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Lara´s experiences of volunteering at Villa Elba

20 years old Lara Sönser from Austria recently ended her volunteering project “Greener Work in Villa Elba”. About a year ago, she decided to volunteer abroad through the European Solidarity Corps. After some time she found her place at Youth Center Villa Elba. Now she will tell about her wonderful experiences in Finland.

I was working in Nature School and the Service Side of the Youth Center

During my 9 months in Kokkola, I was mainly working in Nature School and the Service Side of the Youth Center, while also working on the Sustainability of the house. My work tasks were very different on a daily basis, from being outside with children during the nature school programs, doing office work, preparing the Sustainability Calendar, to helping with the maintenance of facilities.

Villa Elba is located a bit outside of Kokkola, a small town with about 40 000 inhabitants, located by the sea and surrounded by beautiful forests. Situated immediately next to the sea is Villa Elba, about 4 kilometers from the city center. This is where I have been living with other volunteers during my stay.

My work task in nature school mainly consisted of helping with the sponsored classes

These classes are children from different schools around Kokkola that come to visit for different kinds of nature programs in the forest. On other days, I was working on the Service Side, which meant that I was mostly helping with general chores that needed to be completed around the house, from helping with cleaning, to doing snow work and much more. Once a month, I wrote the Sustainability Calendar, to inform customers and workers about different kinds of topics in the form of a text that also contained some tips to help with this certain kind of environmental issue. 

The weather and the seasons look very different here in Finland

When I arrived in September, autumn was already coming and the leaves were slowly changing from green to a dark orange or red. During this time of the year in Finland, it is beautiful to bike through the area, walk through the forest next to Villa Elba, look at the sunset at the beach and watch the northern lights during the night. In November, winter starts to arrive slowly, a few snowflakes will turn into masses of snow everywhere, and soon the sea is completely frozen. The days are very short during the wintertime, it can get very cold and most of the time it is dark.

Of course, this kind of darkness can be tiring after a while, but the picturesque landscapes you can discover while traveling to Lapland, going ice skating and experiencing a very snowy Christmas makes it all worth it. 

The city center of Kokkola is very small, but it still has some nice things to offer

It is always nice to go to the local library, as they have a wide selection of English books as well as books in other foreign languages. You can spend your time at some of the very cozy cafes and browse through the affordable Second Hand Shops in Kokkola. A walk along the river through the local park is also a good idea on a warm day. During the wintertime, it is possible to go cross-country skiing, sledging and ice-skating. 

I met many amazing people and got to know the country

Throughout my project, I met many amazing people from all over the world, got to know the country better and traveled through Finland, Sweden and Estonia. Using English in my daily life for any kind of interaction, at work or with other volunteers and friends has definitely improved my vocabulary and grammar. Not only did my language skills improve, but I also learned to be more independent and solve problems on my own.

Moving abroad for the first time in my life has certainly changed me and influenced me on many personal levels and I got to know myself better throughout this project. 

Finland is the perfect country to experience a beautiful winter, as well as a very bright summer surrounded by the forests while being close to the sea. I made wonderful memories during my project, met amazing people and worked in many different fields.

I will return home with many memories and new experiences that have influenced me in so many wonderful ways. 


Writer: Lara Sönser, Volunteer at Villa Elba

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