Here’s an update from our EVS volunteer Grant, who is working on a project in sunny Spain at the moment:
“I have really enjoyed my time here so far, I am loving working at the Primary School, Ría do Burgo in Culleredo. I have mainly been teaching the kids in Primaries 4,5 and 6; although, I have a couple of classes each week with Primary 2 and pre-primary (5 years old), so it’s been a good experience of the different levels in the school, as well as being quite challenging too!
Most of the time my role is to assist María Jésus the English teacher I work with the majority of the time, by reading to the class, answering the kids questions and helping them with their work.
However, I also take a class once a week with Primaries 4, 5 and 6 and give them a presentation in English about various different interesting topics. Some of the ones I have covered so far have been: More about myself and where i come from, Glasgow, Scotland; School in Scotland and how it is different to school in Spain; and interesting cities and places in the UK. It had been a very enjoyable experience so far, especially getting know all the kids and building a rapport with them.
In addition, I am really enjoying living in A Coruña, it’s a great city with lots of interesting things to do: museums, parks, beaches (although, it’s been a bit cold for that recently), and also plenty of bars and nightlife as there are a lot of students here – so I definitely haven’t been bored to say the least! Both of my flatmates are very nice and we have been getting along well and I have also made a lot of friends who are on EVS too and other people who are working as auxiliaries in schools like myself, so I already feel quite settled even after only a month and a half”.
Last year, I was lucky enough to spend five weeks working on an Erasmus+ funded project with a group of five French-speaking volunteers. While they were all from different parts of the world, from the suburbs of Paris to Alsace to Mali, the group relocated to the department of Seine-Saint- Denis in France before beginning their seven month volunteering project as part of Solidarités Jeunesses.
This would see them working together on different projects across several countries. Indeed, during April and May of 2016, the group visited Scotland for the first time as part of a community project called KATIMAVIK, which they explained means “meeting place” in Inuktitut.
KATIMAVIK’s main mission is to help young people who have struggled with difficulties at home, school or the workplace and support their reintroduction into the working world. This became the most important aspect of the project for the volunteers as they were constantly busy from the start to the end of their time in Glasgow. They spent five weeks working on community projects in the local area, seeing the sights of their new host city and of course, getting to know other local volunteers and community groups.
The reason I became involved in the project was because I am studying French at Glasgow University and received an email from Xchange Scotland, who worked in partnership with Solidarités Jeunesses to organise and support the group’s stay in Glasgow. Calling on local volunteers who had knowledge of French, Xchange was looking for as many people as possible to join in with the volunteering and help with the community projects. Having just finished uni for the year and with an extremely long summer ahead of me, it seemed like an ideal project to get involved in. Not only would I have the chance to improve my French but I would also be able to give back to my community and meet people from all over the world.
While I was excited to meet the volunteers and get involved in showing them around my home town, admittedly, I was extremely nervous about the concept of meeting new people and possibly struggling to make myself understood. However, we all got on incredibly well and are even still in touch now. Taking advantage of several days of rare sunny weather, one of our main tasks was to assist with local community gardening projects, helping to tidy and revitalise the green spaces of several churches.
In fact, one of the most impressive things about this group was their work ethic, as despite spending so many months completing intense manual labour such as building and heavy lifting, they would get straight on with their work until it was completed. In the end, their hard work was rewarded with activities like trips to Edinburgh or the highly requested fish suppers. We also made sure they got to do things like take the tour bus on a trip around the city centre and west end. We even managed to enjoy a night out all together on the final night before they headed back to their respective home countries for some rest before starting their next project.
Looking back on my time with the volunteers, I feel very fortunate to have been able to get involved with both KATIMAVIK and Xchange Scotland as both groups have been incredibly welcoming. This has sparked my interest in volunteering and persuaded me to continue helping with projects in the area and I am now even in the process of completing my Community Achievement Award.
I am very grateful to KATIMAVIK and Xchange Scotland for allowing me to be a part of such an important project and I hope this will inspire others to look into volunteering and help the local community.
