European Voluntary Service – What is it really worth?

Since 2014, the European Voluntary Service (EVS) is one of the new components of the Erasmus+ program. It offers an opportunity to applicants aged between 17 and 30 to spend 2-12 months volunteering abroad, most often within the non-profit or non-governmental sector.

However, the EVS remains unknown to many young people across Europe. That might be one of the reasons why very few consider it as a valuable working experience, or even as a way into the job market. Moreover, the term ‘volunteering’ might come with a specific/negative connotation evoking a free time activity rather than something connected to professional development.

Whatever the reason might be, it seems that the European Commission is either putting little effort into spreading information about the EVS, or does a bad job at disseminating them. Certainly, this program has been left behind in terms of promotion, especially in comparison to the Erasmus+ exchange semester.

The promotion of the EVS usually depends on the local organizations offering vacancies. Increasingly, social media play a role too. Vacancies are posted in a number of unofficial Facebook groups, not only for the EVS, but also for a rising number of youth exchanges under the Erasmus+ program action.

Attitudes among young Europeans towards the EVS also vary considerably across EU member states and partner countries. Many young people in Germany – and presumably in other western European countries, view the EVS mainly as an opportunity to spend a gap year between high school and university abroad while improving their language skills. On the other hand, people from the central and eastern European countries approach the EVS more as a working opportunity, although the language aspect remains very important for them too.

Most interestingly however, especially young people in the EU partner countries (e.g. Ukraine, Moldova) have become increasingly aware of the EVS, since it constitutes a relatively easy way to be able to work in an EU country without complicated visa application processes. Interestingly, as opposed to volunteers from Western Europe, the young people coming from elsewhere are usually older (in their mid-20s) and hold either a Bachelor’s or even Master’s degree.

But what is it actually like to work as an EVS volunteer? Can it really be seen as a relevant work experience?

The EVS offers a lot of perks. The move abroad is made very easy, one could perhaps say as easy as possible. Everything from accommodation and address registration to insurance with unusually wide coverage is taken care of. This includes even assistance with buying tickets from one’s home country if needed. A financial assistance is also provided. While the exact remuneration depends on the country, it generally falls short only slightly of the earnings for most European interns or trainees. Maybe only someone who has already moved to another country to either study or work ‘on their own’ before can appreciate this to the full extent. Besides having the time to simply enjoy the new country, participants can take care of those aspects of the EVS which might not be as well organized.

Anyone who has ever taken part in an Erasmus+ exchange semester during university studies, or even in a short-term youth exchange mentioned before, knows that it involves lots of bureaucracy. This can lead to difficulties with regard to general organization, delayed payments, and a long list of other problems. This, of course, goes for most EVS stays too. While the above mentioned assistance when moving to another country might not always go as smooth and the application process can take up to one year, the main problem probably lies in the stay itself, which is governed by few rules given by the European Commission.

However, this ambiguity in the European Commission rules, as well as in the hosting organization requirements, might be exploited in favor of the volunteers. Participants can, to a large extent, shape their experiences themselves. With a proactive approach, it is feasible to focus on the tasks a person is interested in and over time gain more responsibility in the organization. The organizations are after all required to respond to the needs and wishes of volunteers, and there are quite a few channels available for participants to voice their concerns or complaints if needed.

In this sense, there is more pressure put on the ‘employer’ than in a conventional job or traineeship. Needless to say, for the things to go smooth, proper research about the hosting organization and clear communication of one’s goals and wishes before the arrival is crucial. There are a high number of organizations participating in the EVS program and it cannot be expected that all of them have been verified to meet certain standards.

It is clear that the EVS is a particular kind of working experience, which might or might not be well accepted by future employers. However, especially in times when entering the job market is becoming increasingly difficult for young people, it might be an option to enrich one’s CV and gain skills.

Working experience abroad in an international environment is something that has almost become a must nowadays. Add a great opportunity to practice a foreign language and the EVS starts to seem like the right choice. And whether or not the stay turns out as expected, how you will choose to sell your experience afterwards is entirely up to you!

image by Knokton, taken from flickr

One comment

  • Very nicely said! I look forward to more of your articles!

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