The surprising challenges of my voluntary service in Madrid


¡Hola a todos! Me llamo Maria y soy de Estonia.

I’ve been here for less than two weeks but already confessed my love to two people by saying “te quiero”, accidentally… The first was at my new home talking to one of my flat-mates, asking if she would like some food, instead of “¿tu quieres?” And the second “te quiero” was to my EVS tutor when I wanted to ask him “¿te gusta?” when he was tasting some cheese I had brought with me from Estonia. The surprised look on his face… Can be pretty embarrassing.

Since my Spanish is not too good yet I’ve had several awkward situations here… when people hear me say “pollo” wrong or when I want to answer to some question in Spanish but can’t find the right words right away and so I look at the person with an intense goofy face for several seconds before being able to make some weird sounds… and then hopefully some words as well…

Thankfully the people here in Madrid are very open and offering to help at all times. Even if I can only say some Spanish-sounding words and move my hands a lot to illustrate the point where I’m trying to get at, people take time to peacefully listen and try to understand. I’ve noticed that the relaxed and cheerful attitude is definitely a keyword for Spain. I love it.

I was very excited about moving to Madrid and thought it would be all butterflies, rainbows and unicorns here. Ok, not really, but almost. The city is amazing and the country is amazing, it is true. But yesterday morning I found a gray hair on my head though, maybe it is just an odd timing of this natural aging process but truth be told, my experience here is not all butterflies and stuff. I’ve learned that moving abroad is a big challenge, in several ways.

The simplest things take me a lot of time. Like choosing food and cosmetics products at the store – I’ve gotten used to some certain brands and products that aren’t sold here and need to first invest a lot of time and effort into understanding the options here before I can go home with something that I need. Reading the products’ contents in small letters, investigating in a language that I’m not fluent in…

Another difficulty arises from not speaking the language when you need the language for work. So far my activities have been to publish some EVS offers on the organization’s webpage and answer to Spanish applicants’ letters. The computer and all of its programs are in Spanish, also the webpage’s editing environment, not to mention that the communication with Spanish applicants is in Spanish. Although it is difficult, it’s something I cherish because probably I’ll get quite fluent in Spanish during my EVS.

Living together with people from different cultures can also be challenging. Like, in Estonia it is prohibited to smoke indoors and since I don’t smoke, having smoker flat-mates can be problematic. Then again, when my flat-mate shares some traditional French pastry he made, knocks on my door around 22 to hand me a plate of fresh spring rolls he just made or gives me a piece of sugarcane (I had never seen it before)… it is an amazing cultural experience! (yes, food is definitely the way to my heart)

So the small things take a lot of energy and effort to adjust. But now that I’ve finally found the perfect shampoo, peanut butter, etc, I’m starting to fully enjoy my EVS here. Watch out, Madrid!

PS! If you are planning to go to Estonia for an EVS for example and want some more information about my home country, you are welcome to contact me at

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