What has volunteering overseas taught you

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A voluntary service and the associated selection of the field of activity and the place of assignment is always a very individual matter.

The experience reports published here can only provide a small insight into possible fields of activity and cultural backgrounds in the host countries and are only to be understood as examples. We would also like to point out that field reports are always shaped by the subjective perception of each volunteer and cannot serve as an objective task description or country-specific description.

Overseas volunteering

Media Project Center Offener Kanal Kassel 2016

A former volunteer from the sfd reports on his experiences.

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Xingxingyu, China, 2012-2013

by Mascha Menzel

It's September 7th, 2012. I've been here in Beijing for over a month now. It's unbelievable how quickly the time has passed and how much I've learned about Beijing, about the Chinese, about the language - and of course about the children in my place of work in this short time. Now I feel really at home, although there is still a lot that I have to get used to.

Name: Mascha Menzel
Place of assignment: Xing Xing Yu / Stars & Rain
Country: China, Beijing

Arrivals

When I think back to August 3rd, I really have to smile. We landed here around 2 p.m. that day. The first thing we inevitably noticed was the heat! In addition, everything was just big, impressive and there were signs everywhere. It was a shock to be able to hardly read anything. Fortunately, we were picked up by Philipp, the former volunteer who was doing the service before us, i.e. from 2011 - 2012, in the XXY. For me, the first thing to do was to change euros to RMB, as that's really a good option in China. Here's a much better exchange rate.

Immediately afterwards we looked for a taxi, because driving our suitcases underground would have been a real adventure. It turned out to be not so easy to find a taxi that would take 4 people and their luggage, especially one that didn't cheat on the fare. In Beijing there are a lot of "black" taxis that either trick foreigners in particular or negotiate a certain, more expensive price in advance, for which they then drive you to the desired destination.

Fortunately, we had Philipp, of course, who not only knew how to drive a taxi in Beijing, but can also speak Chinese pretty well. We found a taxi that took us to Dongxu with our suitcases on our knees, but for the equivalent of 6 €.

Our village

"The New Village" Dongxu is the village where we live and work. This is also where the XingXingYu kindergarten and the former group home are located. It is quite far from Beijing, it takes about 1 hour to get to the city center by bus and train. The village is very nooks and crannies, everywhere there are small shops and restaurants that don't look like any, small streets that eventually lead to bigger ones, which in turn open out through colorful, impressive and “really Chinese”-looking gates

lead the village out to other villages. Life here is very simple and also very cheap, but not bad. You can get a normal meal in the restaurant for the equivalent of 1 to 3 €.

A large main road runs through the village. Bus line 532 also runs on it and takes you to the nearest underground station. In the evening, when those who work in the city come home during the day, it fills with life. Then many families or friends sit at the tables of the grill stand, the spit grill or the small restaurants and let the day end together. I always find the atmosphere very cozy.

Our apartment

Our apartment is very nice. We live with a friendly, elderly lady who rents 3 rooms to us and only speaks Chinese. The language communication works anyway. We pay between € 100-120 per month for each room. We each have a fan or air conditioning and on cold days and in winter we get some sponsored in addition to the blankets that are already in place. We share a fridge, a shared bathroom and, if we want, we can also use the kitchen. So far, however, none of us has cooked as we always go out to eat. The shower is a small room that is accessed by a door in the small courtyard. We have cold and hot water available there. I really like my room. We all have a large, higher bed, a small desk, a two-part closet, bedside table and a fan. Unfortunately, the window in my room does not face outside, but into a small hallway, which is why it is usually relatively dark here and not a lot of fresh air gets in.

The work

My agency, the XingXingYu aka Stars & Rain, was founded in 1993 as a result of a parents' initiative and is China's first non-governmental educational organization that looks after autistic children. As an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), the XXY does not receive any support from the state. The teachers have set themselves the goal of enabling autistic children a healthy personal development, an improvement in the quality of life and the chance of integration into society. The school is divided into two areas. There is the kindergarten where parents of autistic children receive 11 weeks of training to understand their child's disability and learn to live with it. Your children will also receive lessons during this period.
There is also the former Group Home, in which 6 children from 11 to 18 years of age are taught. Our workplace is also there.