My experience doing European Voluntary Service (EVS) at Xchange Scotland can be summarised in one word: fulfilling.
Fulfilling of learning, development, stories, travel, laugh, and specially WORK. I worked a lot but I am not complaining, it gave me the opportunity to develop the skills I wanted to develop for long time but I didn’t have the chance to do so before.
It was a life changing experience that guided myself to my long-term career and helped me to get the job I was looking for.
It allowed me to learn about a lot of things I didn’t know about like sectarianism and Scottish culture and to go deeply in topics I’ve been working for years like creative activism and intercultural education.
The good side, I’m still connected with Xchange Scotland and still being helped to learn and develop myself in many different ways like being a mentor for EVS volunteers.
This summer, David from Glasgow undertook a rural volunteering adventure at Auchindrain. Together David, with other intrepid international volunteers from France, took part in archaeological digging, singing and camping. He is happy to share his story with everyone on gaining a new perspective of Scotland, learning a lot about rural life – and himself!
I had never heard of summer camps before, but heard about them through Xchange Scotland’s mailing list. I had also met Chiara and Ana at an event, who also run Xchange Scotland’s NOMADs project.
Why Auchindrain? Well, I fancied something in the middle of nowhere, which is so different from being in a big city like Glasgow. I volunteer at many different organisations in Glasgow but this is something new!
What surprised you? That I had a phone signal! My phone signal was good, though I think I was the only one! Even the camp leaders were jealous by the end of our 2 weeks.
I also really liked camping. I preferred the tents to staying indoors, even when the weather was bad. The rain didn’t bother me – and it rained a lot! I got a tent to myself which was like a luxury.
What were your favourite things about Auchindrain? The visitor centre was cozy, plus the food was nice. The cakes were good! The social aspect was excellent, especially the parties at night time. We had a ceilidh and we got one of the interns to sing and play guitar.
I thought it was going to be more nature based, but the digging was interesting. We found old, buried horse shoes! We found leather, glass and lots of other treasures. Some of the tasks were relaxing and we worked together companionably.
What challenged you? The weather! It was either too hot or too cold. For that reason, it did feel good to go back to Glasgow and appreciate home comforts.
The cockerels who live onsite were also challenging. They would wake us up every morning! They were louder than an alarm on your phone!
At the end of our fortnight together, The French volunteers could understand my accent better than some of the other Scottish volunteers. I even went swimming in Inveraray and enjoyed a day out there!
What would you tell anyone interested in volunteering at a work camp? I would tell everyone to try out an exchange once, just for the experience. I would do it all again next year. I loved it!
If you are interested in learning about renovation, this Short-Term EVS opportunity in France is a great chance for you.
Project: Supported by the French Red Cross, The Medical Education Institute (MEI) of Tonnay-Charente, has undertaken the mission to welcome children and teenagers suffering from a light intellectual deficiency.
Now settled in the Castle Les Capucins, the former tuberculosis hospital, the MEI, develops an individualized project that helps teenagers to build self-confidence, to learn the community life, and to be more independant, by encouraging them to build a futur life, and to develop a love for learning (academic training or professional).
Location: Tonnay-Charente, Charente Maritime, around 40 km from La Rochelle
Work: To welcome the children and teens, the buildings have to be in good condition. The main building, a castle from the 17th century, is therfore under continuous renovation and restoration. Under the supervision of a referred technician of the MEI, and in collaboration with some children and teenagers who are a part of the MEI, you will work on restoring the terrace of the MEI’s restaurant. The work will consist of stone-paving in the roman style, and building two small walls on each side, using lime mortar and implementing traditional masonry techniques.
When: From the 28.07 to 14.08
Leisure activities: In order to live and share times of intercultural exchanges, the hosts will organize excursions in the region and animations with the local population. You will discover the local heritage: a suspension bridge, a former abbey, and a priory. During your free time, you will participate in the local summer festivities (music festival, night market..), and you will visit the famous nearby town of La Rochelle. You will also be able to enjoy a stroll on the beach and swim in the ocean.
