Alberto Arletti reviewed his experience with IFC in July and August last year:
“Summer 2019 had to be something different for me. Something different to all other summers spent lazily at the same old beach where nothing never really happens. I wanted something new, something challenging, where I could push my limits and have a little bit of adventure. IFC came to me as a stroke of luck while studying (napping) at the university library. A group psychology-based volunteering placement in a foreign country: it had all what I was looking for. So, I applied immediately. A couple of emails and a brief interview later and I was signed in for a summer that I will never forget.
I remember being on the plane and nervously asking the girl next seat how to read the rather bizarre Bulgarian alphabet, full of letters that looked different but sounded to me all the same. I landed in Sofia, the capital, and crossed the country to reach Veliko Tarnovo wondering what that coming month had in store for me.
I met my teammates, very bright, like-minded students with a passion for psychology, as well as our beloved coordinators Mirela and Nezhda, who proved to be some of the most reliable and mature young leaders I ever had the pleasure to meet. A comment must also go to the kindness, availability and hospitality that met us at the city. Top Bulgarian officials as university professors, health representatives and even the town major took their time to greet us and thank us for our contribution. Meeting these people not only made my contribution feel valued, but really made me understand the value of the volunteering we were going to make. We were going to have an impact.
Mirela made sure we didn’t go straight into volunteering without proper training first. She made sure to extensively expose us to lecturers by dedicated experts in the psychological disciplines related to the volunteering work. The next volunteering activity would be about disability in children? Here is a lecture from an expert in child development. Tomorrow an encounter with adolescents? An experienced psychotherapist is there to give us advice. Mirela always had our backs covered, in every step of the process.
Most of the learning happened outside of classrooms, during our activities. We interacted with the Bulgarian health system in many points, met professionals on the field, interacted and helped people of all ages who genuinely benefited from our presence, and got to put to practical use our academic knowledge in psychology. Our time in Bulgaria was little less than one month, very short, but enough to leave a smile, a happy thought, a memory to the people we visited.
More than just that, my summer with IFC gave me challenges. Entering a room with someone who is in suffering is not an easy thing to accomplish and requires personal capacity as well as training. With IFC I witnessed many personal stories, like the one young girl victim of schizophrenia, mad at a world who abandoned her in an orphanage, who took football as a very healthy strategy for coping with stress. Or a middle aged man lying in a hospital bed, who kept optimistic and smiling although his heart was fatigued not only by age but also by the psychosomatic effects of stress.
Through these encounters IFC taught me a lesson in respect, humility and human kindness. In a way, every person I met gave me much more that I gave them.
But don’t get me wrong, that month wasn’t all work. Mirela had made sure that your stay in Bulgaria has plenty of opportunities to relax and to enjoy the local cuisine and culture. Bulgarians are very friendly and will always spare you a drink or some хляб (the Bulgarian bread which I am sure you will get to know). And you will bond with your teammates! Nothing facilitates more lasting friendships than going through a volunteering experience in a foreing country where few people speak English (that, and a lot of cheap drinks).
I can’t really think of many reasons why you shouldn’t embark on this journey. I mean, if you still think that staying at your local beach is more fun, just remember that people travel from very far away to enjoy Bulgarians’ beautiful coastlines!
And, on a professional outlook, this experience will look tremendously good on your CV and will give you a boost in your career with much sought hands-on experience in the psychological field (universities love to keep students in libraries, far away from the action!).
And finally: in Bulgaria prices are terribly cheap compared to, say, England!
I hope that my words encourage you to take the leap and enjoy one of the best summers of your life. The thousands years of history of Veliko Tarnovo, the medieval architecture and the nostalgic eastern bloc atmosphere alone, are, in my opinion, worth the travel. But I promise, your month in Bulgaria will be much more than just that. It will create timeless beautiful memories for you to revisit countless times in the future years to come.”