Arabic. I have an older sister and a younger brother.

I was self-taught at home for three years prior to working at OCC. While I was finishing my studies in my final year, I solo-travelled around Europe and the USA, which was an incredible experience. After every journey, I planned the next destination further away. I began travelling around England and then ventured to Europe and finally to the USA, which I believe is my greatest achievement yet. Travelling has made me more independent and boosted my love of visiting other countries. I have always had a strong desire to travel because of my mother, who is also widely travelled. I have visited many places since I was young and first travelled alone at seventeen. It was due to travelling by myself that I was considered for the position at OCC in the first place, given that I was initially thought to be too young. I started my ESC project in September 2019.

My personal objectives are various. A lot of them have to do with self-improvement. I am always striving for the very best from myself, sometimes I am accused of being a perfectionist, but it’s only because I am meticulous and analytical. I am extremely conscientious and always put maximum effort into everything I do. Before coming to OCC, I was quite shy, and my confidence has improved immensely. I want to challenge myself until I can be the very best I can possibly be and make a significant impact on the lives of others. Before I came to OCC, I will honestly admit that I had two main objectives: to live in Barcelona and to improve my Spanish. Living in Barcelona has been a dream come true for me. I had the ambition to live there and it happened! With regards to learning Spanish, it hasn’t gone exactly as I’d imagined. Being a perfectionist, I planned that I would land in Barcelona, work for 9 months and hopefully be fluent by the end of it, however, this was over ambitious and because I set such high standards for myself, I didn’t achieve what I hoped for. However, my Spanish has improved a great deal! With the pressure of feeling I had to learn the language quickly, feeling too anxious to attend classes, working in a predominantly English-speaking environment, as well as being in Catalunya, my plans didn’t succeed. However, I am proud that I can understand much more now than before.

My ESC Project

My sister undertook an EVS project in Berlin. France was my first choice for an ESC project, however, I was unsuccessful in obtaining one. I also wished to live in Barcelona, having visited twice before. My dream came true when I was successful in gaining a project with OCC. I also felt the project was perfect for me as I am a native English speaker, which suits the role of teaching English, and I am also half Arabic which has helped me integrate with the refugees.

Before I started, I had some insight into the European Voluntary Service from my sister. Naturally, I was anxious, especially as I am shy, I was also nervous to teach English but at the same time, excited and determined. One of the main objectives I had was that this project would be useful in improving me as a person. I had hopes it would help my confidence and make me more altruistic, and it did. In truth, I didn’t expect the organisation to be so relaxed and informal, and I am really pleased that it is. I also didn’t expect some of the volunteers and refugees to be one in the same.

My main role has been as the English teacher. Since September, I have been teaching English at beginner and intermediate levels to locals. In addition, from September to December, I taught English to refugee minors from Morocco. Then, from January onwards, I planned and participated in cultural activities for the minors once a week, for example, taking them to museums, the park etc. I was also given the role of being in charge of creating content and posting on the OCC Youth account. In addition to this, I help with administrative tasks such as typing the minutes of our weekly staff meeting, writing emails in English and managing expenses for volunteers. Only recently, I have been given more important roles such as helping to write projects and reports, as well as creating content for our website.

I don’t see my project as a job or just tasks to complete, but I find them all a pleasure to do and I love working at OCC so much. In hindsight, I wish I knew how much I would love being at OCC and tell my past self that I don’t need to worry at all because everything would be just perfect. Being quarantined now in the UK and not in Barcelona, I realise how valuable my time was at OCC and how, after several rejections for other ESC posts, everything turned out for the best. I appreciate how perfect everything was for me in Barcelona until the pandemic occurred.

The task that fulfils me the most is when I teach the minors. It really warms my heart to know that in some way I am helping them, and they are such lovely, genuine people who are incredibly respectful, and they are so innocently perfect compared to people of the same age in Western cultures. Even though they have endured so much in their lives, they still turn up to the lessons with smiles on their faces, and I feel so grateful that I get to teach them because it is something unique to me compared to the other ESC projects. Likewise, with my English students. Some of them I have taught from the beginning of my project in September, and although I am not the greatest of teachers, they are so kind and encouraging to me and I feel so thankful to have met them. When I teach them, it also boosts my self-esteem and makes me feel good about myself. I believe this will be the thing I miss the most when I leave.

Some of the tasks I have been given are what I wouldn’t expect someone my age and with lack of experience to undertake, however, I feel very proud and grateful that my manager believes I am responsible enough to carry them out. It makes me feel valued and important.

My life at OCC

In general, my relationship with OCC staff, volunteers and interns has been very good. I have a closer relationship with the volunteers than the interns (because the interns are always changing). My relationship with some of the volunteers has been close from the start and with others it has grown stronger along the way. I feel very lucky to be participating in a project alongside such lovely people who I feel are like my family and who have looked after and been so kind to me. I have some incredible memories of times spent with them and I would trust some of them with my life. They have made me feel comfortable and settled and have become, hopefully, lifelong friends. My relationship with the interns has also been good. Some interns I have grown closer to than others, but this is due to them constantly changing. The only issue I have found is that some interns have sometimes spoken to me in an authoritative and patronising manner, perhaps due to my age. This is something I don’t even experience from the management and I found it a little upsetting. I have not had a lot of contact with my manager, but whenever I have, he has always been very kind to me and attentive. I am mainly given tasks by my project manager who has been my main support throughout my project. She has been very sympathetic and understanding whenever I have a problem, I know I can turn to her to help me. I am also grateful to her for the amount of responsibility she entrusts in me and how she doesn’t patronise, belittle or treat me differently because of my age.

