This article might be a bit different from my other ones – today I want to talk about voluntary work (ergo working without getting paid) and why it can be a great opportunity for you. (Just to clarify I’m more talking about clubs, associations and societies – not about an official gap year). In this blog post, I want to share my personal experiences with you. And I would like to introduce you to my student association AEGEE – at least this part is about travelling, I promise.
First of all, volunteering can involve a lot of different fields and you can join it in all kind of life circumstances. The definition is more or less to work and give your time for free – like a community service. But to be honest, yes it is especially an interesting topic if you are younger and still in your status of education like school, university or in an apprenticeship (but latter makes it harder to find the time, I know, I have been there as well). But in general, there is no age limit – especially not in the terms of getting older.
A lot of people link voluntary work with social work and yes this can be involved, but there are also plenty of other ways to volunteer especially in sports, cultural or economical ways. It can be a schools club or an initiative of your neighbourhood – the only important point is that it supports your interests – after all, you invest your time for free. Some organisations also offer volunteer work in other countries – this way you are actually able to combine your interest in working for a project with travelling. Even though, the interest in supporting the chosen project should be the main impulse. It probably also depends on how strong voluntary work is supported in your country. Actually, I heard from friends that in the Netherlands joining a student club is obligatory.
I grow up in Germany where I feel the whole system of voluntary work especially in school is not that strongly supported. In school, we only had a very little choice in different clubs, I was part of the art club, Computer club and later of the pupil’s magazine. But I think for me the really important voluntary work started when I began studying. Lucky me, we had some student associations which presented themselves on our welcome event of my major – theatre and media science. This is how I joined the radio club of my university in my first semester. A few years later, I also became a member of AEGEE when I started my master studies in Berlin.
|What is AEGEE?|
|I want to gain the chance to actually tell you something about my student association of AEGEE – because it could be interesting for you (in case you live in Europe) – especially since you seem to love travelling. AEGEE is a student’s forum and the shortcut of Association des Etats Généraux des Éstudiants de l’Europe – or easier we are one of the biggest interdisciplinary student organisations of Europe. We strive for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe. This is also the reason why AEGEE has locals who are not part of the European Union. We are non-governmental, politically independent, and a non-profit organisation. Our network includes around 10,000 members from over 160 cities in around 40 countries – from the Canary Islands until Siberia. To me, AEGEE supports especially the political and cultural exchange between young people and empower them to take an active part in society.|
Craziest experience with AEGEE
Until today I travelled to ten different countries with AEGEE where I took part in different activities and sessions around topics like history and local culture, arts, political discussions, project and self-development. One of my favourite memories is first when I travelled as a delegate to the Agora – our member’s meeting where all the locals of AEGEE come together (which means approx. 700 people from different countries) – to discuss five days about the future of AEGEE and Europe. But also to spend some time with friends you found in the past years in AEGEE and explore the city together (the location of the Agora changes with every meeting). You can read about my time as a delegate in the article on the right side.
Second, another special experience with AEGEE was when I decided to become the main organiser of a two weeks exchange in Berlin with 35 people from all over Europe. The exchange was actually part of the Summer University (SU), one of the biggest and oldest projects of AEGEE, it started in 1988. The main idea of the SU and why it was founded is to promote European integration by doing cultural exchanges and to explore the multicultural dimensions of Europe. But also to find a place to discuss and meet new people from all over Europe. One main rule of AEGEE is to make all of our events affordable for all of our members which gave us a fixed financial frame. It is a really important rule but made it even harder for us to organise the summer exchange in the way we imagined it. Every participant pays only 14 EUR (~16.75 US$) a night, therefore we offer the accommodation, two meals a day, the whole programme, all sessions and the rides during the event (we went to a lake, on a day trip to Potsdam and for three days to Dresden). At some point, it was really challenging for us but in the end, we created the best exchange possible – and I think our participants really enjoyed their time in Germany.
What can Voluntary work do for you?
I believe volunteering is more than just about to brighten up your CV (but this is actually a nice side effect). In the student associations I joined, I actually got a lot of responsibility and the opportunity to lead my own projects. It is always your own choice how much work and time you want and can bring in but I really enjoyed to use all the opportunities I got – and even to work in a leading position. It is a lot about reaching your own goals, being creative or more open-minded, working with a team, trying new things and ideas without being afraid to fail (and lose your job). There were so many different sections I was able to try out. Another good point is that I actually met a lot of great people – because all of us are care for the same or similar topics it is so much easier to find common interests.
Therefore, I hope I could convince you to give it a try – search for pupil’s clubs in your school, join student associations, take a look for regional projects around your home town or even international projects you can join.
Or maybe you are already volunteering or have other interesting thoughts on this topic? Feel free to leave a comment below.