Cardiff Business School
Summer volunteering placement
Where did you go?
I went to Fiji with Think Pacific to volunteer for a month, helping children with English literacy and numeracy on a 1-to-1 basis and also coaching sports.
What motivated you to take up a Global Opportunity?
Firstly, I believed that many of my skills (such as leadership and team working) could be put in to action, and could thereby be further developed. Whilst enhancing my employability was an important factor, it was the human experience that particularly appealed to me.
I have a real interest in culture and from my course, I know that there is no better way to develop an understanding of another culture than living in one. Therefore, I was looking for a challenge by immersing myself in a culture that is so different from our European way of living.
Volunteering for underprivileged communities is likewise something that I had always eagerly wanted to do, taking advantage of opportunities that are available to me. Making a difference and truly contributing to improving the life of a community felt really important to me.
What were your top three highlights from your time abroad?
- The people and village life. The bond I created with a community so far away is overwhelming, as I have never felt more welcomed than in this village to which we were complete strangers. I also learnt so much from their way of living, and how much they genuinely care for one another.
- The impact I made. I felt so enthusiastic to prepare lessons and sport sessions that I knew were making a real difference. I have gained memories I will cherish forever, as we contributed as a team to improving the life of a community through activities such as women’s exercise classes, or the village’s first ever ‘Fun Day’, where 40 year old men had their first ever butterfly face paint done. It was all incredibly rewarding.
- Finally, how could I not mention the landscapes? Driving from Suva, the capital city, to my Fijian village, Nayavu, was a two hour drive through mountains, surrounded by endless stretches of vegetation. I woke up to an impressive cloud of mist on the hilltops every morning, which forecasted sunshine and heat for the day, and made the view from outside my house absolutely breath-taking. Even after-school trips to the river were made extra special thanks to beautiful surroundings.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was definitely food, as it changes dramatically from our UK diet. Fijian diet is very carbs heavy and quite repetitive. In addition, they tend to take offense when someone doesn’t eat much due to the fact they work so hard to grow their own food. When one finishes their plate, they’ll encourage them to ‘kana levu!’ (eat more!). The repetitive side of it, the rather large portion sizes, plus the fact I was missing my usual diet, made me feeling a bit low on some occasions.
However, I got used to it (just like I got used to being muddy, cold showers, etc.) and it was also made easier as my Fijian family picked up on my favourite Fijian meals after a couple of days, which they then cooked more often. Cooking with them was also an amazing experience. Just the process of walking out the village to get a coconut straight from the tree, to then go home and make coconut milk out of it to cook with was fascinating! In the end, I also knew I would be back home missing my Fijian mum’s pumpkin curry before I knew it. And I do miss that delicious pumpkin curry.
What is the one thing you wish you’d known before you left?
Something that I definitely wish I’d known before is how much easier it is to go abroad in the 1st or 2nd year of your degree if you get the chance. Because I was going on a summer programme in my final year, I had to be back for graduation, but also ended up having an exam on the last day of examination period. Only a few projects were available for this time period. This also meant I had to manage moving out of my student house, exam revision and last-minute preparation for my project, all at the same time. If you’re looking into going on a summer programme and have the opportunity to do so before your last year at university, it is definitely worth doing so as you’ll get more choice as to where and when you can go.
What would you say to a student who was unsure about spending a period abroad at university?
I know going abroad can be really scary. It is the unknown and so requires a lot of organisation and thinking ahead, and is a big commitment. But it is definitely worth it! There is a lot of pre-departure support available from both host organisations and Global Opportunities that can help counteracting these challenges by preparing you as well as possible for difficulties you might face. As scary as it may seem before leaving, experiencing first-hand a different culture is incredibly rewarding on a lot of different levels, may it be personally, culturally, or even professionally. I was unsure, and I was nervous, but I don’t regret my decision for a second. Make sure you take advantage of opportunities available to you whilst at university.