At the moment everything is being renovated there. In the first few weeks the first floor was repainted, the bathroom was newly tiled and a new toilet was installed. Now the ground floor is being renovated. For a week we didn't do anything other than packing toys in boxes and lugging furniture, bedding and much more into the garden, where everything is now standing around waiting for the renovation work to be completed. This makes it completely impossible for us to use the lower areas, let alone the garden, in which there is a basketball hoop and a porch swing. Unfortunately, the responsible workers are also quite unreliable and come when they are funny, which is why everything drags on forever. We all hope that the work will be finished soon and that we will be able to use the rooms and the garden again soon.

On the day of our arrival we had already met one of the teachers of Xing Xing Yu and had gone out to eat and shop with him. Work then started on Monday, August 6th. I'll describe the daily routine, which is identical every day. We volunteers officially work from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and actually from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. At 8:15 am we pick up the children from Huiling, the other organization that XXY works with, and walk with the teachers from Huiling to XXY. The children spend the evenings and nights in Huiling, the day they spend XXY, where they receive lessons and meals. The morning session starts around 9:00 am, in which the children say certain sentences, everyone is greeted and the date and weather are practiced. Then everyone does one sport and then the lessons start. But since not all children are taught at the same time, it is our task as volunteers to either look after them or keep them busy. Our options are mostly dependent on the mood of the respective child.

Every morning a child bakes these cookies with a volunteer, which are later packed and sold. Therefore, two children have the task of sticking sticky notes on the sachets that will be used to sell the biscuits. We look after and support them.

At around noon there is lunch, which everyone is very dissatisfied with at the moment. There is the same thing every day, it is of poor quality and comparatively insanely expensive. Therefore, from October 1st, we will have other food delivered, which we will select beforehand from a menu card, which we will include as an additional point in the morning round. The children can then choose their own food according to their taste.

After dinner we take the children for a leisurely 45-minute walk with a short break. We walk towards the fields, where there is a small path between the road and the field that leads between trees and bushes.

After the walk, there is another lesson and the children all do sports again. We started listening to music together a lot because it has a very calming effect on the children. There used to be a real music class that was also used as relaxation time. I want to try to reintroduce them.

At 4:30 p.m. the Huiling teachers come and pick up the children again. We accompany them and can then go home.

We thought about starting a small percussion class. To do this, we make rattles, shakers and a rain stick with the children, so that we can be a little rhythmically active 2-3 times a week with 2 volunteers and 3 children. All children are very fond of music and they also enjoy making sounds themselves. So how well the plan can be implemented and how the children do it, we will see when the renovation work is finally completed.

Normally you can always take a child to the side and do something with them, for example let them paint shapes or pictures if they are able to do so, or do other things they like. It is always good if the children are kept busy and not bored, otherwise they will come up with stupid ideas. They show you when they don't like something or when they enjoy something, which is why you can just try something out or dare. As a result, you often discover small talents or abilities in children that were previously hidden from you.

In general, I was very surprised at how much the children interact with you. They all look for their own individual way of communicating and it is incredibly motivating and nice to notice that the child has gained confidence in you by, for example, taking my hand in his or her, cuddling you or looking you straight in the eye.

The town

Beijing is amazingly impressive. It is not an exaggeration to speak of a cosmopolitan city. However, you can quickly get the wrong idea of ​​the city by associating it with famous giant cities like Hong Kong or Tokyo. Because Beijing is definitely not like that, although it tries to be that way. At first glance, everything in Beijing is huge and breathtaking. On the second, Beijing is one thing above all: challenging. There are many corners here that offer the consumer-oriented a paradise, but if you look closely, you will notice that a lot has an almost tragic-continuous process to which everyone is used and which is therefore no longer surprising. In huge shopping districts where fake Gucci bags are piled up in the shop windows, you see old, skinny women sitting on massive bags full of plastic bottles that they sell somewhere for probably very little money. In the subway, between the crowds of people staring at their smartphone screens, mothers push their disabled children forward and beg for alms. Sometimes you have to swallow and decide for yourself how you want to face certain things.

But of course every coin has two sides. So it is an amazing experience to drive to Hohai Lake around sunset and in the dark to enjoy the play of colors that the bars and restaurants create with their lights on the lake, to listen to the live music that sounds different from each door or to take a small boat to rent and sail under white bridges on which old men fly their kites.