If you are interested or know someone that might be interested, please send a short motivation letter to Chiara
In November we hosted a session to talk about creativity and what are the most common barriers we face whilst trying to develop our skills.
We’re always told creativity is one of the most important professional skills we can develop. Imagination and creativity are the catalysts for transforming knowledge into insights, valuable ideas, and successful implementation.
In essence, you see the potential instead of the problem. You see the reasons to act rather than the reasons not to act. Ultimately, breakthrough results depend on these cognitive capabilities. In organizations, innovation comes from people who use imagination and creativity to solve complex problems. The most complex problems of all being the ones we didn’t know we have.
The foundation of Nest, a smart thermostat, started with the statement
“We are going to reimagine every unloved product in people’s lives!”
But more than professionally developing creative thinking can help you personally. It can help you find solutions to those unanswered questions within yourself and within those you love. It can help you question the why rather than just the how in your life enabling you to shed unnecessary tasks and burdens and focus on what is important to you and find ways to invest in what is valuable to you.
We decided to make a couple exercises to practice our creativity. During the first one we told a simple and abstract story where the participants has to only imagine and visualize the story in their minds. After that, they explained what they saw and in this way we showed how all of us are full of different worlds.
The second of our exercises was ‘Fill the Shape’. Each participant draw a random line and pass the paper to the person next to them to continue the shape and create something from it.
What is holding back our creativity?
Over the session we covered some of the most commonly found barriers for our creativity. As we grow, the fear of failure becomes stronger and we block our creative process in order to avoid any kind of embarrassment.
Whereas a child is always ready to play and create, an adult will try to follow the rules and the social agreements that will make him fit. With the idea to explore this aspect, we did the game of the circles. You have 20 circles in a paper, empty circles, where each person can draw wherever they want as far as It has a circle shape. With a limited amount of time, all the participants draw as many ideas as they can. The most common ones are a football ball, a sun, a happy face, our planet, the moon or variants of those ones.
At the end of the session we reflect in our own ways to be creative and also sharing personal stories.
Recent studies has shown that creativity increases when a person lives abroad
If you want to know more about Xchange Scotland or participate in one of our sessions, check all the information in our Facebook page or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the aims of the ‘Spread the Action!’ project is to promote critical thinking and to foster empathy as tools to tackle inequalities and discrimination. Keeping that in mind, we design our trainings and events as a platform for participants to reflect on our assumptions, beliefs, values and experiences that inform our views and perspective on these topics.
This is especially relevant nowadays, as we discussed at our last training, on the 13th October: We don’t seem to appreciate our humanity anymore, we’re just becoming our labels (e.g. immigrant, foreigner, Scottish, British, pro staying in the EU, pro leaving the EU, pro Trump, pro Hillary…). In this current context (Brexit, Refugee humanitarian crisis, American elections..) we seem to be more open to voicing stereotypes, prejudices and assumptions out and loudly: Can we contain that? Should we contain that? Do we need to go through this rough stage in order to arrive to the opportunity for change, the opportunity to celebrate Identities and the wealth of Diversity? Do our differences justify the bitter divide that is taking over our life today? Could we learn to disagree without abandoning one another?
For us, promoting critical thinking helps us to go into the values, beliefs, assumptions behind opinions and positions (discrimination, hatred…). One powerful tool to promote critical thinking is asking questions: questions have really helped us and the groups we’re working with to open up, clarify and explore assumptions, and to explain why we think and behave the way we do.
As Fran Peavey, pioneer in the use of strategic questions, explained, questions can empower and create motion – “What or who is missing for you in this picture? What do we need more clarity about?”-; they can create new options –“What difference would bringing these topics (identity, hateful behaviours and attitudes, empathy…) to our group(s) make?”- and they can help us to dig deeper – “What is important to us about challenging hateful attitudes and behaviours?” “Why do we care about this field of work?”, “What might be the risks (problems, barriers) and opportunities (funding, networking…) of working with these topics?”.
