Volunteering: In search for something meaningful

I recently started volunteering as a teaching assistant at a primary school, and it has been delightful, fun and at the same time very enriching. There are many reasons why students at Lancaster University volunteer at schools, and, from my discussions with a few of them, I noticed that we all shared a very positive experience, from the administrative process before the start of the placement to the satisfying sense of accomplishment and the end of each volunteering session. It is a ten-week volunteering placement which is facilitated by Lancaster University’s Student Union (LUSU) and where pupils get to know that university can be an option for them when they grow up and to speak to a university student. I wrote in a previous blog post about the purpose of the school volunteering placement, and this post will be about my impressions of the process, my engagement and how it connects to the wider aspects of work and my social life.

Why volunteer at a school?

I choose to volunteer at a school because I started teaching a module, alongside my studies, and wanted to see what it’s like to teach different age groups. I was also motivated to engage with the community around me, get to know how people live outside of the university student environment, and at the same time give something back by doing good for others and the community. Other students who have completed similar volunteering placements said that they did it because they were staying for a limited period of time in Lancaster and wanted to make the most of their time, or simply because it is something that they aspire to become after graduating and this experience could improve their career prospects. The placement was for only half a day per week, which makes it easy to fit within my schedule.

Just before I started

I signed up on LUSU’s page at the beginning of the academic year. The website offers many things to do to engage with the community, whether it’s to follow a passion, a cause, or simply to leave a positive impact on people. There are a number of volunteering categories such as human and civil rights, health and social care, university events, etc. I chose volunteering with schools. The application was straightforward and shortly after I submitted it, I received an email about the times of the introductory sessions which gave us an idea about the programme and the steps of the process. It was also an opportunity to meet the LUSU staff who were coordinating the programme and who were very supportive throughout the whole process. The following stage was to get the DBS check done and complete safeguarding training. Then LUSU staff contacted a school close to my place of residence as this was my preference. I was also given the chance to choose from a list of available opportunities. Luckily, the school I wanted to volunteer at had a vacancy for a volunteer, and I could start at any time.

My first day back at primary school

I arrived at the school and was greeted by the teacher who was going to guide me through the placement. She showed me around the school and we waited for the children to come into class. The classroom was impressive, not in a majestic grand way, but in how different and relaxing it was from anywhere else I’ve been since I left primary school. The more I examined the crayons, big letters on the walls and the children’s drawings, the more I appreciated it. While those are things that I wouldn’t normally be interested it, being there, in that moment, brought me back to my own childhood.

The teacher introduced me to the class after everyone arrived and the lesson started. On that day, children were learning how to write neatly and clearly, and I was assigned to help two pupils. After this exercise, everyone gathered around the class’s teaching assistant who read a story to them. The final fifteen minutes of the before-noon session were dedicated for relaxation. A voice that was playing soothing music guided the children – and adults in the classroom – similarly to a relaxation yoga session.

Spending the morning at the school made me realise how adults’ experience of time can easily change one’s mindset to racing mode. Whether I’m a worker or a student, I’m always faced with deadlines which I try to meet while thinking of other aspects of my personal life which could be anything from what I will eat to when should I call my family. This makes me rush into a series of tasks and duties for weeks at a time without taking a break and actually think about nothing. Doing a relaxing and unrelated activity helps me stop thinking about work for a while and sometimes that’s when I get my best ideas.

Lancaster University day out

My positive volunteering experience lead me to engage in the “Be the change” project. This project is designed to show pupils what citizenship values such as teamwork and leadership mean through a series of fun activities. The aim is to enable children to learn that everyone can be a leader when they make a positive change to their society. Among the activities, there was a treasure hunt around campus and the Marshmallow Challenge which let the children work together, communicate, help one another and work towards a common goal. The Marshmallow Challenge is a management exercise where a group of any age or profession is tasked to build a tower with nothing but a bundle of spaghetti, tape and a marshmallow. Surprisingly, children perform better than CEOs in this exercise!

One of the great things about the teaching system at LUMS is how it prepares students for the actual business world. This comes with the wider sociological and psychological issues that any such student/worker is prone to, such as feelings of stress and alienation. From my previous work experience, I find that working can be very rewarding, but it can also take away some of the worker’s autonomy, purpose and identity, especially when they get immersed in their job only to meet sales targets or performance measures at the end of the day. As a PhD student at LUMS who happens to be doing a thesis on workplace dynamics, I have come to notice these aspects more and more and realise how they could sometimes be inevitable. While some people enjoy socialising by going out for a drink or a meal, or take pleasure in a sports activity after an intense workload, others choose to volunteer.  This has left a very positive impact on me and made a pleasing difference to my everyday life.

 

Being a Member of PMers

At Lancaster University I am spoilt for choice over which societies to join and dedicate time to – From the baking society to the Disney society to the Economics society, there is literally something for everyone to get involved in!

However, with over 200 societies available to join it can be easy to miss a society at the Freshers Fair. So, this brings me on to share with you a society that I joined in my second year – The Project Management Society (also known as PMers).

To be honest, I had heard about the society in my first year. However I had felt naive to join because I thought the society was just for Project Management students. – But how I was wrong!

I rediscovered the society during my second year when one of my friends, a Marketing student, shared with me her experience of being a member of the society. My friend told me how the Project Management Society provided her the opportunity to manage a project from start to end and learn about the different stages involved.

From this, the Project Management Society stood out to me because it sounded exciting to be able to get involved with supporting campus activities and events that I had attended during my first year. Not only that, but as a Business Studies student who does not study a Project Management module, I felt that getting involved with live projects would be a chance to learn more about executing projects and also allow me to apply and share the skills and knowledge I had gained from my course.

