Hooray, you (almost) graduated! But what now? Nowadays it is not that easy to find an interesting job without any relevant work experience. And it is not that easy to find a paid internship either. You may have come across many attractive international internship possibilities, but often they all have the same disappointing conditions: you will not get any salary and you will have to pay yourself for the journey and your accommodation. For those among us who do not have the necessary financial resources for such an unpaid internship but who do want to work abroad for a year or less, the European Voluntary Service (EVS) is an excellent alternative.
What is the EVS?
The European Voluntary Service is an EU funded programme giving young people the opportunity to gain full-time work experience for a non-profit cause in a foreign country within or outside of the EU. The programme has been adopted in 1998 by the European Community in order to foster solidarity and mobility among young Europeans. As from 2014 it falls under the broad umbrella of Erasmus+. This name can cause some confusion, as ‘Erasmus’ used to refer to only one specific programme of the current ‘Erasmus+’, namely the one about studying abroad. Today the different EU programmes for education, training, youth and sport are all part of Erasmus+. You can receive financial support for more than just one programme. So if you have already been on Erasmus during your studies, it doesn’t mean that you cannot apply for an EVS.
The only conditions for applying are that you are between 17 and 30 years old and resident of a Programme Country. It is not necessary to have finished your studies, but for the more interesting projects it may be an advantage in the selection procedure. You can choose projects of a duration from 2 weeks to 12 months and you will receive reimbursement for your journey, free board and lodging, insurance cover and a grant. For long-term projects, the monthly grant can vary between 100 and 400 Euros, depending on the living standard of the country you are in and on the option of receiving money for food or eating without costs at your accommodation. The whole idea is that you are able to work and live abroad without any necessary personal expenses. The only thing you may have to pay is a small part of your travel costs. For a list of the Programme Countries and more information about the subsidies, make sure to check the Erasmus+ Programme Guide. At the end of your EVS, you will receive a Youthpass. This is a certificate from the European Commission which ensures that the learning experience gained through your EVS is recognised as an educational experience and a period of non-formal learning.
There is a very wide range of organisations offering EVS opportunities. What they all have in common is a non-profit cause and the aim to contribute to strengthening social cohesion and promote active citizenship. The best starting point for your search for an interesting project is the database of EVS accredited organisations. In this database you can find all the organisations who are able to employ an EVS-volunteer. You should know in what sector you would like to work, or else the offer can be overwhelming. In the research options, you can choose between many different organisation topics, such as ‘EU citizenship, EU awareness and democracy’ or ‘rural development and urbanisation’. You then get a list of organisations which offer opportunities in that field of work. This way you can form an idea of which kind of project you would like to support. If you already have a country of destination in mind, you can further limit the search results. Normally the organisations have running projects for which they regularly seek new volunteers, but it is possible as well to discuss starting your own project.
You can also take a look in the database of volunteering opportunities, which shows running projects from EVS accredited organisations that are at this moment actively looking for new volunteers. However, the offer here is much smaller, because it is a new database and many organisations are not using it yet.
How to apply
The process of becoming an EVS volunteer can seem a bit obscure. You will need to contact at least two organisations: a sending organisation and a receiving organisation. The sending organisation, from the country you are resident in, is in charge of sending you abroad and organising all practical arrangements. The receiving organisation, in charge of hosting the activity, is the one you will be working for. In some cases there can be even a third organisation: a coordinating one. This is the case when the receiving organisation uses another organisation to select the volunteers and provide the practical support, like organising trainings and paying you your monthly grant for long-term projects.
This can sound confusing, but it is in fact very simple. It may be so that you happen to be member of a local youth organisation that is accredited for sending out EVS volunteers, such as a scouts organisation. If not, you can simply contact your Erasmus+ national agency which will then put you in contact with a general sending organisation accepting everyone who is motivated to do an EVS. As soon as you have arranged this, you can start to contact receiving organisations from the database and send out applications. As a matter of fact, you can also already do this before having a sending organisation, but in most cases you will get the reply that only candidates with sending organisations will be considered.
Once you have been accepted to a project, your sending organisation will get in touch with the receiving one and make sure your contract and other formalities will be in order. It is recommendable to start applying several months before the starting date of the project of your choice, because the paperwork can take some time. At the beginning of the project you have to follow a general EVS training somewhere in your destination country, which will help you to get to know fellow EVS volunteers.
My Personal Experience
From September 2013 until July 2014 I worked as an EVS volunteer at the International Relations Office of the University of Pau, in the south-west of France. For me, the application process went smoothly. As a resident of Belgium, I first contacted Jint, the Dutch-speaking Erasmus+ national agency of Belgium. They referred me to Joetz, a sending and coordinating organisation always willing to help motivated people in their search for EVS and other international project possibilities. I then started sending out applications. I was mainly interested in projects related to the EU’s Erasmus programme and preferably wanted to work for a university in Spain or the south of France. In the database I found several universities and university associations accredited as receiving organisations. I first send my motivation letter and CV to two Spanish universities, but one did not answer and the other was not that interested. I then contacted a project at the International Relations Office of the University of Pau, and there I got accepted. The coordination of this project was done by Pistes-Solidaires, they are still coordinating the project at this moment.
The main tasks of my EVS were providing general support in the Erasmus-programme and founding a section of the Erasmus Student Network. It was not always easy, but by the end of my EVS I succeeded in the founding of ESN Pau-Bayonne. For me, my EVS was a very enriching experience. I gained some valuable work experience and made a lot of new international friends. My experiences at the International Relations Office gave me the motivation to get a supplementary Master’s degree in the field of International Relations and Diplomacy upon my return to Belgium. The EVS is a great plus on my CV and I recommend it to everyone looking for a way to get engaged in an international project with financial aid.