My internship at SZOIL dominated my stay in China. The shifts were Monday to Friday, from 9:30 to 17:30, with some voluntary extra time and a couple of weekend activities. I had very nice colleagues, not just my fellow CRCC interns, but the whole team working at SZOIL, from the regular Chinese staff members, to three other student interns from China, Nepal and Sri Lanka. While each of us worked on our own projects, we often lent a hand to each other, or had a break from one and did something different for a while (which is how I ended doing the variety of tasks mentioned below). Moreover, one of SZOIL’s regular workers, whom supervised my work for the GHL, taught us how to use some of the machines in the lab. I only used the laser engraver and cutter, as 3D printing required designing and that’s something I’m awful at.
The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
(Before reading this post I recommend you to read the previous one linked to this topic, “My First Term at University: Independence, Studying, Socialising & Wellbeing”.)
The last four months of my first year in university went by quickly. I had a mixture of seminars, workshops and lectures every week, together with daily readings. Lectures are my preferred teaching method. Seminars and workshops are nice now and then, but I don’t feel like interacting with people constantly and the sessions can be exhausting. My modules for the second term were: Institutions of Aid, Global Politics of the Environment, Key Thinkers in Development and Issues in Development. Key Thinkers in Development was my favourite one, I liked learning about different theorists every week. I also discovered intellectuals I want to learn more about, such as Frantz Fanon and Naila Kabeer.
As part of my assessments, I had to write two 1000-words concepts notes (Key Thinkers in Development), do a group presentation (Issues in Development), complete a 2000-words essay (Global Politics of the Environment) and take two unseen exams (Issues in Development and Institutions of Aid). My results for the concept notes were the most disappointing ones: 64 and 61 (out of 100). The grades aren’t bad, they are equivalent to 2:1. The problem is, I worked hard on those short essays, I even sought feedback after getting just 64 in the first one, but ended up getting 61 in the second one. I was upset because I saw no progress from my previous concept notes.
On the contrary, the 2000 words essays went great, I spent a lot of time in it and I got a 70! The group presentation also went well, I had 71, despite my reluctance to do group work due to my individualistic tendencies. And, startlingly, the two exams were the best bit of my results: I had 72 and 84. My average grade for the whole academic year ended up being 69%, 1% off my goal, a first (the highest degree classification in UK). Nevertheless, I’m happy with this mark: I passed the year and improved from my first term to the second one. Taking into account how tough things were due to my poor emotional wellbeing (I had to take a week off lessons and put off exam revisions till a week before each exam), I’m glad I made it and didn’t drop out or fail.
When comes to life outside the academic world, I spent a few hours a week volunteering for my local Red Cross division. I applied and got accepted to be a “Project Research Assistant” on November 2015 and I went to the Red Cross office to work most Fridays till June 2016. My key role was carrying out a project as part of the Red Cross’s “Responding to Financial Crisis” program: building links between foodbanks / food aid providers and the organisation. I completed it with another volunteer, who was a third-year student in the same university and school as me. Our tasks included: project management, emailing / calling and visiting foodbanks / food aid providers, creating databases and directories, researching and producing a leaflet with all the data and information gathered.
Carrying out the project was a stimulating experience, my colleague and I were given huge flexibility, but also huge responsibility: we worked under minimal supervision. I tend to work better as an individual, yet the teamwork went great. My colleague was very nice and working with her was a pleasure, plus we often talked about non-volunteering related issues, such as our studies and our personal lives, during our breaks/free time. We bonded well.
Although it was not a remunerated position, I gained a lot from this opportunity: I acquired administrative skills and experience working with a non-profit organisation (perfect for my degree). I also participated in a 3-day foundation training course, in which I learnt about the Red Cross, humanitarian work, first aid, emergency response, supporting people in crisis, emotional wellbeing, safeguarding, self-care and responding to psychological distress. On top of everything, it was rewarding being able to help with a cause close to my heart and personal experiences (financial crisis).
Volunteering was not the only extracurricular activity I did during the last term: on March 2016 I found a temporary salaried job! I was very lucky to get it, I saw the advertisement on the careers hub of my university the day the vacancy ended. I swiftly sent my CV on an email, together with a short message about how I was fit for the role. I was amazed when I was invited to an interview and later given the position, but knowing that my personal-just-for-a-hobby blog made me stand out and get the job was the best part!
For three months I worked as a ‘Research Support Assistant’ for the World Association for Sustainable Development (WASD) and Science Policy Research Unit of my university’s School of Business, Management and Economics. My boss was a nice man and working for him was a good experience. My tasks included: desk research and data collection, database creation (Excel), website management (WordPress), social media management, article writing and email communications. It was a homebased position with casual meetings now and then. The aims of my role were improving the social media presence of the organisation and updating the information on its experts’ directory, which I think met. At least my boss seemed pleased with what I did.