So, as a member of other societies too, I decided to join the society as a project team member, rather than a project manager. As a project team member, the role allowed me to volunteer and help with the elements involved with the projects being run throughout the year. Which, as I learnt, enabled me to take on roles including photography, ticket selling, and event set-up.

Two of my highlights from being a member for the past two years are getting involved with the Japanese Koinobori Festival 2017 and the Korean Festival 2018. At the Japanese Festival I supported the event, which celebrated Japanese culture, by being an event photographer and at the Korean Festival I collected tickets and served Korean food. I really enjoyed volunteering at these events and it felt rewarding to know that I had been able to support the success of the events.

As it comes to the end of my final year, I am glad that I discovered the Project Management Society and I believe it has provided me with a platform to develop and learn new skills, whilst also meeting and making many new friends. I feel that as a project team member I have been able to learn more about the process involved with launching projects. In addition, I have been able to recognise and appreciate how all of the different roles collectively contribute to creating a successful project.

From being a member, along with creating memories, I will take away the skills I have developed. I feel I have strengthened my team working skills, the ability to communicate to large audiences and developed confidence working at large events.

Volunteering in schools with Lancaster University Student Union

Lancaster University Student Union (LUSU) offers a wide range of volunteering opportunities and school volunteering is one of them. I chose to attend an introductory session on this project because, not only did I want to be engaged with the local community, but also I was interested in knowing more about the education system in the UK and in helping people achieve their potential. What unfolded during the session made this opportunity evermore compelling.

The session started with the reasons that inspired LUSU to develop the schools volunteering project. The project aims at bringing to pupils the opportunity to engage with university students and at helping them to consider going to university as a future option. The focus is on children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds or vulnerable pupils. Then the project’s development manager shared his experience with us on how children have different thoughts and impressions about going to university: while it could be a very possible option for some, for others, it was a path that they have never heard of.

The volunteering coordinator explained how LUSU will support us through this journey and how the different opportunities can be flexible, accessible and suitable to the volunteers’ passion and experience. The students who express an interest in school volunteering would be matched with a primary or secondary school, depending on the type of work they prefer. The aim is to get the best possible experience for both the volunteers and the pupils.

I am looking forward to starting my school volunteering placement in January. This opportunity will allow me to reinforce the positive impact that the project has on the community while engaging in a rewarding activity. I will have the chance to share with the pupils their classroom environment, as well as discuss with them my experience as a university student to increase their awareness of the option to continue their education in the future.

I am also looking forward to the impact that this experience will have on me. Through this project, I will have the chance to know more about the local culture as well as broaden my own future career aspirations. As an international student at LUMS, I am hoping to gain more international exposure and flexibility to discuss various issues with pupils, teachers and other students who are engaged in this project. Also, the activities will influence my communication and rapport-building skills, which have important and transferable aspects that I can use in a variety of situations. Last but not least, I am looking forward to this rewarding opportunity that will allow me to give back to the community and make a difference in other people’s lives.

Student Social Life In Lancaster

Hello! I am Begaim Muratbekova, postgraduate student at Lancaster University Management School, MSc in Project Management. I came from the heart of the Central Asia – Kyrgyz Republic. We are a tiny country with rich culture and very beautiful nature. This is the first time for me to live far away from my home, however, I would like to share with you one fascinating fact that will definitely help you to deal with home-seek and experience all the advantages of being in UK and studying in one of the best universities.

Lancaster is full of diversity. The source of the diversity is people. Here you can meet students from all around the world with different education, experience, cultural background and hobbies. Surely, it fascinatingly influences the social life in the university and it is considered to be one of the best things during your studies.

In my blog I would like to make an overview of main features of the student life in Lancaster.

Firstly, as a postgraduate student you will immediately feel the spirit and atmosphere that unites people in Graduate college. It has its own little life within the university as a whole. We have different events hold on a regular basis giving you the chance to have a break from your studies.  There is a postgraduate social hub that let you meet other students and share your ideas and thoughts. This will definitely enlarge your horizons and bring you new ideas and insights in a certain spheres. It will allow you to look on things from different prospective, because everybody is a unique individual and sharing opinion will be favorable for all of us.

Secondly, social life in Lancaster could be devoted to participation in different societies and clubs. It is one of the very interesting and helpful things that will prove that you had made the right choice. There are more than 200 societies in our university. So, everybody will find his/her favorite activity. There are plenty of the professional societies that offer real world experience in a certain field. It maybe be beneficial for your future career opportunities and CV. For instance, we have societies related to spheres of consulting, project management, marketing, advertisement and others. Here you can practice all theory that you get during classes. This will add value to your skills and it will allow you to start your networking as it is one of the most important things in consideration of the professional and personal development.  Of course, there are clubs and societies that are aimed at fun and joy. You can watch films, cartoons, listen to music, or read books collectively. In this case, you will have an opportunity just to relax and spend some time in order to support your motivation and focus on studies.

Other than that, there are some sport clubs that will let you exercise and keep yourself fit. Even sport is different here, it is not only yoga, football, volleyball or some other traditional sports, but also it could be Latin dances, shaping, different kinds of fighting techniques ( aikido, karate). In overall, you will never get bored if you will choose one of the previously mentioned societies or clubs.

Moreover, being socially active you will be able to be develop some professional skills. One of them is time management. As studies will require you to spend on them the biggest amount of your time, you will definitely need to devote certain periods for activities other than studies. So, finding the right balance between the extracurricular activities and studies will require and stress your time management skills.

Remember, social life in Lancaster will definitely be one of the best memorable moments of your life!