Meet Jan Muller – Our Belgian Intern, Balancing Between Office Work and Creative Activities

By Daria Howicka

After an exciting game evening in our cozy common room in the apartment for volunteers, Jan and I sat down and had a nice conversation. Of course we had to start somehow, so to warm Jan up I asked him to describe his experience in Varna with one word. Seemed to be easy, but apparently it’s not. The word – mind-blowing – was not rewarding enough according to him. We will go back to this later.

Jan, what did you know about Bulgaria before coming here?

That it is the poorest country in Europe, and that the standard living conditions are lower than in Belgium and that it is less developed in general. Well, it is not a nice picture, but look, he still decided to come. And that Sofia is the capital.

Yeah, Jan is good in making quizzes!

So why did you choose Bulgaria as your destination?

We got a list from our College with different destinations in which we could do our internship. The offer from Bulgaria in the Association FOR YOUY was the most appealing to me, actually it was the only thing that attracted me immediately.

There is one thing you should know, Jan is not an European volunteer in Varna, he is doing his internship here, which he has to do as part of his bachelor.

I wanted to do this internship because I thought it would be different from what I have learned at school. It is a different kind of work environment from the one I would work in after graduating considering my studies.

And what do you study?

Office management. There are four specializations, the one I have chosen is languages, intercultural networking and communication. So, after I graduate I can work in any office I want, of course it also depends on the sector, but for example in the logistic sector I would just have to do some additional course to learn some peculiarities.

So how have you been imagining your work here and how does it look in reality?

I imagined to work a lot with people with disabilities and with people who experience different kind of difficulties in life. I hoped to organize and to create events and different projects to help those people in some way. I have chosen this opportunity because It differs from my field of study. One part of my job includes workshops, I like the social context of it. It’s nice to have contact with people and to be able to be creative by giving my ideas for the workshops.

As an intern, Jan supports the Association FOR YOU’s activities for young people in disadvantaged situation, including our art workshop.     

But you also work at the office, right?

Yes, but it is not such a strict work. I have some tasks which I can fulfill the way I want. I can be independent during my work as long as I stay between the guiding lines. I can use the knowledge I have gained during the 3 years of my education and at the same time learn new things every day. I am happy with the work I am doing and I enjoy contact with other volunteers. It fulfilled my expectations.

Were there any things which you were afraid of before coming here?

Yes, that the apartment would not be in a good condition, being homesick or to not feel at the right place. Also that the work would not be as I expected it to be.

Did any of these fears become reality?

Well, only the apartment, it was really cold in our room. But the longer I live in this flat the more I like it. In the beginning when I entered the hall for the first time I was like wow, this is small for four people and I thought that the standard living conditions were even worse than I expected, but now it has changed. I think it is a nice and cozy apartment with beautiful people.

Jan had to add the last sentence because I am his flat mate.

It was also one of my fears, not to be able to connect with other volunteers, which luckily didn’t happen.

Is it your first living abroad experience?


How do you think you may benefit from it?

Well, you meet new people, you make new friends. In my case I can learn a different kind of work, one which is more socially oriented. And also having a chance to hear and to see other points of view, to listen to people with different culture backgrounds. Of course I may or may not agree with those points of view but it still gives me more perspectives. Another thing is also that I am forced to become more independent.

What do you mean by that?

Well, I am not cooking yet, but I do the dishes and a lot of daily chores which are usually done by my mother at home.

I think it is time to introduce Jan a little bit more. He is a 20 years old Belgian guy, who is about to finish his bachelor. In Belgium he lives with his parents and his two brothers. As you have already noticed it is his first experience of living abroad or even outside his hometown. He has been living in Varna for one month.

Let Jan tell us something more about himself besides these dry facts.

My two passions are music and soccer. I play the French horn and I also sing.

Yeah, I can hear you when you are in the shower.

I like to sing, it makes me calm and helps me to release stress and connect with other people. Sometimes it is easier to approach other people with music, although sometimes it is difficult for me to make the first step. Everybody likes music, so it is an easy topic to talk about. When I start to know people better I get the courage to sing for them. Another important thing for me is sense of humor. It is an important aspect because I think it is good to realize that there are worse things that may happen to us, so it is good to laugh the stress out. It also helps in the communication with others.

How does your life here differ from the one in Belgium?

Jan has to think for a while.

I don’t understand people here, there is a language barrier. I cannot speak Bulgarian. It doesn’t bother me much but I think it would be nice to speak Bulgarian so that I would be able to communicate with people during the everyday life situations, like going to the shop or the restaurant. Also the way people do things here is different. In Belgium everything is more strict. For example being on time.

Another thing is the way people drive here. I wouldn’t say it is the safest way of driving. And they park everywhere. I am actually kind of amazed by their parking abilities. I wouldn’t like to drive a car here though. I also couldn’t because in Bulgaria they don’t have such opportunity for people with handicaps. In Belgium we have special organization which help to adjust the cars so that people with different kinds of impairments can drive on their own.

Now, we need some nice ending of this story. What about some random quotation? Reportedly Winston Churchill said that if there is no space for the courage in life, the other virtues are of no importance.