October 19, 2023, by Rebekah

My placement with Refugee Roots

Hi! I’m Jaimie-Leigh, a third-year law student (LLB), and I have recently been fortunate enough to complete an internship with Refugee Roots this summer. Refugee Roots is a Nottingham based charity committed to giving refugees and asylum seekers “a place to belong”, focussing on teaching English, providing well-being and arts sessions (Access sessions), as well as access to a support worker and food bank. These sessions are invaluable in supporting participants to build confidence, feel empowered and navigate all the complexities of building a new life in a new country. My role at Refugee Roots was “volunteer assistant”, and although on occasion I would perform an admin task at the office, I primarily participated in the Access sessions during the week.

The placement at Refugee Roots was offered by the Faculty Placement Team as part of the annual Widening Participation Placement Programme and the application process was in the springtime before my summer exams. I found that it was completely manageable to apply for this internship alongside studying. There were two stages to the application process: a short-written application, followed by a half an hour interview with the volunteer coordinator and the project coordinator. Whilst I knew that both were important, I was definitely more nervous for the interview. I manged to minimise my nerves by researching Refugee Roots as much as possible so that I felt as prepared as I could: who were the team; what were their key values; what would my responsibilities be. The interview was online and was a lot less daunting than I had anticipated; once introductions had been exchanged and I had answered the first question I felt a lot more comfortable. I was also fearful at the possibility that I would be asked a question that I wouldn’t know how to answer straight away. When a tough question came along however, taking a moment of silence to think was incredibly effective and meant I could formulate what I felt was a good answer, rather than a panicked one that didn’t showcase my passion, ability, or experience. My best tips would be to research as much as possible, know that your nerves will ease as you get further into the interview, and see it as an opportunity to discuss something you feel passionately about.

One of the most significant challenges I faced was developing my ability and confidence to teach English. I was quite nervous as I had never taught English to someone with limited ability before, especially when I do not speak their first language either. However, viewing it as a skill to develop over time and an opportunity to be creative was invaluable. Over time I developed an ability to think of ways to explain complex concepts in simpler terms and provide alternative explanations on the spot; the more I practiced this the easier it became. Furthermore, it helped to view it as a learning experience for myself, having conversations in between teaching, asking, and learning about participants’ lives, their home countries, cultures, and the languages they knew. This was key to building relationships and treating each person as an individual, so that there was a positive and light-hearted learning environment where mistakes could be made freely, and any questions could be asked. Most importantly, I learnt that the power of enthusiasm and encouragement cannot be underestimated, and that instilling confidence in participants was the most important part of teaching. It was also the part that brought me the most joy. Seeing somebody who really wants to improve steadily become more confident in their abilities and progress over time was incredibly rewarding.

My final tip for anyone considering applying for a placement is to just go for it. Working at Refugee Roots was such an amazing opportunity to have an impact on people’s lives while simultaneously gaining workplace skills, but it also exceeded my expectations. Whilst I was usually the “teacher”, I was constantly learning. My knowledge grew so intensely about different cultures, countries, languages, and human perspectives; I loved that my role was to be involved with all the activities and to be with participants, building friendships, teaching and learning. And finally, working in this environment for a month taught me about the type of work environment I value and want to work in in the future. Beyond the unfaltering kindness I was shown by participants and staff alike, I felt empowered to take initiative, but equally well supported, able to try new things, ask questions, learn, and grow. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to be a part of the wonderful community at Refugee Roots, one I wouldn’t have known about without the opportunity of this internship.

To find out more about Refugee Roots and the volunteering opportunities available, visit their website.

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