Falling in love with the sea, the mountains and Greek culture

17.04.2009

Sibel Amet, from Romania, headed to Greece on a six-month volunteer programme when she was 23 – four years later, with the help of EURES, she’s a true local. Romanian Sibel Amet, now 27, arrived at the Peloponnese city of Kalamata in 2005 as a volunteer for a tourism programme, via the European Voluntary Service (EVS), a European Commission scheme designed to match young volunteers with foreign work experience opportunities. Having travelled widely in Greece and with some experience of youth volunteer programmes back home, she loved the idea of living there for a while. “I wanted to meet new people, get to know the country and experience another way of living. At first, I didn’t speak a word of Greek, but I didn’t let this deter me – and I started learning the language as soon as I got there.”

Sibel quickly fell in love with Kalamata: “The gods have been really generous to the Messenians, offering them both mountains and the seaside!” After her six-month placement ended in February 2006, she knew she wanted to stay longer, and started looking around for a job. After some Internet research, she found the EURES website, and quickly contacted the local EURES office.

Within just two weeks, her local advisers had helped her to find work. The Kalamata EURES office had been notified by the local Chamber of Commerce that the Messenia Association of Development and Improvement (ETAP) had a vacancy open for someone with language skills and experience in local development projects, so an interview was set up almost immediately. It was a great success, and Sibel, who is fluent in English, French, Romanian and now Greek, was hired immediately.

In March 2006, Sibel started working part-time on the coordination of local volunteer programmes focusing on tourism and sustainable development. She must have done well – at the end of the year her contract was extended and she moved to full-time employment. As if this wasn’t enough, in January 2009 she scaled down her workload a little at ETAP in order to take on work as a part-time event coordinator at the local European Direct Relay, a centre which offers information to the citizens on all sorts of issues related to the European Union. She sees her varied and full work schedule as a “unique experience” to meet people from many parts of Europe – “there is always something new to learn, and I never get bored.”

Nowadays, Sibel enjoys her life in Kalamata and feels completely integrated. “At the beginning it was a bit hard since it is a small community and the language was a barrier.” Little by little she befriended young Kalamatians who have travelled abroad and were more used to contact with foreigners. Through these initial friendships, she started meeting other locals and her Greek improved quickly. “Here, everybody knows everybody – and now they know me!”

Proof of this integration is the fact that Sibel works as a volunteer for several local organisations mentoring other volunteers coming from abroad. However, after nearly four years there, she still remembers how shocked she was at the beginning of her stay with the Greek ‘coffee ritual’, where hours pass by around a cup of coffee and a friendly chat. After a while, this halarah (take it easy) spirit captivated her as well, and she now considers herself a true local.

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