So far I have visited a few neighborhoods, blindly tapped the map and sat on the subway and still cannot claim to be able to assess Beijing. From 11 p.m., when the subways have stopped their traffic and you have to stop a taxi in front of a busy street whose taxi driver does not know the destination and you have to describe the way to him when you walk the street without traffic lights or zebra crossings and, above all, without Want to cross the interest of motorists to stop when you have to squeeze into the already completely overcrowded bus and 20 other people behind you are pursuing the same interest when you are shocked to find in the supermarket that all goods have expired for months until you find out days later that in China the system works the other way around and the date of manufacture is not printed on the product, but the expiry date - then these are all challenges that Beijing poses to me and which I face with a smile. Because “Nothing Great Was Ever Achieved Without Enthusiasm” or something like that is at least written on my subway map.

Liceo Almirante Riveros, Chile, 2015-16

by Ruth Bohsung

Letter from Santiago - 03.09.2015

Now my 9th day in Santiago is drawing to a close and it is high time that I let something out of myself, otherwise I will no longer be able to bundle everything that I have experienced. 9 long days that went by incredibly fast and brought so many different things with them.

My two roommates and I arrived safely in Santiago and were warmly welcomed by our boss and brought to our apartment. Suddenly my luggage seemed so bulky and massive in the small apartment. In the meantime we have set up nicely. I like my little room, adorned with familiar pictures and a touch of home.

We live on the 4th floor in a block of flats that is guarded by a porter. I'm curious whether the small pool in the courtyard will be used in summer.

It's insanely loud here. The walls are very thin and whether it is the television or the music (from hardstyle to mainstream to trap to salsa - toothless) of the neighbors, it sounds as if they were seated in your room. Nothing helps but to take countermeasures, but I like to do that with music, and I love to do it loudly too!

I don't know what about the car alarms here, but I hear all sorts of variations of the car chant every day. Without witnessing numerous car thefts, mind you!

Unfortunately, the water tastes like chlorine. But fresh lemons add value and I just hope you don't get a lemon overdose too quickly!

We got the bikes from our predecessors and that makes me really happy. That's how I explore the city on two wheels and I'm proud every time I've looked through the street maze without GPS. The ways are long. But with the stark pictures - palm trees in front of the facades of the houses framed by the icebergs of the Andes on the one hand and a lot of rubbish, small fragile houses and many street dogs on the other hand - flying by, the journeys pass quickly. Only the air is pretty bad. Lots of exhaust fumes make your throat scratch and testify to the many, many chaotic cars. There is a lot going on in the streets. It is overtaken, whether left or right and a lot of honking. Sometimes it applies to you - sometimes cursing, sometimes languishing - and sometimes the other drivers.

Despite the slalom through the many broken pieces, we already had two flat tires. I taught the other two how to fix tires and I think by the end of the year we will be world champions.

We have also survived and mastered a burst water pipe. So I came home on Tuesday and really just wanted to go to bed and drink some tea and suddenly I was standing in the water, which was a few centimeters high in the whole apartment. An excited neighbor came up and gushed at me with quick Spanish. It was dripping from the ceiling (again the thin walls!). After I sucked the water out of the carpet with towels with a headache, the other volunteers finally came home with Gerhard. By then you already knew. Gerhard is very helpful. He then unscrewed the defective hose under the sink and for the next few days he will come and make a new one. As long as we have water in the bathroom.

Speaking of water in the bathroom: Suffice it to say: every ice shower at the Brennesselhof is nothing against it. Our hot water is currently not working and that's why it's called: take a cold shower! It's still quite funny on the body, but really a painful overcoming on the head!

In the meantime the boiler has been repaired and we now have warm water.

I really enjoy my work. It will probably be really great if I can speak Spanish properly. The theater teacher is really nice, funny and open. Above all, his interaction with the children is nice. They all really like each other and laugh a lot together.

They are currently performing a piece and after that we will play Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. I'm supposed to play too. But I don't yet know exactly how it will all work out.

It made me so happy to see how art can enliven a place. In addition to my theater project, there is an art course and the big band as well as lessons for various instruments. After class, at 2:00 p.m., many students stay in school and take advantage of the offers. I don't think this can be taken for granted and I am happy to see how much fun some children have.

On Sunday I explored the area a bit. The street where I live is closed to cars until 14:00 on Sundays. Then there was inline skates and bicycles, a few people jogged or just went for a walk. I think this is offered because there are almost no parks and green spaces. I think it's a great idea.

When I was riding my free-hand bike so happily, I suddenly heard typical Latin American music (don't know what else to call it) and came across a group of people dancing. A woman was standing on a rise in the front, swinging her hips and doing the choreography. Whether young or old before her and then me too. What a nice feeling to dance in the street with mountains and palm trees in the background.

