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Elena Fiorotto: the story of a volunteer in Lithuanian Culture Institute

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(or: It all has started from being stuck between the doors of an ancient trolleybus)

Before coming to us as a volunteer of an European Voluntary Service (EVS), Elena already had much experience in changing cultural backgrounds: she was studying foreign languages and literature (English, Spanish and French) at the University of Padua, then as an Erasmus student she had a chance to study at Strathclyde University in Glasgow for one year. After graduation Elena has decided to continue her experience abroad and has moved to Edinburgh where she found a position as Marketing and Communication Trainee at Italian Cultural Institute in Edinburgh. After the traineeship Elena has worked as a part time Library Assistant at Leith Library for Edinburgh City Council. While being in Scotland, Elena volunteered in a lot of different festivals, art exhibitions, museums.

After six months of Elena’s volunteering at Lithuanian Culture Institute she became a true member of our family, whom we miss already and wish her the best of luck in future! Please read an interview with Elena, which was made after she has left Lithuania.

What were your expectations before going to Lithuania?

I decided to do this internship in Lithuania because I really loved the project. It sounded like the perfect match with my interests. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about Lithuania. I didn’t have any expectations about it. I started researching and reading about this country and I was curious to try myself with a new and unknown language.

My first weekend in Lithuania was really nice; the sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold. However, it was February and the cold weather showed up soon enough. I had the chance to experience -26, some snow and a lot of rain. Quite a challenge! But you soon get used to it (and you start drinking an incredible amount of hot tea).

My first day at the Institute didn’t start very well. I took a trolleybus, the old style one, and I was stuck on the doors. I was screaming for help and luckily an old lady told the driver to stop and open the doors. After that, I realized that I was going in the wrong direction, so I had to get off and change. But in the end, I reached the Institute safe and sound and in time.

I didn’t expect to integrate so quick with all my colleagues. I was really curious to learn as much as I could, and everyone was happy to involve me in their activities. Moreover, we were all women in the office and the group was really united and supportive. They organized a welcoming dinner for me. It really meant a lot, I felt accepted and welcomed, like being part of a big family.

How could you summarize your work in Lithuanian Culture Institute?

Lithuanian Culture Institute promotes Lithuanian culture abroad and presents to the Country the most famous and talented Lithuanian artists and writers who live and work abroad. Moreover, it hosts the main offices of two European projects (Europe for Citizens and Creative Europe). For this reason, the activities and projects that it promotes are very numerous and different. I really enjoyed seeing behind the scene of this cultural institute. Culture needs a lot of practical work I have realized. The amount of time spent to plan and organize is incredible. I was really lucky to join this amazing group of women. I had a privileged point of view from which I discovered Lithuanian culture and history. Moreover, I learned that it is possible to work in a big group and support each other. All my colleagues were really open, curious and interested in learning more about me and Italy. We organized different lunches and dinners all together. They also decided to use English during the office monthly meetings. I felt like part of the team and I was happy to help.

Have you lived through certain stages of adaptation?

The adaptation to the new country, culture and job has been gradual. The first days I only knew my flat mate, but after one week in Lithuania I had the on arrival training organized for all the European Voluntary Service (EVS) volunteers. There, I met a lot of people and some of them are my friends still now. That training helped my social life a lot. Another thing that has really improved my stay in Lithuania was the language course. Since I started it, I became more and more confident with the place around me. It took time and patience, but in the end, I was able to create my own routine. At the Institute, I tried to be as much flexible as possible, taking any task as a chance to discover new things and adding a personal touch.

What professional activities were useful and interesting to you?

During my staying at the Institute, I really enjoyed updating Twitter. It was great fun to express the main idea of your article in a very short sentence. I also really enjoyed writing and translating articles for the Institute’s English web page. I had the chance to see how an email marketing campaign is created, and I learnt a lot about culture communication, dissemination and promotion. I became really confident in my writing skills, but more importantly, I discovered that I really enjoy this part of the cultural sector.

What projects were the most interesting?

Two were the projects that really interested me. The first was the Vilnius Book Fair. This is the most important book fair in all the three Baltic countries. It was an amazing experience. I helped organizing the tasks of the volunteers and it was so nice to see how everyone was proud to take an active part in the event. I had the chance to discover Lithuanian literature and to understand better its culture. The second project that really interested me was called POP UP. That project involved art students, professors and artists from the UK, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The students were required to create an illustrated short story with the help of a foreign artist. I was able to follow all the different stages of this project. I saw the Lithuanian short stories taking shape and I took part in different meeting on how to promote this project in the four countries involved and also all around Europe. All the short illustrated stories will be presented at London Book Fair in 2018.

What was boring?

If I have to be honest I was never bored at the institute. Maybe the least interesting thing to do, but really really useful for your career, was to update facts and figures of the different European Projects. Anyway, I gained much more confidence with Excel documents and I got to know really in depth the projects. It is a perfect way to integrate yourself and acquire practical knowledge. To be honest, the amount of work to do was never too stressful. Some days, when the office was empty because a lot of colleagues were abroad attending book fairs, the things to do were not many. However, it’s up to you to keep yourself busy. The EVS programme is a chance to reflect on yourself and on your career path and also a way to experiment. So it is good to have some time to research the things that interest you the most.

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