December 6, 2019, by abrierley
Global Placement Grant – Volunteer at refugee camp in Croatia
by Janice Fordjour 1st year, Law LLB
I travelled to Croatia for 6 weeks as a volunteer at a refugee camp. I was fortunate enough to be able to assist in English classes. We worked with the Red cross whilst there but the project was organised by AIESEC. My role also included leading my own workshop, which I chose dance to specialise in. Other activities included building beds for their expansion, leading activities for the kids in the playroom and organising their computer room.
I found out about this opportunity when I met a girl at a law open day and through networking I learnt about the organisation then I researched into the company and found the project that I was interested in.
My greatest achievement was overcoming the initial fear of not being able to connect with the refugees due to language barriers. However, we were welcomed so much and shared lots of fun experiences within professional boundaries. They genuinely saw us as positively and we saw them positively. They also felt comfortable to tell us some of their experiences.
Only being able to speak English was definitely my biggest challenge. I did learn basic phrases in Croatian and Farsi just to be able to communicate even at a basic level. However, I also used google translate mostly and they found it helpful to learn English words whilst I found it helpful to learn different phrases in their home language too.
The amount of skills that I was able to build in a unique indirect way was incredible. I think the fact that I was able to go to an unfamiliar setting with people I did not know at all for 6 weeks would be a unique talking point at interview. During this time our group bonded really well which demonstrated skills such as teamwork, cultural awareness (as the project was global), communication skills and many other skills that employers tend to require.
The provider was AIESEC. However, each project does differ between countries so essentially it was also AIESEC Croatia too. This is mostly student-run thus there are the expected issues such as organisation that were minor. The experience itself was amazing but it does depend on the outlook. Some of the issues we did face on my project, were that our rooms were shared with people who weren’t on our project and minor things like this they didn’t inform of. This is because the organisation as a whole has regional differences so AIESEC Croatia was in charge of sorting everything for us. In saying this ask as many questions as possible so that there will be no surprises on arrival one of which is that I did not have a pot for cooking. However, this is at no discredit to the company but just means that I would recommend being as prepared as possible. The company can only give you as much as you ask for so do ask to avoid any difficulties as there are both mentors in the country you select and in the UK.
Janice’s top tips for undertaking overseas placements:
1) Apply now and do not be put off by the length and other factors such as fear.
2) Be open minded about the opportunity and what you could gain from it.
3) Be realistic. Ensure you are not feeling pressured to do a certain experience and appreciate the risk factors.
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