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Milla's Year of ESC Volunteering: A Journey with Green Steps!



Green Steps

Short summary:

Milla is about to complete her ESC-volunteership with Green Steps! This article highlights a year of her growth, learning, and contributions during this time.

It has been a year since I joined the GreenSteps team, but I can recall almost every detail as if it happened yesterday. I am sure I will never forget the smiling mentor who welcomed me in Austria at the airport, my team who guided me along the way, my tutor who has been patient and explained the hidden magic behind the technologies, and our discussions about my project goals and ecological psychology. I remember every event that I organized or assisted with and the challenges that I overcame.

The volunteering experience, the integration into the new environment, my tasks—many things looked like a mystery with “multiple unknowns” but in the end fell into place, as if they had always been part of my life.

a volunteer and a dog

I think I was lucky from the very beginning, mainly because of the people I met, but also because of the opportunities I had to answer many of my questions. In the meantime, working, living, and traveling happened not from a tourist perspective. It was way deeper, experiencing things as locals do. I also increased my awareness of the environment, living in the moment, and paying attention to the myriad living creatures around me. Learning the names of birds that I had only seen in pictures before starting and discovering methods to distinguish unknown tree species are small examples of what I experienced.

As a person, I became more independent, confident, and socially connected. Although I already spoke German at a high level before joining the project and knew many details about life in German-speaking countries, I discovered the differences between DACH countries and what makes them similar to each other in reality.

Road and hike

For example, words like “Naturdenkmal”, “HTL”, “Klimaticket”, “Magistrat”, “Bachangerdorf”, and “Landeshaus” are no longer a random combination of words for me. In addition, I have increased my speaking level and ability to spontaneously communicate in multiple languages and solve tasks in a creative manner faster than before. During this year, some of my main tasks included fixing bugs, learning, reviewing, and testing changes on the web application,  ARK.

The ARK application helps increase bioregional identity, a concept I learned about at GreenSteps. This means being aware of the local species living in your ecoregion, understanding climate differences, and cultural changes occurring in your area. The app also facilitates connections with people and allows users to observe nature entities based on their ecoregion, engage with local communities, and organize events at schools.

Another skill I gained, thanks to my tutor, is an increased proficiency in a new framework called Playwright for E2E testing. This framework enables the creation of tests in TypeScript language, essentially replicating the steps one normally takes when using the app. It helps identify unseen bugs that one might otherwise overlook, reduces time for manual testing, and tracks slight changes during app interactions. Additionally, I gained confidence in using various tools such as cmd, GitLab, DBeaver, Sublime, VSCode, Canva, and became accustomed to working more in Ubuntu.

ARK and tree mapping

One of my favorite parts of the app is the Quests, which I also helped create, translate, and edit. During the quest, a person can visit beautiful parks or places in their commons (e.g., a city) and collect points for finding a tree, but not only that! A tree serves as a landmark that users observe and answer questions about nature or discover new facts about a specific area. One unique feature of a quest is that users can not only create their own custom questions about nature or the culture of each tree stop but also give a character’s name to develop a story.

For example, one of my favorite quest stories is the one created for the Harland route, called “The Last Mimzy.” I named the route after a movie of the same name directed by Robert Shaye because the trees on this route are located in an area that combines water and land, reminiscent of the movie's setting. “The Last Mimzy” describes a dystopian future where humanity faces genetic extinction caused by “pollutants” and past human activity. What I particularly like about the plot is that it offers hope that any human being, especially a child, can play a vital role in the history of the Earth. Additionally, I find it touching that the Quest combines storytelling with ecological education for children, which was also part of my project at GreenSteps.

summer camp and birds

Overall, I assisted in several projects during this year: a gardening project called “Groovy Garden” at the local school, Genuine Growth movie screenings for the student community, and the summer camp. I co-organized the Plastic Pirate cleaning initiatives for children. Additionally, I served as an interpreter for international middle school students in German and English and assisted in preparing learning materials, including their decoration.

a lapbook

Keeping track of my learning project and the increase of my bioregional identity during this year was super easy thanks to the ARK impact points system. It also includes, for instance, all the events that the user contributed to or the species that they have learned.

ARK progress

My short profile summary:
Articles and best practices translated: 9
Quests I worked on: 13
Among of my favorite best practices I helped to design are:
Stone Bug

The screwed hedgehog

- number of IP collected as learner, guardian, facilitator
learner 43%
guardian 13%
guide 45%
- number of activities participated and/or facilitated
- Bioregional Identity in St. Pölten: 25.9%

Number of issues I worked on GitLab: 23

I find this year has been incredibly inspiring and energizing, making it one of the happiest periods of my life. I strongly recommend going through this experience to every young person who wants to work across multiple areas, especially nature and technology!

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