I’m very happy I was given this opportunity, I got experience working for a global sustainable development organisation and my salary was nice (nearly double the amount of the minimum wage). Furthermore, I liked my boss’s vision and the goal of WASD, which is “to promote the exchange of knowledge, experience, information and ideas among academics, scholars, professionals, policy makers, industry and students to improve the mutual understanding of the roles of science and technology in achieving sustainable development all over the world”. The organisation and he made huge efforts to include people from non-Western countries in their work, from conferences to publications. I loved this aspect of working for WASD, because development and sustainability are often too based on Eurocentric ideas, even though many decisions taken affect primarily non-Western countries.
One of my aims whilst at university is, outside my lesson hours, gaining knowledge and skills for a future career in development, sustainability and/or social change. I have been able to do this not just by volunteering and working, but also by attending non-mandatory conferences / talks on contemporary topics, completing free online courses on subjects that my degree isn’t covering (deeply), and learning new languages.
I went to three talks during the year: ‘EU Migration and Refugee Crisis Roundtable’, ‘How can Diasporas Contribute to their Continent? Africa as a Case Study’ and ‘Asma Elbadawi (poet, opening act) and Akala (rapper, main lecturer) for Sussex Decolonizing Education Week – A talk on Hip Hop and Shakespeare’. I also participated in one conference set in my university, ‘Decolonising Education: Towards Academic Freedom in Pluriversality’. I completed three free online courses: ‘Psychology of Political Activism: Women Changing the World’ by Smith College, ‘Anthropology of Current World Issues’ by the University of Queensland, and ‘Human Rights: The Right to Freedom of Expression’ by Amnesty International. And I enrolled on evening beginner lessons of Arabic while casually studying French and Portuguese on the side.
Although this might sound like a lot, I wasted a lot of time this academic year. Not just because of my poor emotional wellbeing, but because of procrastination and laziness. My goals for next year are attending more talks and conferences, catching up on my online courses and taking my language classes more seriously. I would also like to get actively involved in a couple of societies, campaigns or community work opportunities related to social issues or politics. Nevertheless, I probably won’t volunteer or work regularly (unless a really good opportunity knocks on my door or I find myself in severe financial hardship).
Last of all to mention is my social life, which was barely active for the same reasons as the first term. I only went out towards the end of the year, to have dinner with some friends before they left to their respective home countries and to attend an end-of-year ball organised by the Development Society in my university, in conjunction with others. Both events were pleasant and fun. I also hanged out a couple of times with a friend who does the same degree as me. We have various things in common, so is easy to talk with her about personal issues and be understood / understand her.
The only new thing I did on the second term was attend social basketball sessions on Sunday now and then, which were very enjoyable and I want to continue attending on the upcoming academic year. I like playing basketball a lot, I prefer it as an exercise activity to going to the gym and it helps to improve my mood. Indeed, improving my mood, or better said, mental health and emotional wellbeing, was one of my goals for the term. That’s why I attended counselling sessions every Tuesday for six weeks (the huge step I mentioned on my previous post about my life in university). Nonetheless, I don’t want to go in details about this, I will leave it for an upcoming post (and this time it is really coming).
(PS: If you want to have a look at more pictures of my time at university, check this link:https://www.flickr.com/photos/134519211@N08/albums/72157662839553059)
(If you haven’t yet, read Part 1. before this one: https://findingmyselfinsideme.com/2016/03/29/trip-to-calais-dunkirk-part-1-my-decision-to-volunteer/)
The night between Friday the 18th and Saturday the 19th I didn’t sleep. At all. I forced myself to stay up, watching films and catching up with TV series. I must admit that I struggled to keep myself awake, yet I was functional enough by 2 am to get dressed, organise my room, take my luggage and leave my flat thirty minutes later. Around 3:00 am, I met with my car peers, part of a larger group of Sussex students with whom I did the trip. My original plan was volunteering independently over the Easter break, but after hearing that people from my university were organising a trip, I joined them for just those four days.
During the drive to Dover I was “mildly” asleep, and even if it was a journey of less than two hours, I was very awake and energised when we boarded the ferry around 6 am. As soon as we sat in a lounge of the ship, most of my companions fell asleep, and I found myself roaming around the boat alone. I went to the outside deck various times to take pictures of the departure and arrival of the ferry, and in between, I went shopping and then sat in a corridor to read a book while I charged my phone.
(Leaving Dover’s port.)
