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Youth mobility work in Liège

My experience in Liège

Wednesday, 28th March 2017

My name is Paola and I work as mobility youth worker at VIEWS International. I started to participate in the project "VIP Awareness-raising on unemployment" this January, at VIEWS International's office in Liège. For the project, we co-operate with two Italian and two German organizations. The project will end on the 30th of April and will result in a brochure, a policy paper and some awareness-raising sessions.

I heard about this project last December from a friend. I had just finished a vocational training to become switchboard operator in the beautiful city of Bologna (Italy). I really didn't feel like going back home and stay idle while waiting for a job, so I decided to take control of my life and applied for the project. I really felt like turning over a new leaf and starting the new year with an enriching experience abroad, though it was not the first one. I wanted to learn a new language, have a different working experience and get to know new people and cultures. I was happy and anxious at the same time, because I didn't know what to expect. I was afraid I wouldn't manage to carry out the tasks they'd give me, but I tried to push the thought away. Therefore, it was my bravery which led me here. Now I'm almost at the end of my Belgian experience, and I can say I feel stronger than before.

After being accepted for the project, in January, I got everything ready and left in a matter of days. As soon as I arrived in Liège, I was positively impressed by the city and the country in general. The people working at VIEWS International were very welcoming and showed me the apartment where I'm still living. Working in the office wasn't very easy at first, as I didn't really know the project and the other people involved in it. However, things got easier as time went by. I started talking and co-operating with the other participants to the project: Theo and Nina, Belgian and German, respectively, who were sent to Italy as youth mobility workers; and Martina, a sighted girl working in one of the two Italian organizations. I mainly had contact with the three of them, whereas I communicated less with the other participants: it's not easy to communicate remotely, when there's also a language barrier to deal with.

From the very beginning, I started working on a brochure focusing on the employment situation of visually impaired people. Afterwards, we wrote a questionnaire and sent it to visually impaired people who work, study or are looking for a job in the three partner countries of the project. At the moment, we are organizing some awareness-raising sessions targeting employers: we want to make them understand that even people with a handicap can work and lead perfectly normal lives. In short, the aim of our project is to get a message across to everyone: be it employers, politicians or ordinary people: that visually impaired people are still endowed with skills and abilities, just like anyone else.

I must confess that it was quite hard for me to interact with people from different European countries: I don't speak English very well, and I've just started to attend French classes here in Liège; I get on very well with my teacher and I think she's extremely competent. Besides, there's an Italian girl who does an EVS at VIEWS International and lives with me. We get on like house and fire! I'm really lucky that she speaks Italian, at least we can communicate with no problem! Her name is Clara, she's from Rome and we're together a lot, doing many cool things here in Liège. Sometimes we also travel to other cities, both in Belgium and in The Netherlands. There are two other people working at VIEWS International: Tamara and Anca; I get on quite well with them, but I feel some kind of distance between us: they speak another language, and it's not easy to interact with them, either when they give me a task or when I have some problems. To be honest, I'm a bit disappointed, because it's clear that they only want to have a professional relationship with me; I would've liked to have a more friendly relationship with them even outside the office (going for a walk, having dinner or just a coffee...). I've often felt lonely here, and they've never really noticed it. I thought they'd be more empathetic with me, but I often felt abandoned.

It's quite tiring and frustrating for me to speak and understand another language, especially in a working environment; that's why I decided I won't have any other working experience abroad. I will focus on Italy, looking for a job and doing a lot of volunteering. I miss Italy, my small town, my family and friends... I'm really looking forward to going back home!

I don't like Liège at all: too many beggars, too many drug addicts asking for money... I was robbed twice, and I've been even assulted once, at the bus stop, at noon! In general, I didn't like Belgium either: the landscapes made me quite depressed, as well as the houses, dark and looking all the same. In Italy, everything is much livelier and more cheerful, including people. It's probably my sensitivity that makes me judge the place in a negative way... but it will be over soon. I can't wait to turn over a new leaf and start a new chapter of my life, which is beautiful, though quite difficult sometimes.

As far as the project is concerned, I've had more work to do in the past few weeks, as I had to finish everything before going back to Italy, on the 18th of April. I feel accomplished and I hope I did a good job together with my team.

I'm sorry I'll have to say goodbye to my friend Clara, but we'll meet again soon, in Italy this time, and everything will be great!