There was a second dance experience the next day. A dance teacher came to school and taught us a dance. A traditional dance with a lot of bottom circles and a lot of hip swing. At some point I understood that we were doing this for the school festival on the occasion of the national holiday of Chile on September 18. rehearsed and I will now, placed in the middle, dance along. Only my dress is still missing. But there is a whole bunch of excited girls taking care of it. I'm looking forward to it!

It is sometimes a bit difficult with my flat share partners (including German volunteers who are in the school's art and music project) because the three of us are very different. But I've made up my mind to approach it with a positive attitude and get involved with it! I hope it works.

Vocational Institute of ecological Techniques Fume, Ghana, 2015-16

by Louisa Rule

Today is Saturday and my third week in Ghana is almost over. And for the fact that I've only been here for such a short time, I've already seen a lot.

Ghana-First Month
Louisa rule
Location: Vocational Institute of ecological Techniques Fume-Dzokpe

As soon as I arrived at the airport in Accra, I was picked up by my project manager Noah, his son Wisdom, his wife Tanja and their baby Isami (Isami means “happy” in the dialect spoken here). Somehow we stuffed everything into the car and drove for half an hour until we arrived in Achimota. This is the place where the family lives and where we stayed for the first four days. On the way from the airport to the small town, I had some time to look around. The streets are full of food and sales stalls, with lots of people and lots of rubbish in between. Almost everything is thrown on the floor here because there are no trash cans. It is particularly bad in larger cities.

When we arrived, I only fell into bed after taking a shower. The shower here consists of a large bucket that is filled with water and a small one that you use to tip the water over your head, plus some soap, and voila. However, I slept in a guest house that somebody in the family owned and that even had running water. Usually you get the water from a well.
The day starts very early in Ghana, most people get up around 6 a.m., but I couldn't get out of bed until eight on my first day. When you've got up, you go to one of the endless number of food stands and get a bit of tea bread, which is similar to our white bread, some margarine from the bag, maybe a scrambled egg and ti.Ti is instant cocoa and it is bottled in Plastic bags, like everything else.

At lunchtime you can eat indomie if you can't cope with the food here. These are Chinese noodles with vegetables and fish or meat items. Basically, meat is only found as a side dish in dishes, something like soup meat. Two things can be said about the rest of the food here. Once everything is incredibly hot because “Pepe” is put in everywhere. Wisdom explained to me that it is actually used to drink more water during the meal and thus fill up faster. The other thing is that our “German stomachs” unfortunately cannot quite tolerate all of this. However, we suspect that the Ghanar are no different, as they often complain of stomach pains. But they would never admit that.

On my first day I was picked up by Tanja at the guest house, she then took me to Noah's house. Once there, I was first hugged by his wife and greeted warmly. Noah and his family live in a small complex with a few other befriended families. Children run around everywhere and you never really know where who belongs. Animals are not in a stable like ours, but always scurry around somehow, so it can happen that a chicken pecks you on the toe. Noah's family is called Gbexede (What you pronounce bähaede) and at first glance it seems to have a lot of members, because no matter where you walk, a brother or sister lives on every corner. Later I found out that a brother here doesn't necessarily have to be your physical brother, but can also be your aunt's son.

I still remember that on the first day I was incredibly overwhelmed with speaking English and with the fact that I didn't really know anyone. Since I've been in Ghana, I've found a very pleasant approach to all kinds of things. I just think about the day ahead. So everything can actually be managed and you won't be overwhelmed by the thought that you'll be here for the next eight months and somehow have to come to terms with it. By the way, almost all Ghanaians have this type, which means that nothing is actually planned, but you just watch what happens. Sometimes very relaxing, sometimes very exhausting. When there is an appointment we always ask for "In German-time or Ghanaian-time?"

To get me a Ghanaian mobile phone card and to change money, we took the Trotro (these are old buses that as many people as possible are squeezed into) to Lapaz, the next bigger city. For my 300 euros I got about 1200 Ghana Cedis, which is a huge amount of money. A teacher at our school, for example, earns around 300-400 Ghc a month. You don't need to be surprised that everyone generally sees you as very rich. What some Ghanaians still do not prevent from wanting to pay for everything. In general, the people here are very generous, everyone who has something shares it with others. However, it is expected of you too. However, the tide turns after a while.

The first thing you have to get used to in Ghana is that everything you want to do takes a lot more time and that the plans you make for the day actually never work. Another point is that you are always noticed and looked at, most of the time you hear someone calling "Obruni", which means "white man". Many have never seen a "white" person here. Children in particular are very enthusiastic or are afraid of you, which you cannot fully understand.