The ship arrived to Calais two hours later, and after minutes of confusion about our next move, we went to our hostel to check in. As we drove and left the port behind, I was struck by the tall fences on both sides of the road. The last time I went on ferry to Calais, back in 2013, those fences weren’t there. Nor were the police vans that could be seen now and then on the road. Surprised, I made a comment out loud about my thoughts and one of my mates, who had gone to Calais to volunteer previously, told me that the fences were built to prevent undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from entering the port area in order to get to UK. As a matter of fact, the British government paid millions for that “extra security”. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel safe at all while driving down that road “protected” by fences. I actually felt a bit scared and concerned. Another important observation is how close ‘the Jungle’, the infamous refugee camp in Calais, is to the port. It is just besides it. I saw it while we were driving away.
(One of the fences.)
Around noon, we reached our accommodation, a youth hostel known as “Centre Européen de Séjour”. However, it was too early to check in and our rooms weren’t prepared, so we sat in the reception till we got in contact with the main organisations that we were volunteering for (L’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees UK) and received directions to their warehouse. When we arrived, we introduced ourselves to one coordinator, who was very nice and welcoming. Following registration, our first tasks as volunteers were picking litter and recycling rubbish outside the warehouse, to keep the environment surrounding the building as clean as possible. By the time we finished, lunch was ready, and we sat outside to eat with other volunteers.
(On the left: us recycling rubbish. On the right: the logos of the organisations we were volunteering for.)
(On the left: the meal, which was vegan and delicious! On the right: my group seating down eating.)
Once we finished our meals and had a cup of tea, the afternoon shift in the warehouse began. My group and I were divided to carry out different tasks inside the building. I was sent to work in the clothing area, where my role was opening bags with clothes that had been donated and separating between women’s wear, men’s wear, and underage’s wear. Nevertheless, I spent most of my time organising the underage’s wear and splitting it between teen clothing (+10 years old), children clothing (3-10 years old) and baby clothing (less than 3 years old). I also had to walk around the warehouse various time to take boxes full of sorted clothing to their storage area.
(Work going on inside the warehouse)
Overall, even though my feet hurt terribly at the end of the day, it was an easy job and it reminded me of my days volunteering in a charity shop a couple of years ago. Sometimes, when I was sorting the babies’ clothing, I had throwbacks of 2008-2012, when my youngest siblings were born and I had to look after them now and then. It was a bittersweet memory: at first I smiled thinking about my siblings’ innocence and cheerfulness, but good mood disappeared as soon as I remembered there were actual babies and toddlers stuck in informal camps and travelling through dangerous routes across Europe, living in harsh conditions and demonised before they could even make an informed decision about their fates.
Although working in the warehouse sounds like a boring job, I enjoyed the dynamism of it, in addition to meeting other volunteers who came from all across Europe. Many were British, but there were also people from France, Spain, Germany, Poland… Even the donations came from a wide range of countries. At the end of the day, I was quite moved by the warm response to this humanitarian ‘crisis’ by many European citizens, from people who donated to people who were volunteering. Sadly, it isn’t as highlighted by media as the Neo-Nazi and fascist protests happening in the continent lately. Due to all this, I was happy to volunteer again in the warehouse the next day. Instead of sorting out clothes, I worked doing emergency food parcels in the food section, a job I enjoyed more (I just like managing food!). At some point, I also helped to load a van with sorted donations that would be sold or recycled, instead of distributed to asylum seekers in the camps.
(Example of the content in a food parcel.)
(Working the food section.)
(After loading the van.)
At the end of the two days, I found myself exhausted, entering my room and laying on my bed as soon as we got to the hostel. While the accommodation was far from a five start hotel, it was comfortable and pleasant. Many volunteers stayed there, not only the ones that worked for L’Auberge Des Migrants and Help Refugees UK, but also others like those working for Care4Calais. In the morning, when you went to the canteen for breakfast, you could see and hear volunteers interacting and asking each other who were they volunteering for, arranging meets up and transport to the different warehouses and camps, even if they were total strangers. It felt good being part of such a network of people, all from diverse backgrounds (age, gender, nationality…), but still there, co-operating with a common purpose: supporting asylum seekers in Calais and Dunkirk
(Heartwarming information board for volunteers in the hostel’s reception)
(A quote written down in one of the walls of the hostel. I loved it and I found it very relatable.)
During those two days, I was glad to realise that despite of the negativity and disregard for human rights and welfare that many in Europe have shown in social media, parliaments and news outlets, many others didn’t turn their back on those in need of help and understanding. This includes as well people who donated, even if volunteers are key to keeping the humanitarian response active. Not just those working on the ground, but also those working in the warehouse. And while not all volunteers wanted to or had chance to go the camps and work directly with those receiving the aid that we sorted, my group and I did. And that’s something I will talk about in the next post of this blog series.
You can check all the pictures I took of the trip here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskwWNWzv