First, let me introduce myself. My name is Hristina, I’m 28 years old, and I’ve been involved with the International Student Week in Belgrade since 2015. I am an introvert. I much prefer working on my own and have a very set vision on how things should be done. I have high expectations of myself and everyone around me. And yes, I can come off as intimidating and judgmental. Just being honest here. All these things are very relevant to my ISWiB experience, so bear with me.
In 2015, one of my best friends lured me into applying to volunteer at ISWiB. At first, I was adamantly against it. I didn’t like crowds, wasn’t really fond of socializing too much, and overall didn’t see the point in this whole thing. Now it’s 2020 and I’m still a part of ISWiB every year, so look at me eating my own words, right? Anyways, I applied and got accepted as a volunteer, and honestly had one of the best times of my life that year. All of my expectations were being proven wrong by each passing day, and I was loving it! The people, the activities, and that special energy you can’t really describe, that has to be lived to be fully understood. Once the festival finished, I felt this lingering mixture of happiness and sadness all condensed into an immense motivation to continue being part of this story.
In the fall of the same year, I applied to become member of the Organizing Board for ISWiB 2016. My goal was to get into the Educational Team, since that was where I believed I could be most helpful. I got accepted, and the saga began.
My first year being part of the Organizing Board was very rocky. Personal issues aside, I was overwhelmed not by the amount of work (although that was astonishing as well) but by all the inner and interpersonal work I had to do. Being in a group of 30+ people with completely different personalities, motivations and goals is very exciting at the beginning, but grows really heavy after a while. This was probably the most profound lesson I’ve learned through ISWiB. Once the novelty of things wears off, and you’re left with the technicalities of the last stages of preparations, you really are at the brink of giving up on everything. Everyone is annoying, annoyed, tired and frustrated by the struggles any youth organization in this part of the world has to face in order to get a project going. And yet, for the most part, we all stayed. Some because of the friendships we formed through fun and hardships, some because of a goal of seeing this project through. No matter the motivation, the team persisted. And then finally, the festival came.
When I tell you there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a project like ISWiB finally come to light, after nine months of prepping, I am not exaggerating. The first day of the workshops, which were my team’s assignment, I felt proud and fulfilled like never before. Proud of my team, of volunteers, of myself, of not having given up even though many times I was seriously considering it. None of that mattered. The festival was there, and looking at the smiling faces of our participants, knowing we were responsible for these smiles, was priceless. Seeing the bonds that were forming, this sense of friendship and unity, closeness, and diversity, oh my God, it was the best. And still is.
I remained part of the Organizing Board for two more years, as the coordinator of Edu Team. The coordinator position brought on more responsibility, but, funny enough, I was much more comfortable with this role than the previous one. I love being responsible and leading, so I was very much in my element. I also noticed how much I’d changed over the course of the previous year. How much more tolerant I’d become, how much more understanding I had for people who saw things in a different way. This trait of mine of being judgmental and thinking I’m above everyone else is something I work on every day, but I feel I’ve really made incredible progress with it as a result of being in the ISWiB story. I’ve changed, profoundly, and all thanks to this experience. If you commit to it, it is truly extraordinary and life-changing.
After ISWiB 2018, I decided it was time to leave the team. I was settling into my adult life, living alone, working, and finding myself in this new role after my student days were finished. I was committed to my two loves, languages and yoga, and was (and still am) lucky enough to make them my working professions. All was going super well, and then I got the offer of being a moderator for ISWiB 2019’s Yoga workshop. I was honestly surprised at how much fear and insecurity this brought up in me. I was afraid of failing and disappointing my team (I still saw them as “my team”, yes 😀 it’s an ISWiB thing). None the less, I accepted, deciding once again to get out of my comfort zone. Waaay out, in fact. I’ve never taught a workshop before, even though I was pretty experienced at teaching classes. Needless to say, it proved to be transformative on another level. It felt much more personal in a way, spreading the teachings of yoga from my point of view. It was scary and challenging, but ultimately so, so satisfying. I truly feel like I peeked into the souls of all of my wonderful, open and willing-to-be-vulnerable participants, and I can’t thank them enough for allowing themselves to open and share. I love you guys so much.
So here we are, amidst all of the uncertainty we’re currently facing, prepping for ISWiB 2020. I am once again teaching the yoga workshop, and by this point, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, but that one thing’s for certain: it will be different and amazing. And this is how I can summarize this whole story – it has been different and amazing. Challenging, insightful, transforming, gratifying, deep, happy. I am so grateful.