And what do we mean by empathy? After doing deep reading on this issue, we’re understanding empathy as the respectful understanding of what others are experiencing and being fully available to the other person. Accepting the other person as they are at that moment (accepting, not necessarily agreeing!) so we may feel safe enough to look at the issue causing the divide, to work through it and to move on. And last, but not least, empathy requires us to be genuine, honest with oneself and with the other when interacting with each other.
Because“questions can be like a lever you use to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can. . . . If we have a short lever, we can only just crack open the lid on the can. But if we have a longer lever, or a more dynamic question, we can open that can up much wider and really stir things up. . . If the right question is applied, and it digs deep enough, then we can stir up all the creative solutions.” (F. Peavey)
Over the past months we’ve also been coordinating Action Days aiming at raising awareness about the influence each of us have in order to make a positive difference: every little counts to challenge hateful behaviours and to nurture empathy! We have partnered up on two occasions with the British Transport Police to organise Action Days, using different creative methods to reflect on hateful attitudes and behaviours. At our last Action Day at Central Station, contributing to Hate Crime Awareness Week 2016 (#HCAW2016), we invited passers by to come up and place some of their ideas, feelings, opinions about what characteristics from one’s identity might provoke hateful behaviours & attitudes and what could we actually do to reduce the hateful behaviours and attitudes. As a follow up, we have created a questionnaire: it will only take you a few minutes and your answers will contribute to the ongoing conversation and will be extremely helpful for this needed discussion to keep developing and progressing. Because in our opinion, both critical thinking and empathy are like muscles: through practice and work we will keep getting better at them.
Xchange Scotland educational work is about creating opportunities for positive action and challenging barriers that can keep us apart and hold us back -as individuals and communities. Unfortunately, those barriers seem to be taking over reality nowadays: challenging our humanity and testing our empathy. In the current context, it seems especially important to keep communicating to build understanding, not to hurt. To communicate to exchange ideas, diverse ways of being and points of views, not to be right. To communicate to develop and to learn, not to punish. To communicate to share what we care about, not to escape of or to create fear.
That’s why with our project “Spread the action!” we’re aiming at supporting and inspiring practitioners and group / community leaders to tackle sectarianism and discriminations and to promote empathy in an appropriate and relevant way to their practice and the groups they’re working with.
In this blog post we wanted to share some of the tools to facilitate dialogue on identity and belonging that we’re using with groups: On the 22nd of August we used The Iceberg Model Tool to explore our identities and cultures with participants from the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council ‘ “Connected Communities Challenging Hate” project. According to this model, when we describe who we are, our identity is connected to others’ through our interactions, relationships, choices, contexts and communities. Our Identity changes over time and it’s anchored in something larger (community, family, society,…). For this model, only a very small portion of the iceberg can be seen above the waterline (songs, language, clothing, symbols, religious traditions…). This top of the iceberg is supported by the much larger bottom part underneath the waterline and therefore invisible: a powerful foundation (norms, values, beliefs…). The Iceberg model implies that visible parts of our identity are expressions of our invisible part.
What’s the consequence of having most of our identity hidden in a context of new relations and intercultural encounters? When different cultures come together, we might often rely on our preconceived assumptions about other groups and peoples. Using this tool creates the opportunity to explore identity and barriers from the visible part -celebrations, language, religious practices…- and from the invisible part – traditions, values….-). This tool provides with an opportunity to nurture curiosity, respect and understanding through sharing and learning about our own values, attitudes & behaviours.
On the 2nd of September, we had the chance to gather a group of change makers from the Stewartry Council of Voluntary Service, from Interfaith Glasgow, Greenfaulds High School and Xchange Scotland to reflect on sectarianism and to explore effective ways to promote empathy within their groups and communities.
