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EVS Blog


Taking a peek into the Finnish education system

marija portrait

By: Marija Ratkovic - EVS volunteer

Nowadays when you say Finland the first thing that comes to the mind of most of people is education. I think that it was a quite a surprise, even for Finns, when the first results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed that Finnish students can actually apply their knowledge and skills in real life situations. This assessment also showed that no matter if you are a boy or girl, poor of rich, Asian or African the Finnish school system will provide everybody with the good environment for learning and development. Environment that is shaped by individual needs of every student. Having that in mind, it is more than obvious why taking a peek into the Finnish educational system was one of the main reasons to choose Finland for my twelve month EVS project.


During this year I had the opportunity to work together with two Finnish teachers. I have spent wonderful three months few days a week in Kokkola’s “Halkokarin koulu”. I have spent most of my working days with the children and the teachers of the class 3A, but I also visited other classes of this school. From the moment I entered “Halkokarin koulu” I felt more than welcome. The atmosphere in the class was really lovely from the beginning. My heart was full when all the kids said hallo to me in Serbian and in English. I really had a feeling that I am a part of that school and that class. It is amazing that in just one day I have made forty-six new friends. What more could an EVS volunteer wish for. These period was a real learning experience for me and for the kids I have worked with. I had a chance to observe their daily routine, I had played with them and introduced them with some Serbian customs. I have also helped teachers with English lessons and children had a chance to practice English with me on daily bases. It was lovely to participate and support there learning process, especially because gradually and steadily my relation with kids was progressing. Day by day they were trying to interact more with me, but even more important is that we all started to enjoy spending time together.

Being a part of this school helped me to realize that the core of the educational system of Finland are exceptional and devoted teachers. The days I have spent with the class 3A were magical because the teachers really put an effort to make me a part of this wonderful fellowship. They created the positive atmosphere and a strong and supporting community and that is essential to the learning process.


At the end I have to say that it is wonderful to go to a school where you can learn a lot about love, sharing, support, humor and friendship. Even if I spent just three month in the class 3A I know that all of them will forever be a part of my hart, and that there will be always a class in Finland that I can call “minun luokka”!

My class

St. Patrick's Day/Weekend


carmel portrait
By: Carmel Deely – EVS volunteer in Youth Centre Villa Elba, Kokkola
snowy field

Finland is slowly becoming green, especially with the arrival of another Irish person!

visit of a friend

I have been on a trip to Kokkola Theatre where I found some things I might need in the future. “Something borrowed”! Kiitos Marita!

something borrowed

Every day I am finding new scenes or aspects of Finland that I am grateful for, mostly the beautiful sun and its effects.


old villa

sun at the city

During EVS training, we took a trip to Nanoq Museum. It was an interesting place to visit. I have an interest in the structure and presentation of churches, stemming from my final year project in Art College.


Of course, I left a peace offering with the House Spirits.

bow earrings
house spirits

The bow earrings.

Long Christmas magic in Finland


By: Marija Ratkovic - EVS volunteer

I know that it may seem to you that it is a bit late for Christmas post, but in my head it is just the right time because the last sparkles of Christmas spirit has just gone away. The January has ended and the most of the Christmas decorations are finally back in the cupboard. I think that Finnish people tend to keep the decorations as much as they can, because the magic of gentle Christmas lights leads them through the dark winter months. It is February now and it seems Kokkola has finally awoken from the long Christmas dream, the days are longer, people are more active, and the work days in Villa Elba got busier.

Obviously the spirit of Christmas celebration lasted quite long for me this year. The Christmas fuss started with the Northern magic group couple of weeks before December, and in that period I had learned a lot about Finnish Christmas traditions. This is a small list of them:

Joulukalenteri (eng. Christmas calendar) is a form of Advent calendar that counts the days till Christmas and it’s usually starts from 1st of December. The designs of the calendar can be different but the content and the meaning of it are the same. It is a real treat for children because for each day till Christmas they get a small present. Present waits for them in the calendar and it is usually followed by a message from an elf.