Before I left, I always tried to imagine how it would be in Ghana, now I have to realize that something like this absolutely does not work. You are incredibly prejudiced. I remember a couple of friends asking me if I had a roof over my head at all. A common reaction to my announcement “I'm going to Ghana” was “Oh! But you are brave! "

Now that I'm here I realize that everything doesn't feel that much different.

The place where I will live for the next eight months and which cannot be found on any map is called Fume and is located in the Volta region, which is in the east of Ghana, near the border with Togo. It is surrounded by high mountain slopes and dense forests. The whole village consists of just a few houses, a school and the small shops on the street, from which music can actually be heard around the clock. The other day Abba and Celine Dion were played, and everyone is crazy about them.

Whenever there is news, someone announces it over the loudspeaker, no matter what time it is.

Volunteering in Europe

Paris Ark, France, 2015-16

by Friederike Busse

Dear friends, dear family,
dear supporters,

now three months have passed again! The time here in the ark goes by very quickly for me - why is that? There is always something to do ... I enjoy the work and, as cheesy as it may sound now, it broadens my horizons.

Now, after 4 months, I dare to say that I have arrived at the new rhythm of everyday life.
But after getting used to this new everyday life, of course, there are numerous other challenges waiting for me. That's what defines the ark for me; the learning processes do not only take place in the first two to three months and then get lost in a monotonous routine - no, it goes on and on!

There would be, for example, showing authority in my shared apartment. A few weeks ago, Maria, my fellow volunteer, and I were explicitly given responsibility for two people in our foyer. You could call us mentors of these people. This means that we take care of your pocket money and are also the ones who deal with the “personalized project”. Every person supervised in the Arche has such a project and it serves to make progress on various levels of everyday life. This can concern, for example, maintaining social contacts or autonomy in dealing with money.
However, if there are problems with someone in the foyer, it is me, as their mentor, who discuss them with them. It is then important to set up rules, to draw up clear boundaries, to take on the role of an authority figure - and that as credibly as possible, please! Not easy when you are in such a position for the first time and in your highest lecture you are teeming with speech errors.
But I still enjoy this pedagogical work because you notice progress, both in yourself and in the person with a disability.

Another challenge that concerns me in the Arche is taking responsibility.
I already had one or two part-time jobs during my school days in which I thought I was learning to take responsibility. After a few weeks with the mentally handicapped people, I know for sure that I will only learn what that really means here. It is said that every Friday evening I am left alone (as the only assistant) with the people; that everyone is receiving the right medication; that I behave right when Patrick has an epileptic fit; that I don't lose my head in stressful situations and that I give people the feeling of having everything under control ... On the one hand, this responsibility puts me under pressure and, right from the start, scared me. On the other hand, it also gives me extraordinary self-confidence and security. I know that I am being counted on and that is a good feeling. One is needed and done, with this thought in mind, one's work very conscientiously and carefully.

Every now and then I run out of breath here in the Arche with these difficult tasks that bring setbacks and disappointments.
Motivation to stay on the ball gives me moments in which I realize that I have by no means discovered all the hidden “treasures” in the people I look after.
The birthday of Véronique, an autistic woman in my foyer, was recently celebrated. Véronique hardly speaks, if at all. On good days, she can formulate beginnings of simple words and give approximate answers to yes and no questions.
At one point in the evening their favorite song was sung, which I didn't know about. Suddenly I heard a voice that seemed very strange to me. I turned sideways to find out that it was Véronique who was singing along with her song, hardly articulated and more in a kind of hum, but with a glow in her eyes and a happy grin. This sight gave me a lot of joy.
I experienced a similar moment with Patrick. I was in the living room with him on a Friday afternoon and put on a CD by Charles Aznavour, now 91 years old chansonnier. In my "Friday afternoon mood" I then began to sway and hum along while I wanted to hang up the laundry. Then I saw that Patrick, who was standing in the kitchen (the kitchen and living room are not separate for us), also starts to sway and dance while he was drying his favorite dishes. Unlike me, he knew the text and quite unabashedly agreed with Monsieur Aznavour. I have never seen Patrick dance and sing like this before, although in my four months here I have often listened to French music with him! We ended up swaying together and laughing out loud at ourselves.