We are using the Common Cause Approach, according to which one of the most important factors in pushing for change is the set of values: a strong driving force behind many of our attitudes and behaviours. For us, working with values allows us to explore the perspectives behind hateful attitudes and behaviours, creating an opportunity to nurture curiosity, respect and understanding.
Examining these values more closely allows us to reveal connections between seemingly different attitudes and behaviours and opportunities to bring about lasting, systemic change and to promote constructive discussion and empathy. Feedback from participants is being very positive as these seem to be useful tools to bring to the groups and communities they’re working with!
Wanting to learn about these and other tools? Our next session will take contribute to the Hate Crime Awareness Week 2016 (7th – 14th October):
WHEN? Thursday 13th October, 11 – 5pm.
WHERE? Kinning Park Complex (G41 1AQ)
TO APPLY / FIND OUT MORE: drop us a line at email@example.com
For all of those who don´t know me, I am the person behind the Social Media of Xchange Scotland. You might have been reading my blog posts and following my updates but probably never thinking about me. That usually happens. All of us face organisational and companies’ accounts as those terrible sellers who wants to put ideas in our minds while we only want to know more about the new boyfriend of that girl who works with us; or about that other boy who used to go to college with you and apparently, has decided to married (too soon, of course!).
But there is always someone behind those accounts. And that´s me. My name is Luna and I was born 27 years ago in Madrid, Spain. Since I have memory I have been thrilled by all kinds of stories. Somehow I ended up studying Advertisement. Over the years I thought that it was the dream job I would had never dreamt about. From a student perspective I felt filled with curiosity and passion for my future, never thinking what I would found later on.
And yes. The fact is that I started working on my field and I didn´t even enjoy. Long meetings after long meetings, eternal hours of work and the feeling that all that work was only for moving money from one place to another. No use for anybody else apart from my boss, our client and our Banks who might have a good day. (They always have).
With sadness and disappointment I had to face the fact that I couldn´t live that lifestyle anymore and I started this adventure called EVS. This is a European programme which allows young people to collaborate with an NGO for a year. I am not going to lie, I barely knew If I wanted to do it, If it was going to be useful for me or not, I just followed my instincts and thought: ‘In the worst case scenarios, It´s a year living abroad and meeting new people’. It wasn’t the best timing in my life, I had a good settled life with my friends and ordinary routines, but there is never good timing on this kind of things.
Glasgow welcomed me with raing and clouds. It was 7 in the morning and Carla, my coordinator here in Xchange, was there with a smile and loads of energy. I will never understand how she does it, but yes, she is a non stop positivity machine. Over this year I have cried, laught, enjoy and fight, I have faced challenges I never thought of. I have evolved in my profession, worked with the European Parliament in Strasbourg, spoke in the Scottish Parliament, created strategies, content, delivered sessions, tranings, took pictures, created logos, promote our projects in more than 15 colleges and universities all over Scotland, created new partnerships and even gardened with our international volunteers.
Let’s go back to the beginning. You might wonder, why did you do it? Well, Xchange Scotland is way more than a simple small organisation led by young people. I have tried to show this in each post and each picture. We truly work to help others, to improve lives and bring opportunities to everyone, no matter who you are, you can learn, travel, discover and evolve. You might never see this, but Xchange Scotland is our crazy Martin always with new ideas, the calm Jonathan and his deep understanding of volunteering, Carla and his ability to deal with ten things at the same time with a smile (and even with a broken ankle!), Julia and her companion that we miss almost every day, Iker who worked hard to make the best of the time he had in Scotland, Katie who helped me in my many grammar mistakes and Shelley, who joined our office not long time ago but that she already brighten everything with her attitude.
And also, Yulia and Misa, whose stories you can find in this same blog, who has been my partners in crime, my flatmates and friends who have being with me in all this crazyness and who I cannot even believe I won´t share flat with anymore. There is no words to convince you to live an EVS experience, but do it. Because there is nothing so unique as finding a new international family.