An Unexpected Birthday Celebration

Birthdays are usually a time for celebration with friends and family, but what happens when you’re 3,160 km away from home on an 11-month volunteer project?

I knew I would celebrate my birthday in Poland when I enrolled in the project, and I knew I had to make the most of it. However, most of my plans were thrown out the window when I was invited to an important event taking place on that day.

I was invited to the Ogólnopolski Dzień Informacyjny 2024 (National Information Day) at PGE Narodowy, where I was asked to present my volunteer project during a panel discussion titled “International Volunteering and National Solidarity Projects”.

The event, organized by the
Fundacja Rozwoju Systemu Edukacji (FRSE), aimed to raise awareness and promote international educational programs. The event featured a variety of informative sessions, presentations, and informational stands led by experts in the field of international education, and attracted a large audience of attendees eager to explore the opportunities available to them.
Despite the event being primarily in Polish, I was given the opportunity to present in English, which I greatly appreciated. The audience was understanding and receptive, making the experience enjoyable and memorable.
However, I couldn’t help but feel a slight regret that my limited Polish language skills prevented me from fully engaging with some of the other stands and activities. This experience motivated me to continue learning the language and to become more immersed in the culture around me.

After our presentation, we had some free time to explore the event. There was a rotating camera that provided some comic relief, as we struggled to figure out how it worked. We also enjoyed a delicious lunch, which included a dish that made me feel a little closer to home: codfish, or bacalhau, a Portuguese favorite.

In the afternoon, we were treated to a tour of PGE Narodowy, the national stadium of Poland. As a football enthusiast, visiting the field, changing rooms, and conference room was a thrilling experience. The stadium was mostly empty during our visit, with just a small group of around 20 people. As we explored the vast space, the references to Portugal sprinkled throughout the tour evoked feelings of pride and nostalgia within me. The fact that it was my birthday made the experience feel even more personal, as if the day had been crafted especially for me. My excitement and happiness must have been evident on my face, because people were always offering to take pictures of me, which I gladly accepted.
I enjoyed hearing about the experiences of those in our group who had visited the stadium before. I was intrigued to learn that the stadium hosts more than just football matches and concerts. Unfortunately, the Polish-language tour limited my understanding of the stadium’s history and features, but this only served to deepen my appreciation for the challenge and adventure of being a Schuman Volunteer in Poland.

As the day came to an end, I returned home to celebrate my birthday in a more traditional way. Reflecting on the day’s events, I realized that what could have been a challenging day turned out to be one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. If you ever find yourself considering a volunteer project, don’t let the fear of missing out on celebrations like birthdays stop you. You never know what wonderful surprises may be in store.