In 2009, the Universiade of Belgrade brought together more than 10,000 volunteers from across the country and the world, and each has its own unique and unforgettable story. Many friendships, love and even marriages were born after this great competition, and this is the story of Matthew Sherwin – an engineer and cyclist from Melbourne, who offenly returns to Belgrade even ten years after the Universiade and gives the best example of why should anyone volunteer, at least once in his life.
Matthew volunteered at the Universiade in 2009 in the team of Vuk Stevanovic, the current Head of the Volunteers sector at the European Universities Games held in Belgrade next year. This week, he visited his old teammates at the EUG2020 office and spoke for our website about how a student from Australia decided to visit Southeast Europe and how that decision definitely changed his life.
EUG2020: What drives someone to pack hi bags and go from Australia to Europe to volunteer? Tell us how you found out about the Universiade in Belgrade in 2009?
M.S.: I heard about the Universiade from my friend Dimitri. He played table tennis very well at that time and was on the national team. I did cycling at the time, but since the Universiade that year did not include my discipline, I wanted to be involved in any way possible. It was the first time I applied to volunteer somewhere and the first time I visited that part of Europe.
EUG2020: What was the first impression you had when you arrived in Serbia?
M.S.: That’s a very interesting question, since everything was so different from what I was used to, starting from architecture to people’s temperament. I was very interested in visiting Southeastern Europe, but I knew almost nothing about it except that it was very far away. There is something about Belgrade that you cannot see and find out until you experience it yourself.
EUG2020: What were your responsibilities at the Universiade?
M.S.: I volunteered athletics competition where I assisted athletes on their way to the athletic stadium. Honestly, I hardly even remember what exactly I was doing, I remember mostly the people I met, the frinedships and memories that came about. I spent 3 weeks in Belgrade, and even managed to visit the EXIT festival, and I started to love Serbia very much. I came again three years later and visited several countries in the region.
EUG2020: Did you meet your current wife during that trip?
M.S: Actually no, I met her in Australia in 2012, but it’s really interesting how I met her. I think the best way to get to know a foreign country and locals is to learn their language, it shows that you respect their culture, and in doing so, they respect you. At a Melbourne cafe, I heard a girl speak Serbian, and as I luckily learned some Serbian pick up lines like “You are beautiful” and “You have beautiful eyes”, I approached her and the rest was history. Dragana is originally from Serbia, her father is from Loznica, her mother is from Split, I visited both these cities, and now we have a son named Lucas.
EUG2020: So volunteering in Serbia really changed your life! Did you volunteer again for a similar competition?
M.S.: I participated in the next Universiade in China, but as a competitor, it was amazing! I wonder if anyone else was a volunteer first and then an athlete at the Universiade. But yes, I can say that the Universiade and Serbia really changed my life.
EUG2020: What can you tell future volunteers at the European University Games, do you have any advice for them?
M.S.: I met people from all over the world, that is my main memory from the Universiade. I can tell them to enjoy every moment, to take their job seriously, but first and foremost to have a good time and to know that some of these friendships will last a lifetime. Such is my friendship with the Vuk ten years later, and certainly in the future. One more thing – I would not have an awesome wife from Serbia if i did not come to the Universiade, how many people can boast about it?