My name is Angelina and I spent 2017 as an EVS volunteer with Xchange Scotland. I was involved in international voluntary service as a participant and later as a full-time staff member of an NGO in Moscow where I’m from for over 9 years. By the time I started my EVS I had various experiences in my life, which included a lot of travelling and even living abroad. I had friends from different countries and I was very confident in my English. In a nutshell, I felt very prepared for this new adventure, thought nothing could really surprise me and I knew I was going to have a great time. There is no doubt that I did, but this was not as smooth of a ride as I initially expected.
I think this is also the first time I truly had an intercultural learning experience. Not the one where you try foreign food and learn three words in a foreign language. But a really deep one, the one that made me question everything, think and grow as a human being. When you work at a charity, which is as small as Xchange Scotland, you will essentially do many different tasks. It’s an environment where you have to be creative, hard working and motivated. It was tough as times but also rewarding.
Despite the fact that I used to work in the same field before, I discovered a lot of new angles to the job, learnt about problems of Scottish youth and how they are so similar to Russian young people and so different at the same time. Doing promo, Erasmus+ awareness raising events and other presentations I went to Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Dundee and even as far as Orkney.
I’ve met people from different organisations working for a better Scotland, which was very educational and inspiring. I did sessions for young people at the Rangers Study Centre, which uncovered a whole side of Glaswegian history I have never even heard of, prepared leaders for our summer projects, which involved dozens of youngsters coming from all over Europe to volunteer in Scotland and prepared Scottish folk to go on short-term and long-term exchanges to other countries.
And as a result, I felt in love with Scotland and will miss it and its people dearly.
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.
In September 2017 Kristina took part in an Erasmus+ funded training course called Nomad’s Land: how and why to talk about migration organised by our partner Concordia France in Aquitaine.
Here’s her story:
“As it was my first project with Xchange Scotland, I was not sure what it would be like. What I can say though is that the experience exceeded my expectations by far.
I think the content were very relevant to contemporary issues regarding migration. It increased my knowledge on the topic, provided some practical skills for non-formal education, boosted my motivation to participate in similar projects and was overall great for my personal growth. There was a balance between our own reflections and knowledge-building, and more in-depth materials that were provided by the guests that were visiting and giving us some guidance.
I liked that the exercises we did provoked us to think in more creative ways, and face the complexities of some issues, instead of simply providing dry facts. I also liked the non-formal methods used, because they provide an approach to explore a particular topic (migration), but also we learned about the creation and execution of these non-formal learning tools, which I will be able to use in the future.
The training schedule was quite intense and full of activities, which was great. There was not so much free time, but we had enough brakes and free evenings to socialise and have some time for ourselves. We could create our own activities, play board games or have a walk around, and the free day in the middle of the training was great for some sightseeing.
I met amazing people with whom I could discuss volunteering opportunities and other topics. It was also a culturally enriching experience, as we were a really multicultural community. We had a positive environment, and I enjoyed getting to know other participants and building a daily routine together.
I also learned a lot about migration and related problems. I made friends and was able to practice a little of my Russian language skills, with the help of other participants. In addition to all these achievements, this project will also be a great addition to my CV.
I gained first-hand experience of Erasmus+ projects. I also learnt more about EVS and how to get involved with a project.
In general, I got more motivated to actively engage in volunteering and active citizenship initiatives.
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!
I’m at something of a crossroads in life – after 5 years living and working in Edinburgh, mostly in offices, I realised that what I really loved was being outside and spending time with people. And that perhaps I could do that day to day. Although – I looked at my CV with bewilderment – I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to get there.
I left the city. I learnt to drive. I booked a residential volunteering week with the RSPB and, at the beginning of September, I saw on Facebook a post, shared by a friend – Xchange Scotland were looking for a team leader for a conservation project, get in touch to find out more. I sent an email.
Less than a fortnight later, I was sitting in a circle with a group of 6 international volunteers – aged 18 to 29, from Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy (x3) – explaining the rules of human bingo. A week after this, we were eating fish and chips after a walk on Troon beach at sunset, after stewarding an ultramarathon all day. And one week later, we were saying the first farewells – after a fortnight of spending every moment together, we were off to our different corners of Europe, via bus, rail or air.