I have never felt more at home than when I am at OCC. It took me just two days to settle in when I would have predicted that it would have taken weeks or months. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have landed on my feet. OCC does not feel like a job to me, it is a pleasure. The people that you work with don’t feel like colleagues but a family, and everyone is so welcoming and hospitable. People are so kind and helpful, and you are treated as an equal and no one is left out. Having come from a school where there seemed to be groups of different statuses, OCC is a breath of fresh air where we are a team rather than individuals. I have genuinely never been so happy than when working at OCC. I feel like I have finally found my place in life, even if it is only for a year, and the positive aspects are endless.

I have experienced very few negative aspects while working for OCC. The main obstacles I have had to contend with is what I see as the inconsistency and imbalance in volunteers and interns relating to the tasks they are asked to complete etc. I think interns are given priority over volunteers e.g. they are given more important tasks etc. I have enjoyed the work I have been given whilst in lockdown and wish I had been given the same level of work when in Barcelona. There have been times when I, and other volunteers, have had just minimal work to complete.

In addition, I have often been asked to carry out tasks with no end result. Sometimes I have completed tasks and they have not been reviewed or used at all, and this gives me the sense that I have wasted my time and energy when I could have been focusing on other things. I think a lot of problems arise from some of the managers being very busy and they tend not to have the time to allocate substantial tasks.

My life in the apartment

I do not live in the same flat as the volunteers. When I was sent the details of the post, I was given the impression that I would be sharing the flat with the refugees who I would also be teaching. I did not realise that some of the volunteers are also refugees. Due to this misunderstanding, I chose to rent a room independently nearby. Perhaps this should be made clearer to future volunteers. However, I have often visited the flat to spend time with the other volunteers. I have sometimes regretted the decision not to live with them because I believe it would have made me closer to them, however, in hindsight it was the best choice for me personally and I think work needs to be separated from personal life. Being very independent and private, I don’t believe I necessarily would have been able to maintain this sharing a flat with people I work with. In addition, the conditions in the flat e.g. smoking should be reconsidered because it is unfair on passive smokers and I have often heard female volunteers complain about cleanliness.

My life in Barcelona

Before I arrived in Barcelona, I had already visited it twice, and it became my ambition to live there. I had no worries about living in Barcelona because it was a place that made me extremely happy and I felt like it was a second home. It has been easy for me to live there and I never had any concerns up until the coronavirus outbreak. I was determined that I would make the most of my time in Barcelona because it’s what I wanted so passionately. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has meant I haven’t been able to do all I intended to do. Because I am really independent, I have no problem doing things by myself. I have been out and about more than I have been in my flat. I just love being out in Barcelona, whether it is visiting a museum or going for a walk. I have walked to most places in Barcelona because for me it is a pleasure to walk around such a beautiful city. I have found all aspects of Barcelona fascinating because it looks so different to what I am used to in the UK. Major places are more easily accessible to get to than where I live in England or even in London which is much bigger than Barcelona. I have enjoyed visiting the main sights, but I have also visited art exhibitions, the cinema and places outside of Barcelona such as Tarragona and Salou, which were places that made me fall in love with Spain when I visited them a few years ago. I have lots of hobbies and interests, so I am always finding something to do. If I am in my flat, I play the piano (I brought my piano over from England), do some art, writing, learning Spanish, listening to music etc. All in all, I prefer to be out in Barcelona, especially because of the beautiful weather.

Since early on in my time in Barcelona, I have spent time out walking either alone or with some of the volunteers, who are very kind and caring and they are always great company. In general, I spent time at the volunteers’ flat too and I was always welcomed there. I also formed close relationships with fellow ESC participants I met on my training in Girona and Málaga. Together, we often went out at weekends and bank holidays, visiting places etc. I feel this is because they are closer in age to me and I also have more similar interests to them. In addition, I met an English man living in Barcelona whom I also spent some time with, and he invited me to some events. It also gave me comfort interacting with someone of the same nationality as me. At one point, I attended the International Church of Barcelona in order to meet like natured people to me, which was a comfort in rare moments when I had homesickness.

I lived with a Catalan girl and also worked with two Catalan interns, as well as the manager, Didac, however, apart from this I did not meet any Catalan people personally. If the truth be told, I think of Barcelona as Spanish rather than Catalan. I do not have a lot of knowledge of Catalan culture or language and in fact, at times, I have often confused Catalan with Spanish. I appreciate the idea of Catalunya and Catalan independence, however, in my eyes, Spain is the country to which I applied to carry out my project. Catalunya is merely a matter of political opinion and should not impact the project.

For the future

In September I will be going to Paris to study at the University of London Institute in Paris where I will be undertaking a degree in French Studies. Another of my dreams, since I was about 12, is to be fluent in French. I hope to return to Barcelona, maybe during the following summers, so that I can make up for lost time. I also hope to continue with my travels. There are still so many countries I still want to visit, and also many places I want to revisit.

As I mentioned before, my main objective is to be fluent in French. I also hope to revisit Barcelona. I feel as though I have lost so much precious time due to the coronavirus and that my time in Barcelona is not complete. I am determined to return again because I really do consider it to be my second home. My time in Barcelona is not finished yet.