Going Beyond Stereotypes through Volunteering

08.07.2015

Written by Jone Argintxona, EVS volunteer 2014-15  with the “Whispering to WIld Horses” project.  Jone has been working primarily in the Fountain of Hope after-school center in Panatau.  

If we think about it, where does the image that we have of one culture or another person come from? What about the idea we have about a whole country? We can say that in our countries we have stereotypes of our neighbouring countries because of what happend in the course of history or even within our own countries, but today the most powerful tool behind the construction of stereotypes is the mass media. When we look at the news, advertisements, films, etc., all are full of cultural stereotypes which we use to judge or comment on one culture or another. They give us preconceived notions about whether a country is dangerous or no and we judge the traditions that have, how they live,etc. In reality, you don´t know what a country is really like until you go there, so we build up an image based on the information that we receive through the media, not through our own direct experience.

When I was searching pojects for my EVS, I wasn’t too choosy about my destination country because I considered that it was more important to choose according to the project, not the country. However, there are always exceptions and one of the countries that I just didn’t even consider was Romania. I don´t know if this barrier was because of ignorance about the country or because of the stereotypes I had heard, but finally I put aside my fears and I thought, why not? I had the opportunity and I came to Romania.

Once accepted as a volunteer for AMURTEL Romania, I began telling my friends and at home that I was coming to Romania and everyone told me that I was crazy, and asked me what would I do there? They were worried and warned me to be careful, as it is a dangerous country. This made me realize how much we rely on stereotypes when we decide to go to one place and not to another. In fact, before coming I knew nothing about Romania, just that the capital is Bucharest and that for many years was under the Ceaucescu dictatorship. At the same time, this was also one of the reasons why I decided to come – in order to explore this part of Europe that it isn´t as well known, rather than going to the typical places. The stereotypes that I had of Romania were that people didn’t work so much, that there is a high population of gypsies, that they aren´t trustworthy people, and that it is a poor country. However, for me the reality has been completely different. What I have actually experienced here, is that Romanians are a nice people that are always willing to help, hard-working and trying to have a better life, a country with a huge potential, a very beautiful country and very rich in nature and history. Of course, there are still many things that can be improved in Romania, but I found out that for me, the stereotypes about Romania are erroneous. Of course, there may always be a few people that fit in the stereotype, but it is not the rule.

In my experience here, I was also able to meet people from many nationalities. Here again, I had stereotypes about each country and they also had stereotypes about me; the germans are hard working, the spaniards are always having parties, the french people are not nice, etc. However, when we really have the chance to live with different nationalities, it depends on each of us, and how open minded and tolerant we are. It is true that we all come from different cultures and of course we think differently and do things differently, but that´s the fun of living with other cultures. Rather than take something different as an attack we should take it as an opportunity to learn something new, something that we can learn or not.

jone cu copiii I have had the chance to have different experiences in different countries, as also I lived in Chile and visited other countries in America and Europe. I can say that my experiences have been really positive overall. We managed to reach an understanding whenever our cultures have been clashed, which is inevitable at some point. Solutions come when we show respect towards each other and are careful not to offend the sensibilities of others. We must always try to listen and reach a consensus. Of course the ability to get long with others begins with ourselves. If we start by not respecting the person next to us, it is natural that we will also not receive respect. We ourselves must be the first to extend respect if it´s respect what we want.