How to characterise that fortnight? Fun, fascinating, challenging, busy, muddy, musical. I was Mama Duck, looking out for the practical and emotional needs of six volunteer ‘ducklings’. I was supposed to know the answers – even when completely baffled, barely awake, and totally uncaffeinated. Our dodgy shower occasionally stopping midstream, I would hear the beep and wait for the plaintive cry: ‘Ceriiiiiiiis!’ By the Monday of the second week, my eyes would barely stay open – so, while my ducklings went to the pub, I enjoyed a couple of hours of delicious peace and was asleep by half past 9. Any potential team leaders out there? Schedule a break for yourself. You’ll do an even better job.
Oh, but it was fun though. Late nights playing cards, charades and the post-it game. We cooked delicious meals with some unusual fusion dishes; had long conversations about life, the universe and, well, everything; learnt languages and songs; got the giggles at inside jokes which were incomprehensible to outsiders. We went bowling (I had a steep learning curve). We got soaked to the skin on a trip to the seaside, horizontal rain battering humans and umbrellas into submission. We tried out Morris dancing and sang 300 year old rude songs. I taught the volunteers the Scots words dreich and drookit and mingin (amongst others) and they threw them into conversation with vast enthusiasm. We went to Dunure, Troon, Edinburgh and the Isle of Arran and explored castles, cliffs and caves.
Dean Castle’s staff and volunteers were a lovely, welcoming, hilarious bunch who took the whole bundle of us under their wing. Jess (volunteer coordinator) became Auntie Duck, providing help, humour and guidance; Howie kept us buoyed up with energy and sing songs; Neal brought a dry, surreal sense of humour and innumerable nature facts to the table (did you know bats’ knees bend backwards?). We helped build a boardwalk, dig out a site for a bat bothy, scythe long grass, plant trees, weed, mend fences, build bat boxes and sundry other tasks. We sang as we worked – or at least, I sang and after a while the others would join in. I learnt the Italian lyrics to Bella Ciao.
It feels strange that it is over now – such an intense two weeks with a group, then back to our ordinary or extraordinary lives. I learnt about my strengths and weaknesses, made mistakes and worked out how to fix them, saw others make mistakes and worked out how to help them. Being a team leader on this project was an amazing experience – I hope the first of many.
Xchange Scotland will be hosting a training in Glasgow in the end of June!
It’s completely free of charge and will be focused on leadership and training volunteers up to be team leaders on international volunteer projects in Scotland this summer but not only! If you can’t lead a summer project (we encourage you to, it’s a great experience!) but want to develop your skills, we invite you to join as well!
The leader’s training will be an informal, interesting and hopefully really engaging 3 days (Friday 23rd (evening), Saturday 24th (full day), Sunday 25th (until afternoon) of June) at the Training Room at ASDA Govan Superstore (500 Helen Street, Glasgow, G51 3HR).It’s especially relevant for people involved in international activities, who would like to get practical knowledge on how to be a group leader in an international environment; however, it’s open to everyone who is interested in becoming a better leader and developing one’s soft skills.
We will talk about intercultural learning, conflict resolution, leadership styles and many other interesting and important topics!
How to take part?
What the Community Achievement Awards is?
Since June 2016 Xchange Scotland have been supporting people to achieve Community Achievement Awards through volunteering, getting involved and delivering community activities, funded by the Big Lottery Fund Investing in Ideas.
Individuals have done many different things, as the awards are personalised to what the individual is aiming to achieve, from leading a group of international volunteers at Doune the Rabbit Hole festival, to delivering workshops for other volunteers, to setting up a new World Cafe initiative to help others share cultures and languages.
Xchange Scotland and our partners have known for many years that volunteering and international experiences provide a unique learning experience, where young people can gain many competencies in areas such as intercultural education, practical skills, teamwork and communication, however in the past there has not been a way for us to recognise this learning. Community Achievement Awards have been developed by Glasgow Kelvin College, and they provide a way to recognise non formal learning. The awards are designed to recognise and accredit learning in a community setting and are based around a 3 stage process of Planning, Implementing and Evaluating. There are four different levels of the Community Achievement Awards and each of these are credit rated within the Scottish Credit Qualifications Framework at levels 4-7.
Celebrate the achievements of the volunteers in the Scottish Parliament
On 2nd March 2017 we hosted an event in the Scottish Parliament, sponsored by Johann Lamont MSP, to celebrate the achievements of the volunteers and present their certificates. It was a really exciting day, and we loved the chance to visit the Scottish Parliament! Johann Lamont MSP, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP (Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science), Shelley Talbot (Programme Manager at Xchange Scotland), and Carlyn McNab (Director of Curriculum at Glasgow Kelvin College) spoke to recognise the achievements of the young people and the success of the partnership between Xchange Scotland and Glasgow Kelvin College.