What also motivates me very much is that I am making progress in my relationships with people.
After my trial week, which I spent here in April this year, I was of the opinion that you can develop a relationship with people with disabilities surprisingly quickly. However, this is not the case. Just as with people without disabilities, it takes time and energy with them to find an approach and a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
My reaction was accordingly when I received an invitation from another foyer for their birthday a week ago, to which only a handful of people from our large Parisian community were invited. I can only say one thing about them: I can't remember the last time I was so happy about a birthday invitation.
Incidentally, the birthday was a wonderfully relaxed party. There was french fries, juicy gâteau au chocolat, and there was dancing to “Daddy Cool”.
This invitation to the birthday party shows how the people of the Arche say "thank you" in small or large gestures and signal that they have not forgotten the wonderful moments they have already spent with me.

In the second sentence of this report I wrote that my work in the ark is enriching. This is not only because I am learning to take responsibility and to show authority, but also because I am encouraged to think about very personal things. These include, for example, my career aspirations or my religion and my beliefs.
Last week we had a training course called “The Spiritual Life in the Ark”. I have noticed that for the first time I am seriously questioning where I can place myself in a religious or non-religious world.

So in my head it's haywire.
And when there is silence between my ears, the ark has something to do for me - I never get bored here.
At the end of October, I went on a weekend trip with three other assistants and five people with disabilities. We spent two days in an arch community near Paris. It was interesting to see how everyday life is played out in other communities and to return just as nice to the familiar environment.
When you return to the foyer like this, you notice how much it has become a homely place, a home.

Since I don't live in complete isolation here in the Arche, the attacks of November 13th did not go unnoticed by me. On this Friday evening I got a lift about 10 minutes before the attacks started in Paris. I wanted to go dancing the evening with a few other Arche volunteers and was expecting a friend from Erwitte for the next morning, who wanted to spend Saturday and Sunday with me in Paris, because - yes - it was my weekend off!
It all fell flat, of course.
I spent the weekend in the apartment of three fellow volunteers. We didn't go out for the whole weekend ... because nothing could have been done anyway (everything was closed)? Because after all the sacrifices we just didn't feel like sightseeing? Out of fear? ... A mixture of everything might be best.
Some time later, I used a “soirée foyer” (shared evening for the group) to try to bring the subject closer to the residents with disabilities - not an easy matter. It was extremely important for me to address the whole thing, because a mental limitation must not be the reason for letting such a world-shaking event pass by without a trace. It was difficult for me to break this complex topic down to the most important, but I hope that the residents have taken as much as possible from this evening
Personally, I haven't really changed my behavior after the attacks.I go out on the street and use public transport as I did before. I got used to the bag checks in every store and the military everywhere surprisingly quickly.
I would like to say that it is part of my attitude and belief that I will not let my freedom be taken away from me, but it is also probably because I live in a quiet, safe neighborhood.

Now I have texted you in full in the truest sense of the word!
So I will conclude my second report here without further ado before I can think of other stories.

I just take the opportunity to say thank you again for the great time that I am able to spend here thanks to your support.

Now I wish you a happy 2016, one that has good health and wonderful moments with your family and friends in store for you!

Best regards,

Rieke Busse

German School Helsinki, Finland, 2012-13

by Lea Wagenfeld

Dear SFD team,

I am fine here in the north, I have nothing to complain about so far and so I thought to myself, I will deal with recent events in the following report.

Name: Lea Wagenfeld
Location: Helsinki School
Country: Finland

My twentieth birthday was an example of why I like it so much here: Starting with the morning birthday breakfast with my fellow volunteers Julia and Paul, where they both really made an effort, congratulating my family over the phone and several letters and parcels from Germany, most of which, to my delight, arrived on my birthday. Both my friends and my family and fellow volunteers have outdone themselves with their gifts. Above all, the gifts from Julia and Paul are an example of how closely we have grown together in the time that we are already living here together and what friendship binds us - the gifts from the two could hardly have been more fantastic, personal and lavish can. The way in which my birthday was celebrated at my place of assignment is also a small glimpse of how well I have settled in at the DSH. Already in the morning in the metro the first children from my afternoon care class 2A met me beaming and wanted to congratulate me, in the DSH a lot of colleagues and other students came up to me to bring me their congratulations and presents. The tenth grade, in which I work as a teaching assistant, sang a birthday serenade for me at the request of the students - in German and in Finnish. But even that could still be topped, because my afternoon care colleague Antje had come up with something very special for me in cooperation with the class teacher of class 2A, Katharina: when I came for the afternoon care, the class invited me in and I was allowed to sit on a chair put in front of all children. The class then sang a birthday serenade (“I wish you a rainbow”) with the support of Katharina, Antje and the intern Johanna and afterwards each little boy came to my chair and whispered their very personal birthday wishes in my ear. Of course, I was already moved to tears when I was presented with a heartfelt birthday present: a huge "birthday card" in which a page was designed by each child of the 2A with a picture and painted and personal birthday wishes. I was so touched! I think you can see why I enjoy working at the DSH with the children so much. After school there were still a few surprises waiting for me and when I finally got to the dormitory, I had to prepare a small buffet with Julia's help, because I had invited half of the dormitory to celebrate my birthday in the evening ... the guests tumbled around soon once and again, the Antti-Korpin-tie-family, as we sometimes call ourselves, was sitting comfortably together in the common room of our apartment. My guests had “traveled” from far away ... France, Austria, Italy, Germany, Portugal, India, Greece, Canada, Denmark, the Philippines, Spain ... My Danish neighbor Lotte had got me a great present: a Finland flag, which everyone is up to Birthday guest could write a very personal greeting - a priceless memento! But I would never have forgotten him ... my twentieth birthday, my first away from home and yet by far one of the most beautiful!

