The image of a volunteer is usually that of an active and involved person. This is, most of the time, true. However, the lifestyle of an EVS volunteer in Romania can be quite unhealthy and may lead to overweight and other civilization diseases.
Most of the volunteers are hungry – for new experiences, travelling, learning, having fun and, of course, for food. Some of them have left mother’s kitchen and delicious meals for the first time, others have lived and, obviously, survived on their own already. No matter which group the volunteer in question belongs to, everyone seems to cultivate an individual “Romanian” way of eating. And these vary greatly, mixing old habits, the traditional cuisine of the home country and the new living circumstances. Some people live on pasta with simple tomato sauce from day to day, having a change in the menu occasionally with a kebab or bread and salami. Others are keen on experiencing Romania in taste, buying regional vegetables, the white cheese “brânză”, “salată de vinete”, a spread mainly made of eggplants, and other typical specialities. There are also volunteers who plan their eating three days in advance, trying to get a balanced share of carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins in every meal, cooking with little fat and sugar. Two extremes are combined by people who like sweet pastries from one of the Fornetti bakeries and a chocolate bar for lunch and a salad for dinner.
Therefore exist different ways of getting the energy they need for their volunteering work, also depending on the time and money they invest. And especially on the weekends, when travelling to another city, people tend to switch to fast food and cookies.
It is certainly important to eat things you like and to treat yourself to sweets once in a while. However, to eat balanced and just enough is going to make you look and feel much better.
Getting sick is another issue. All the volunteers know that any potential medical treatment is financially completely covered by the AXA insurance. But actually going to the doctor is something that most of the volunteers try very hard to avoid. According to the statistics, the average volunteer should be quite healthy, as he or she is not older than 30 years. Nevertheless, there are of course people with back problems, old injuries that need continued treatment, chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes and, especially in winter, everyone runs risk to catch a bad cold or the flu.
The fear of going to the doctor may first of all be grounded in the language barrier. If you do not feel comfortable with going to the hospital with your mentor, how are you to explain the right convex lumbar scoliosis on your back and the treatment you have already undergone - in Romanian? Another problem is the suspicion towards the unfamiliar Romanian medical system. This is why some volunteers prefer to medicate their influenza themselves and to ignore their back problems, tooth aches and so on. This may have advantages – the doctor could for example really misunderstand something – and disadvantages – not doing anything is certainly not going to make it better.
This leads to the third important issue, as the best prevention of having to go to the doctor is physical exercise. As nobody of the volunteers drives a car during his or her stay, they are naturally forced to walk more than usually. But is this really enough? Experts have recommended for years to have one hour of intense physical exercise at least three times a week. But even for volunteers who did have regular workout at home, it seems to be quite a big effort to do the same in Romania.
In Arad, the conditions for jogging, as an example, are not ideal. Running through the city is soon going to make you choke on the exhaust emissions and your bones start aching because of the hard ground. However, there is the possibility to take a run down the riverside, where the air is reasonably clear. If you are not so interested in jogging, you can join one of the fitness clubs, start to take dance lessons or play volleyball. This is even a good opportunity to get in touch with the locals and to leave the “volunteer bubble”.
Doing sports and eating healthy sounds boring, but it makes you feel better and gives you more energy to do a good job. Especially at the beginning, it does take a good deal of discipline. But once you got used to it, you may not want to miss out on it again.