Christmas calendar
Christmas calendar in the local school

Christmas calendar in the local school

Joulutontut (eng. Christmas elves or dwarfs) are the special Finnish Christmas elves. Their main task is to awaken the Christmas spirit and to assist the Joulupukki (eng. Santa Clause). During the December these kind of elves had conquered Villa Elba’s garden. Elves were a part of Northern magic group (Villa Elba’s short EVS project), there were seventeen of them from all over the world and they joined forces with the goal to make the Christmas magical for the kids of Kokkola. It was fun to plan and participate in the realization of this project, and for sure it was fun to be an elf. We sang and played with the kids, but we also ran and hid away from them when we were exhausted from all of the jumping. We had really good time together, the Christmas spirit and inexplicable happiness was burning in all of us, without that additional Christmas magic and a ton of riisipuuro (eng. rice pudding, main food during the Finnish Christmas season) we could never succeed in our intentions.        

Christmas elf
christmas elf

Jouluruoka (eng. Christmas food) in Finland is marked by some special dishes. During the December in Villa Elba we had a chance to taste a lot of traditional Christmas food. Some of the specialties are: joulukinkku (eng. Christmas ham), porkkanalaatikko, perunalaatikko (eng. carrot casserole, potato casserole), joulutorttu (eng. Christmas tart) and of course beautiful riisipuuro (eng. rice pudding).

This was a long and beautiful Christmas celebration that lasted almost two month. I had a chance to learn a lot about Finnish Christmas traditions and I came to conclusion that there are quite many differences between Serbian and Finnish way of celebration. I think that from now on Christmas will not be the same without riisipuuro.

For the end of my Finnish Christmas adventure I left the sweetest thing I visited Rovaniemi and met the most wanted grandpa in the whole world. I met the fluffiest and the fattiest Santa Claus. Many people say that he is the real Santa, but they will not fool me, because I he know that the Santa lives in Serbia, his real name is Branko and he is my dad.

Magical Rovaniemi, reindeer
Magical Rovaniemi

Magical Rovaniemi

Santa claus
Santa Claus office

Santa Claus office in Santa's village

Christmas at Villa Elba!


By: Carmel Deely – EVS volunteer in Youth Centre Villa Elba, Kokkola

Christmas has come and gone! It was memorable! Another one for the books!

Marija, my roommate, did an excellent job decorating the apartment and soon we had some lovely gifts to add under the Elf Tree!


Thanks, to friends and family at home and abroad, plus the staff and friends at Villa Elba for making my Christmas away from home a special and warm one.

Over the Christmas break, I visited an outdoor ice-skating rink with Marija and a native of Kokkola, Sampo. We first bought skates, which was an adventure in itself seeing as the roads and paths can get quite slippery here!


When we made it to the rink, we tried some ice hockey and Sampo taught us a little about the rules of the game.

Since being in Kokkola I have been to two ice hockey matches which were both hugely different. One was on a larger rink and the players were more professional compared to the amateurs who played a rougher game on the smaller rink. Trying to decide which was more entertaining is hard!

As well as skating, the opportunity to try Murtomaahiihto also came my way. This possibility arouse during a visit to Uusikaarlepyy, when Marija and I were visiting another Long Term EVS participant. It was tough going! My arms were the most effected and luckily, for me, I only had one small slope to get up.



In Nykarleby we stayed with Ricardo at Nurk Horse Stables. His Finnish friends Jani and Anna were brilliant. They brought us to and from the ice-hockey match on the Saturday evening as well as visiting us on Sunday. On this day, we all went for a long walk in the beautifully scenic landscapes of Nykarleby and then skied a lap of the horse track! Ricardo won!

Kokkotyö – säätiö, gives new meaning to life! 


By: Marija Ratkovic – EVS volunteer in Youth Centre Villa Elba, Kokkola

Kokkotyö - säätiö is the place that activates people of different ages and social background to get back in to a work environment. They offer training, support and meaningful work activities to the people with the difficult labor market status. During past weeks, I had a chance to get familiar with the work of several of their departments: sewing and handcraft, web design, auto-mechanical and wood processing workshop. In most of these sectors, they brought an international atmosphere with long-term EVS volunteers. In this blog post, I will introduce you with their work and life in Kokkola. 

