Kira Slobodina, originating in Russia, is a second-year master student of World Politics and International Relations at the University of Pavia, Italy. With the assistance of WorkSpace Europe, Kira took an Erasmus+ internship in the respected NGO and one of the biggest foundations in Slovakia, where she stayed for three months. In this interview Kira talked about her motivations to come to Slovakia, the biggest challenges that met her and her overall experience.
Kira, you have been staying in the non-profit organization Pontis as a trainee for three months. Why did you decide to take an Erasmus+ internship in Slovakia?
The truth is I did not search for an internship exactly in Slovakia; actually I found an organization in Brussels at first. However, I kept on browsing and eventually found a link on WorkSpace Europe website providing Erasmus+ traineeship vacancies in Slovakia. I really liked how it was written and organized, plus unlike other organizations of this kind, WorkSpace Europe provided their service for free. Besides, their approach was very serious, I could say due to several step selection process. After the first orientation interview with WorkSpace Europe, another interview between me and Pontis was mediated. When Pontis approved my application, I did not hesitate a minute and I cancelled the internship in Brussels.
Why? What was so appealing about this organization?
There were a lot of little details which all together made me to change my mind. Starting from the internship description, application procedure, flexibility with starting date, cost of life in Slovakia and so on.
As for Pontis itself, I really liked that they were not looking for a person who will be just making photocopies or sitting on a computer doing nothing. On the contrary, I would be responsible for a diverse types of tasks. It was also a great opportunity to get a work experience in a relevant nongovernmental organization. And that was exactly what I was looking for.
Were your expectations met?
Yes, absolutely. Personally, I felt welcome since the very first day. Everybody was nice to me and if I had any kind of question, I just went and asked. Professionally, I learnt how the nongovernmental organization such as Pontis works; I got to know more about project management, proposal writings, monitoring and reporting. Also, due to the articles and reports writing I was responsible for, I had to talk to different people working on various projects. That helped me to get a broader picture of the organization´s activities. They kept asking how I was doing and they were changing my tasks so I would not get bored.
What else had you been responsible for, besides editorial tasks?
There was a study visit of Pontis´s foreign partners from Belarus held in Slovakia and I had been a part of an organization team. Since my first language is Russian I could communicate with them and help to arrange the visit.
Later I also helped with organization of another visit of Russian-speaking guests for our CEE CSR Summit – the biggest and oldest event on corporate responsibility in Central and Eastern Europe organized by Pontis every year. It was indeed a wonderful event, I had a chance to learn a lot and to meet great people.
What was the biggest challenge during the internship?
Actually... I did not have any. Really, I got nothing to complain about. I enjoyed both the work and foreign country experience. Maybe the biggest problem I challenged, occurred prior to my arrival when I was looking for accommodation. It was not easy to find an apartment only for three months. Daria (Chriašteľová, former project coordinator in WSE, ed.nt.), offered me some help in case; though I kept trying to find something by myself. It turned out to be quite difficult and it took me a lot of time.
How did you succeed eventually?
I had some websites where I was searching for a room, but all the spots were either already taken or available for at least six months. I even posted an advertisement on Facebook, but I got only responses from guys inviting me for a beer (laughing). Finally, I got lucky; one Slovak girl posted she was looking for a roommate since the exact day of my arrival. I texted her immediately and although she also preferred someone for a longer time period, she agreed. It was worth it, me and my new flatmate became very close friends. She got me involved in many activities, took me to dance classes or to her hometown Martin. I got a chance to see Slovakia to see from more inside than if I was living with other foreigners.
Did you suffer from any kind of cultural shock after you arrived here, to Slovakia?
I remember the first phrase Karol (Ovesný, director of WSE, ed. nt.) told me after I arrived: “You are from Russia, so you won´t get intercultural shock, because we have a lot in common.” He was right but, I still got surprised though. Positively.
Everybody was very welcome. I saw that a lot of mostly elderly people were trying to speak to me in Russian. They did not remember much; but still, they tried and it was very nice of them.
I found food like smotana and tvaroh, which reminded me of Russia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian cuisine and I am not the type of person who comes abroad and keeps searching for the products that used to like back home. I was just kindly surprised when I found those things in here.
Besides, Slovakia is very beautiful. Not speaking about the prices – I was warned by my friends from France and Germany who also took internship in Slovakia, not to get used to it (smiling).
Good to hear you enjoyed your internship so much. How would you evaluate the communication and support from WorkSpace Europe?
I think it was great. I cannot evaluate the problem solving because as I said before, I got nothing to complain about. Prior to my internship I had some issues with delay in renewal of my Italian student residence permit documents due to which I had to postpone my arrival date for a whole month. However, Daria kept in touch with me asking for updates in the matter. After I came, she provided me some useful contacts, wrote down how to get to work, stuff like this. I could easily do it by myself, but she took care about it and it felt very pleasant.
Would you recommend WorkSpace Europe to your friends?
Yes, definitely. The approach of WorkSpace Europe was very serious. As I know from the stories of my friends, organizations of this kind usually do not provide so much support; you have to go through all the process by yourself. Here they made my arrival comfortable, as I mentioned earlier, Karol even met me at the airport, waiting with the paper with my name written. When he said he is a director I was like „Oh! It´s such an honour! Director comes to pick me up! “(Laughing)
What are your next plans after the internship?
To finish my university studies. I still have two exams left and I have to write my thesis. But... Don´t ask me about it! (Laughing)