Mein freiwilliges Jahr in St. Pölten

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Gloria war von Juni 2021 bis April 2022 als ESK-Freiwillige in der Organisation Green Steps in St. Pölten tätig.

Hello! My name is Gloria, I come from Italy, and I have been an ESC Volunteer for 10 months in St. Pölten, from June 2021 to April 2022.

I have been volunteering for a no profit organization called Green Steps STP, which has two more branches in Shanghai and Seoul, and it aims to connect people with Nature! This is done by focusing on environmental education on children, but also by training nature guides, and developing an online platform called ARK to create a Global impact.

It was my first time working for an international organization, and I enjoyed having colleagues (remotely and locally) from all over the world! I felt included from the very beginning, even if I could not speak a word of German, since all my colleagues were happy to explain me anything I needed in English. At the end, I mainly learned German from going to afternoon classes, and I am glad that starting from zero I have now reached the A2 level.

To keep an order in such a complex international team we were using many different tech tools, and my first challenge was to learn how and when to use those! I have never been a good “friend” of technologies and at the beginning I felt a bit lost, so that I was surprised to see that in a couple of months I was able to move confidently between them.

Part of my tasks in Green Steps was to create local events in STP together with my tutor. Since we worked on environmental education, our locations were local natural parks and longer routes in STP; the activities mainly focused on trees, since these are fixed organisms that can be found in the same place at any time of the year. I have to admit that, even if I am a biologist, my studies had always focused on tropical habitats or on animal behavior, so that identification of Austrian trees was a new topic for me. However, I loved learning about trees and see their seasonal changes…looking at their leaves and fruits, and then only trunks at wintertime, and now new leaves and flowers! When I started, I was not able to distinguish between trees’ families while now I can see the differences in species within the same Genus!... other than trees I have also got a deeper understanding of local birds and insects.

Another part of my work was to work with children, and last fall we participated to the NÖKISS, the largest kids’ festival in Austria. We had hundreds of kids visiting us, and we prepared for them activities like treasure hunts, with trees, flowers, and insects. In my past I have only been babysitting small kids for short time so that participating to this kind of festival was a totally new experience for me. I enjoyed designing the games and then see how the kids would engage into those activities. We had kids of any age group, from 1 to 12 years old, and it was interesting to see the way their focus changed based on the age and how differently they learned.

During winter, due to the rigid temperatures and Corona situation we did not have many opportunities to work with children except for trash collection once a month. Thus, we moved our focus on the development of our online platform (ARK)and a film program for adults. I became more and more familiar with the platform by using it to create events and courses, and I was promoted to the role of regional mentor with the ability to onboard new communities! But what I have found even more interesting was to participate to the ARK design calls and be able to give feedbacks on the development and design of new functionalities.

The film program instead, consisted of 12 documentaries about Ecological psychology and the connection between the human crisis of our modern society and the climate crisis. All the documentaries were extremely interesting, exploring new topics and showing alternative ways to modify and improve our environmental behaviour.

In the winter months, I also became a certified Green Steps Nature Guide by following a course in which I have learned a lot about the Montessori method and how to prepare activities for children following her philosophy.

Other than volunteering for Green Steps, during my time in Austria, I also had the possibility to go hiking, skiing, I participated to a climbing course for beginners, and I could visit nearby cities like Vienna, Krems, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Budapest, and Munich. I have also taken part of the Action Leader Training with Generation Earth, where I met a lot of local new friends.

At the end of my volunteering experience, I have got the offer to stay as an employee for Green Steps, and I was happy to accept it! Last week the new ESC volunteer has arrived, and I am glad to be his mentor and I am looking forward to starting this new journey with him!