In sewing and handcraft workshop they have two volunteers that are helping the trainees, Lina (19 years old from - Oldenburg, Germany) and Ivan (19 years old from Bolzano, Italy) are the youngest volunteers in Kokkola. These lovely teenagers are giving help every day to the people, which are working in this department. I am amazed that in such a young age they have decided to get out from their comfort zone and spend almost one whole year apart from their families and their country lifestyle. It is a big challenge for them to come here and participate in this project. Especially if you have in mind that they have not had any opportunity to work with people who are struggling with challenging life difficulties. Having that in mind we can just imagine how these experiences will influence their future lives and how much this kind of work can contribute to developing their social skills. 

Volunteer at handcrafts

Volunteer at Kokkotyo

Their workday consists of helping trainees and the staff of Kokkotyö – säätiö. They prepare materials and set the work environment for trainees. Below are some products, which the volunteers participated in making, together with trainees. It is important to mention that most of Kokkotyö products are made of reused material. 

recycled notes

recycled bags


In the wood process and design workshop, you can meet Csaba (21 year old from Hungary, Budapest). He is the main joker here in Kokkotyö, as his “boss” says he is contributing to the good work atmosphere every day. Even if his English is not perfect, it is improving every day, because he is not giving up on learning. He is trying to help every day. His presence and persistence is important for trainee’s motivation. He lifts up their spirit, making the job easier and more relaxed. He thinks that Kokkola is a good place to live in but it is a bit of a small town for him. He is used to the big city fuss and that is why he sometimes feels homesick.    

Volunteer at woodcraft

In the end, we have sales department and long term volunteer Nora (20 years old from Luxembourg, Luxembourg) who has given us a tour of this department. Nora came to Finland with the aim to find her work preference. She is hoping that she will gain a new insight during her nine-month stay. Everything has happened very fast for Nora. In September, she decided that she wants to enroll in EVS program and in October, she came Finland to work in Kokkotyö’s sales department. In this shop, you can buy products made by the trainees of Kokkotyö. As well they are also selling second hand goods. The job in this shop is very enjoyable for Nora, especially when she sees happy and satisfied costumer.  

Volunteer at Kirpputori

Nora is amazed what kind of products you can buy in the second hand shops in Finland. Sometimes she is not sure of the purpose they have but there is always one customer saying that they have found that one thing that they have searched for, for years. 



As you can see, Kokkotyö – säätiö is definitely changing the lives of many people. It gives a new meaning to every life story. This is a real learning community in search for a better and fulfilling life.  

Life as an Elf!


By: Carmel Deely – EVS volunteer in Youth Centre Villa Elba, Kokkola

EVS Carmel
EVS vapaaehtoinen CArmel

My name is  Carmel Mary Deely and I am a volunteer at Villa Elbe Youth Centre, Kokkola.

When I first found out that there was an EVS position in Finland, where I would take on the role of an elf, I was overjoyed! A dream come true, that I would travel to, live in and work in Finland, plus my position was to be one of Santa’s Little Helpers!

Of course, my sending organization, Youth Work Ireland, were amazing at booking my travel as well as giving me any additional support. I was content and ready to begin my new adventure.

The project started with all the elves getting to know each other, learning some Finnish, creating an Elf Path and Elf School program, food shopping in Finland, experiencing a Finnish Sauna, attending mass, as well as spending some time at Kokkola swimming pool. It was a pretty busy and fun week!

In the cottages, there was a huge mix of nationalities and religions, which was a huge learning for me. I learnt a lot about the Muslim religion from two Turkish girls.

Throughout the five weeks of this project, from seventh of November to 15th of December, there was Finland’s National Holiday on December 6th. I celebrated this in a non-traditional style by eating sushi but I did watch all the hand shaking on T.V!

