Please describe the work of the Institution where you did your internship.
I volunteered in a children’s home in Belgium under the European Voluntary Service, part of Erasmus+. The placement lasted 10 months and was funded by the EU, as well as being supported by the local host organisation.
What was your daily work during your internship?
My tasks were to support the young people living in the children’s home, who for various reasons were not able to live with their parents or other family members. This included manual tasks like cooking and accompanying groups on excursions, as well as being there socially and emotionally for the young people. The work was very structured because of the nature of life in a children’s home, and while challenging, was a wonderful experience both for me and for those I was working with. This is by no means the only kind of project offered under EVS – the project database shows the variety of placements offered, and for each one, the workload and type of work will differ.
What did you find the most challenging during your internship?
The work was emotionally very challenging because of the difficult situations that the young people had been put in by those around them. The role of volunteers and staff is then to support individuals through these situations and to help them to build a more positive future, which is highly rewarding. However, it is hard to work with the adults who have often caused the young people so much trauma and to remain neutral despite strong personal feelings.
How has this internship impacted your career?
This placement has made it clear to me that I need to work for the benefit of others rather than for some faceless business, and I really feel that it has positively impacted my work ethic and professionalism. It has also provided crucial work experience that has since helped me to secure further placements, both in this field and in other sectors.
What was an unforgettable moment of your internship?
Much of the work with the children was fantastic, but one moment that I look back on particularly fondly is when, to try and get the youngest children to sleep, I taught them nursery rhymes in my native English instead of their native French. I still have the recording of their singing!
What advice would you give to students wanting to apply for your internship?
Applying through EVS is a simple way to get funded volunteering experience abroad. You need to apply for a wide variety of projects because many projects in the database will not have placements available at the time of application, but once you are accepted you are given lots of support and are put in contact with a support network of volunteers in your host country, which I personally found invaluable. If you are thinking about volunteering abroad, then I really would recommend checking out EVS.
Rensa Gaunt is a student of modern languages and cultures at the University of Cambridge, and is EST Ambassador to England. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.