Stowarzyszenie Projektów Międzynarodowych „INPRO”

Who is an EVS mentor?  

By Sofie Löfdahl Nielsen , EVS volunteer in INPRO

Justyna Chmiel in Barcelona, June 2018

This week I am interviewing Justyna Chmiel on her role as a mentor for an EVS volunteer (in this case, me).
Being a mentor might seem like a small job, but for the volunteer their time and effort are critical. So, I am sharing Justyna’s story in hopes that her words will inspire others to become mentors as well.

So Justyna, what have you been up to these days?
Well, I’m currently taking a vacation. This year I’ve been to Slovakia, Austria and Spain and I am planning to go to the Netherlands this September. My word of advice is: When you are still young – travel – you may not have this opportunity later in life. I’m also trying to spend more time with my family in the countryside and with my friends in Rzeszów. And to top it all off, I’m also your mentor!

Yeah, that’s true. And you’re doing a great job! What made you decide to become a mentor?
It all started one Wednesday in March 2017 when I attended my first Open Cafe meeting. My best friend told me there was this event in Rzeszow and encouraged me to go there as well. I made many good friends thanks to Wednesday’s Open Cafe and Monday Stories. It’s a pity these meetings have come to an end. But, some of the participants still meet every Wednesday in Rzeszow market square to chat and hang out. I attended Open Cafe almost every Wednesday and this is the reason why INPRO asked me to become a mentor for 6 months. To be honest, I was surprised that they had noticed me coming every week. So when they asked me, I could have answered “why?” but instead I thought to myself “why not?”.

And what motivated you become a mentor?
Above all, it is an opportunity to learn English and use it every day. It’s also a chance to meet new people and make new friends. I have always been interested by people from other countries and getting to know their habits. I enjoy getting to know other cultures by interacting with people. And one thing I really like is seeing how foreigners speak Polish. We had a lot of fun on the way to Rzeszow when I was trying to teach you some words!

Haha, that is true! I still can’t pronounce some of those words, but hopefully in six months I’ll be good. Are there any challenges being a mentor? I hope I’m not too demanding!
Haha, no of course not. Being a mentor is not as difficult as it may seem. You just need to help your volunteers when they are in need, for example translating something from Polish to English. Sometimes you have questions that I don’t have an answer for. But, this is a challenge I  have to solve on my own or I ask the other mentors for help. So being a mentor challenges me to explain things which are sound like common sense to me.

Can you tell me three things that are important for you to show an EVS volunteer in Poland?
First, I would say traditional Polish food! Especially pierogi, also called dumplings in English. Why pierogi? Well, I think because every foreigner loves this dish! I have not met a single one who has said they didn’t like it.

Second, Polish habits during Christmas. This time of year is a special time for family. Christmas traditions and habits make families spend more time together and strengthen bonds between relatives. We usually decorate a Christmas tree, prepare a special supper for Christmas Eve, sing carols, say best wishes to everyone and go to the Mass at midnight on Christmas Day. For this special supper we traditionally cook 12 dishes. Usually this contains: potatoes, cabbage, fish, dumplings with cabbage, dumplings with dried fruit, a compote made of dried fruit, bean soup and my favorite – borsch with dried mushrooms. Traditionally, we don’t eat meat on Christmas Eve.

And finally, as I have already agreed on with you – attending a mass in a catholic church. Every Sunday we listen to Bible fragments, take communion and sing religious songs. This all creates a feeling of community between the people gathered there. Especially at the moment of passing a “peace sign” to people around you. So whether or not you are Catholic, I think going to a mass in Poland is a good occasion to connect with locals and admire the churches’ religious canons, architecture and paintings.

Thank you so much for your time Justyna! This interview is just another proof of how much you help me out! I hope we will get to spend more time together during my stay in Poland.