Now there is still space for another event of my volunteer year:

The trip to Russia with Paul, Julia and Giorgio, an Italian friend from the dormitory.

I think this trip, like the trip to Lapland over Easter with four Greeks, two Austrians, one Italian and three of us Germans, is a great example of how many friendships we have made with young people from all over the world this year to have. Such a trip together welds you together and you also speak English all the time, which has already significantly improved my language skills.

We took the ferry from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg and were only in Russia for 72 hours, the maximum time you can stay there without a visa. But there was enough time to get a first impression of this country and this, to our surprise, relatively westernized city. We arrived in Saint Petersburg on May 9th, the very day the Russians celebrate that they have won the war against Germany. The whole city was in an uproar, everything was full of communist flags, films on the subject were on TV, public performances by uniformed children to celebrate the day, ribbons and flowers everywhere for the war veterans ... We didn't want to be recognized as Germans because we didn't know how the locals would perceive it and to be on the safe side, when passers-by asked about our nationality, we pretended to be neutral Swiss.

So we spent a few unforgettable and memorable days in beautiful Saint Petersburg.

The last point I want to make is my visit.

I've already had quite a lot of visitors ... my family, who initially brought me to Helsinki and stayed in the city for a few days, my friend Teresa, my friends Nikola and Patricia and my friend Lisa, came up to the country I came from so excited to see me. All four friends only stayed for a few days, but that was enough to show the most beautiful corners of Helsinki. Since the city center of Helsinki is relatively small, one day is usually enough to visit the famous sights and so there was still time for the beautiful Seurasaari island, a hot drink in my favorite café Regatta and a ferry ride to the island of Suomenlinna. All four also got an insight into Finnish sauna culture, the nightlife in Helsinki, my life and my people in the dormitory and my work at the DSH. I always find it nice to have visitors and it is also interesting for Julia and Paul to get to know my friends from home.

I still feel very comfortable in my place of work and in my general situation with colleagues, fellow volunteers, the country and life.

I am sure that I made the right decision with this year abroad in Helsinki.

Scottish Youth Hostel Association, Scotland, 2012-13

by Julia Haelke

I've been here in Scotland since September 3rd. Franzi, Thiemo and I spent the first week in Stirling. We stayed in the youth hostel there and had breakfast and sometimes dinner as well. We got to know all the important people in the SYHA National Office. Tamie, who is responsible for us, is really nice and can be understood very well (compared to some other people here). The Scottish accent is sometimes quite difficult to understand, but that's not only the case for foreigners, but also often enough for the English :).

Name: Julia Haelke
Place of work: SYHA
Country: Scotland

The three girls from the marketing team were really nice and immediately offered us to post pictures and texts on the SYHA blog in case we do something interesting, or just when we feel like it and maybe they write an article about us in the hostel- Magazine.

In Stirling we then, together with Linda Hamilton, opened our bank account at Loyds TSB. We have also received a Railcard that gives us discounts on train travel. This is really useful, as I have already visited Franzi in Glasgow and with the Railcard I have saved about 4 pounds. Otherwise we also had a lot of free time in Stirling, during which we visited the Stirling Castle, for example, which you can visit for free if you live in Stirling.

