International volunteering: my experience coaching in South Africa
13 January 2020
Doing a placement abroad poses different challenges to the average work placement such as overcoming language barriers, fundraising and being far from your support networks. This experience allows you to stand out against other candidates when applying for jobs, as many people will not have had the same opportunity or developed the same skills. In July 2019, I travelled to South Africa with 11 of my fellow Leeds Trinity students to spend two weeks volunteering in local primary schools with the Bambisanani Partnership.
I was very unsure of what to expect as I'd never been to Africa nor taught young people how to ride and fix bikes, so it was a great chance to test myself in a new setting. Teambuilding with the other students prior to the trip made me feel more at ease as I realised we were all in the same situation. My initial expectation was that it would be difficult to communicate with the young people, but I found that their English was actually very good. In cases where it is a struggle, you find ways around it. I tried to learn phrases in Zulu (which the young people found hilarious!), and it gave me an opportunity to develop my non-verbal communication skills.
One of the most enjoyable aspects was learning about a culture that's different to my own. The young people in South Africa taught me various Zulu dances, phrases and games that they usually play in school – not to forget the amazing food I had too! As well as this, I also had the opportunity to share this experience with students from another university and form some amazing friendships.
The most eye-opening aspect was seeing the positive change in the young people. On one of the last days, they had to plan and deliver a sports session to approximately 30 other students. On the first day, this is something they were totally against but seeing them deliver their sessions so well reflected how much their leadership skills and confidence had grown. In addition, all the young people we taught in the first week successfully learnt to ride a bike in the Cycle to Success programme, which was a huge achievement. Through a tough week of falling and getting right back up more determined than ever, I was so proud of them.
Through the trip, I became more familiar with South African culture and took the opportunity to understand the children's lifestyles, hobbies and ambitions. This was a great way to further explore and build on my own passions around diversity and cultural awareness. I left South Africa a better leader as I improved my communication skills, adapted effectively to sudden changes in plans, and was able to motivate the children as well as myself.
As a result of the trip, I have become more confident in my ability to deliver a sustainable programme to benefit young people in their communities. In addition, this experience gave me lots of opportunities to reflect on my experiences, which have supported my personal growth. Following this trip, I want to set aside more time to explore other cultures around the world to educate myself on various lifestyles.
I'd always recommend taking on challenges that push you out of your comfort zone. Not only do you learn so much about yourself, but it's also great for your personal growth. Opportunities like this don't come around frequently so I would encourage making the most of the time you have to explore other cultures, travel with people you don't know and make lifelong memories!
Ammarah is in her final year studying for a degree in Sport Psychology. She volunteered in South Africa through a volunteering module available during her second year of studies. Leeds Trinity students can volunteer abroad through their placement or volunteer modules as part of their degree, or as an extra experience on top of their studies. Find out more about International Volunteering.