Maddie Beautyman is a volunteer with Restless Development who will be travelling to Tanzania this summer to take part in our International Citizen Service (ICS) programme. In this post, she reflects on how much she is learning outside of her lecture hall and how international volunteering can be for anyone.
Contrary to popular belief your favourite desk in the university library will not comfort you through hard times. No one grows old remembering that time they got a really good night’s sleep and everything went exactly as planned. It’s getting lost in the London tube, queuing for hours in New York for a ticket on Broadway and accidentally giving your entire flat in student halls food poisoning from a dodgy frozen chicken Kiev that prepares us for the challenges in life – and I’ll tell you a secret – I didn’t do any of those things in a lecture theatre.
The first thing that can be helpful to bare in mind is that getting that golden spot in university provides each individual with the means to get a degree: it does not provide anyone with unlimited knowledge. When you wake up on the morning that your school exam results are released and the text, the email or the letter doesn’t quite hold the grades you need: do not panic. Just remember that there are many different pathways to further education. It will feel like the sky is falling but if you keep working hard the clouds will clear and blue skies will show eventually.
Secondly, once you’re sitting in that golden spot – which usually turns out to be a rickety wooden fold down chair in a drafty lecture hall costing you thousands of pounds – you still have to work hard to learn.
Having just come back from my pre-departure training weekend with Restless Development in Warrington – with some brand new thoughts on international development – I feel obliged to remind all 16-25 year olds that the ICS programme is entirely free of cost. To set this in a relatable context, it helps to think that three months of voluntary work overseas and six months of support at home in pursuing issues you’re passionate about, costs less than a plastic bag does in the UK.
If you had asked me, before my weekend training with Restless, for a definition of international development I would have struggled to articulate anything worth your time. Yet now, I could provide you with many different opinions from 30 different young people. To be fair, if anyone had told me I would spend time laughing and learning as one of my fellow volunteers army crawled along the ground pretending to be infertile soil, I may have doubted you also… But that did happen. No, honestly, you would have laughed too.
This may shock the world but not all young people who volunteer abroad eat vegan food, listen to indie music and devote their entire life to development in third world countries. This summer I will be volunteering in Tanzania but I admit it, I probably eat too much beef, watch too much Netflix and spend too much time in my university Union. When you sign up to do international volunteering you will not immediately sprout hair braids and baggy cotton trousers. You may not find eternal peace or conquer all disease, but you will make a difference to the community you work in and you will learn something that you can bring home with you to the UK. That’s something you would struggle to do in a lecture.
So the next time you pay 5p for a plastic bag to carry your food shopping home – which I hope does not include any lethal chicken Kievs – ask yourself, what can I do to continue to learn without my lectures? Should I volunteer with Restless Development?