This year I was meant to be studying abroad in Europe all year long, but as Covid-19 slowly took over the world I made the decision to fly back home to New Zealand after only two months. As upset as I was at my plans being dashed, this experience meant I was on the hunt for other opportunities to motivate and inspire me for 2020. ISEP’s Virtual Service Learning program in Barcelona presented an awesome opportunity to work in a cross-cultural environment and help make some tangible change within our global community. Through this program I was able to connect with people on the other side of the world without leaving my desk. Although virtual experiences cannot fully replace real life immersion in a new culture or country, programs like this are the next best thing!
I had the pleasure of volunteering for Melting Pot, a non-profit organisation that aims to equip migrants with skills and opportunities for a career in culinary entrepreneurship. Their work involves facilitating migrant chefs to share their local cuisines with the wider community, and engage in intercultural communication and learning. My tasks with Melting Pot were to assist with the redevelopment of their website, analyse their social media and do some market research into how similar organisations were operating during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was able to work with a lot of creative freedom, whilst still collaborating and checking in with the directors. From this experience I was able to enhance some of my existing cross-cultural and professional skills, as well as improve and learn other skills.
One key thing I learned a lot about was my own communication style, and how I am able to adapt it to work harmoniously with others. My style tends to be more direct in nature, whereas my supervisor communicated in a more ambiguous way. It was great to become more aware of my natural tendencies and practise being sensitive to others’ differences. The best part of the experience was simply being able to support a wonderful organisation doing fantastic things in their community. It was a pleasure to be able to offer my help so that they can continue to succeed in their mission. However, being online and participating in this virtual exchange did present some more challenging aspects as well. Sometimes it was hard not being able to be in-person having discussions, but Zoom does a great job of making meetings as real as possible. The time difference also sometimes came as a challenge, but after a while it was simply another factor to take into consideration when communicating with everyone involved.
For future participants I recommend applying to work with an organisation that is doing work that really interests you. Both you and the organisation will get more from the collaboration if you are equally as supportive of their goal. Because you have a lot of freedom around when you complete your work, it is a good idea to set aside one or two times a week that you focus on your tasks. This helps you work around your own schedule and creates a system of consistency with the organisation as well. Throughout the experience keep in mind that the work you are doing directly benefits individuals who need support, and even though you can’t physically interact with them all your effort is making a difference in their lives.
Overall this has been an incredibly rewarding experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for an enriching international experience from the comfort of your own home. A combination of intercultural interaction, self-development and charitable giving – what’s not to love!