Be able to travel, throughout the project, was a huge plus and I travelled south of Kokkola to a place called Kajane. Here, in a cottage deep in the woods, three of us EVS and two native Fino-Sweeds stayed for two nights. It was delightful to experience a wood-fired sauna as well as sleep in the loft of an old wooden cottage.

Before I left Ireland, I had hoped for the possibility of a Long Term EVS to arise while I took part in the Short Term EVS project. As it happened, this possibility arouse and I applied for a position in Inari, Lapland. Fortunately, this position was more accessible in February due to the low level of work throughout the Christmas period. Therefore, I now stay at Villa Elba Youth Centre!


A journey of a thousand miles, started with just one step!


By: Marija Ratkovic – EVS volunteer in Youth Centre Villa Elba, Kokkola

So it happened on the 26th of October 2016, I put my first step on Kokkola ground. My eleven month journey started on a chilly autumn day. I have to say that it is a great pleasure that now, on this blog, I have a chance to present myself and to say hello to everybody. I am Marija, EVS volunteer from Serbia, a newbie at Villa Elba and this place will literally be my home for next eleven months.


For this opportunity I have to thank Villa Elba International department and Erasmus + program. During this eleven month period I will have a chance to explore living and working in Finland. I will help Villa Elba International department in the realisation of their projects which are connected to youth and international learning. I am living in Finland for almost one month now and the highlights of this month are:


 zoo (English);

 zoo (Italian);

 zoo (French);

 zoo (German);

 zooloski vrt (Serbian)

 and in Finnish - Eläintarha.

- WEATHER (sometimes I consider my morning dress up as exercise).

Beside that I really like Finnish spirit. All those people who are fighting with or against the weather every morning, proudly cycle on their bikes. I am kind of getting used to the Finnish way of thinking that: “There is no bad weather, there is just bad clothes", so I say that to myself every day when I jump on my bike which leads me through beautiful Finnish landscape. I am really enjoying my time here, even though in the beginning I was a little bit skeptical. I am hoping that this experience will help me to gain more life skills and that I will broaden my horizons. Through this blog I will try to lead you through my life in Finland and I am hoping that you will enjoy the journey, as much as me.


Volunteer from Russia visiting Villa Elba for a month


By: Xenia Stadnikova - EVS volunteer in Youth Centre Vasatokka, Inari

Greetings! I’m a Russian volunteer Xenia, who got a chance to spend for the whole month under the roof of my coordinating organization, in Villa Elba. I’d lived only a few days in Finland before I came to Kokkola, so I still had to adjust to the lifestyle of a foreign country. It turned out to be very easy thanks to the Villa Elba’s stuff and their supportive and warm-hearted attitude towards me.

The first week here appeared to be full of new experiences for me. We had the bilateral trainings concerning EVS between Villa Elba and the group of youth workers from several Russian cities. Participating part-time in their discussions I found out more about the process of coordinating and organizing youth activities in Russia and Finland, learned the peculiarities of both systems, and realized that it’s extremely easy to build bridges and promote fruitful international cooperation between the parties, at least at the stage of seeking the spheres of mutual concern.


During my free time I was exploring the Villa Elba’s surroundings. I wish I could see all seasons here! The most tremendous thing is the atmosphere created by the bay, sandy coast, reeds, boats, remarkable sunrises and sunsets, and the mysterious forest with its wooden paths, picturesque moss and lovely birdsong. They all together enhance the feeling that you belong to nature, and one can’t but delight in being in the natural world. Besides, I could have a brief look at the Södra Trutklippan island and enjoy the astonishing view from the shore.

Youth Center Vinge is the place that should be noticed, since we spent plenty of time there, having Finnish lessons, presenting our home countries for the youngsters, participating in international evenings and just relaxing there among friends.


And of course I had enough time to explore the city. If you go by bike, you can see all districts, which differs from each other a lot. Historical monuments and statues in downtown, harbors with their magnificent view on the Bay, old wooden houses, churches, parks and Sunti River  make Kokkola an enjoyable place for visiting.


After this month period Xenia will return to Inari to continue her volunteering service at the Youth Centre Vasatokka.