On September 10th it was time to say goodbye as we all had to travel to our different locations. In my case, it went to Oban. From Stirling I took the train for about 4.5 hours. (The travel costs that we pay when we drive from site to site are covered by SYHA.) Oban is located in the Highlands, on the west coast of Scotland in the so-called Argyll Group. It is a small fishing town that is right on the sea. The hostel is also right on the water and from my room I even have a sea view! The hostel consists of two buildings. The main building, which was renovated a year ago and is really beautiful, and the back building, the so-called lodge. I have my room in this lodge. I have a toilet, shower, 2 bunk beds and definitely enough space.

To my surprise, I was allowed to go to reception on my first day at work! In Stirling we have already seen how the system works with which you book rooms, people check in and out and take payments, but it is so complicated that I still do not fully understand it even after three weeks. So on my first day I still struggled a lot with this system.

On the second day I was practically alone at the reception and was even allowed to answer the phone. Although in my opinion that was a bit of an exaggeration because I couldn't really help people yet and then had to keep handing the phone over.

Nevertheless, I definitely think it's very, very good that I'm not only here to clean and that I am given a certain responsibility.

The other staff members are really nice. They're all a bit older than me, but that's okay. Mary, the hostel manager, tries to arrange my days off so that I have free time around the same time as Franzi and Thiemo. Which I find really nice and which is by no means a matter of course.

There are different working shifts here. The first shift starts at 7 a.m. and you sit at reception until 10 a.m. and actually just check people out. The cleaning then starts at 10 a.m. The hostel is closed from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. and all rooms that have been used are cleaned during this time. Sometimes it's really exhausting. The next shift then goes from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m. and you sit at the front desk again, but this time people have to check in. A surprising number of Germans come here, but I still try to speak English as often as possible. Although it is sometimes nice to speak German again.

I've got on well with the money so far. So far I've spent around 80 pounds on things like food, things that you simply need, so there is definitely enough money left over to go out for a coffee or to sit in a pub.

I bought an internet stick because unfortunately we don't have free internet access here. But I'm not yet completely convinced because it should last 3 months, but I've already used over half of it, although I'm really not on the Internet much. I think that was a bad investment, but let's see, maybe charging is not that expensive and then that would be fine.

So far I've spent my free time shopping for groceries and exploring Oban. I definitely want to go hiking here a lot, because the landscape here is really really beautiful! Maybe I can pull myself up to do a little more sport again :)

I think I will visit the other volunteers more often. Franzi will come to see me in Oban next week, which I am really looking forward to! And since Scotland is not a very big country, it is easy to visit without spending too much money.

SYHA has made a few changes and improvements to the volunteers from Germany. What I definitely like is that we knew from the start which hostels we were going to. So you can plan better and somehow have more security.

I will be in Oban from September to December. Then I'm in Glasgow for three months, then three months in Rowardennan and finally two more months in Edinburgh Metro. I am really excited about my assignment, because there is always a change from the city to more rural areas, from north to south. That's how I get to know Scotland very well.

So far, unfortunately, I don't have that many opportunities to speak English, but I hope that will change when I spend more hours at reception.

A sentence about my voluntary service

New Madrid Sun School

by Nele Wagenfeld, 2015/16

"When we meet again, we sing Enrique Iglesias loudly and tell each other about the winter without heating and the summer in Spain."

Longo Mai, Costa Rica

by Anna Geisler, 2015/16

"I skipped over the blink of an eye and ended up in the dirty washing-up water - now I can swim."

Longo Mai, Costa Rica

by Laila Tremel, 2015/16

"There is no difference between work and leisure - you just live."

Compagnons Batisseurs

by Tobias Kelliger, 2012-13

"Even if I was" only "in France, I have seen more than ever, gained so much experience,
Ideas gained and new things learned. I would never have thought that my voluntary service would bring me so much! "

Compagnons Batisseurs

by Zarah Rietschel, 2012-13

"In addition to many wonderful experiences and experiences, my voluntary service also helped me with my career choice: Even if a year of craft can be exciting and varied after 13 years of school, I now know that I don't want to become a roofer."

German School Lisbon

by Charlotte Schaetzky, 2012-13

"The foreign becomes everyday life. Work becomes leisure. Acquaintances become friends. Lisbon became a piece of home."

German School Oslo

by Lukas Werner, 2012-13

"For me, this risk of surrendering to a culture means trying to discover your freedom, to appreciate life and, in the end, to be much closer to yourself than before."

Musica en los Barrios

by Lara Loescher, 2015/16

"Music is able to connect people in a very special way and in a special depth, like nothing else in this world."