Ariana: ISEP Service Learning Programme: Barcelona

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!

Sharon: ISEP Virtual Service Learning Programme – Barcelona

I am grateful that I got the opportunity to participate in ISEP’s Virtual Service-Learning Program in Barcelona to earn invaluable skills beyond the lecture theatres. I was placed in the communication department with the Islamic Relief, overseen by two supervisors, Ahlam and Kinda. One of my main tasks included creating my fundraising for my chosen charity with a specific target. My challenge was running at least 5km every day for 20 days to raise around $2000NZD for at least two orphans.

My key takeaway from this experience was learning how to plan properly. To create an efficient fundraiser, I had to research and plan with lots of detail. Being able to plan systematically has taught me a lot, such as being able to identify any mistakes, then fix it quickly and to retrace the successful ideas and use them again. This skill would be beneficial in the future as many employers’ value this skill.

The best part of the experience is leaving the NGO knowing I did something to help them and that I’ve left a part of me with the NGO. Knowing I contributed to helping orphans get their necessities is a heart-warming feeling. The most challenging part was finding an efficient way to fundraise despite COVID-19. COVID-19 limited some of the fundraising ideas I had, and I knew I had to overcome this by being more creative. Therefore, after researching and thinking about my strengths, I was able to establish my very own challenge to encourage people to donate.

One of my goals was to be more aware of my communication style and the seminar hosted by Maria helped me to achieve this. I have personally, professionally and cross-culturally learned my preferred style of communication. Being born and growing up in a country where we choose to express ourselves explicitly didn’t change the fact that I was taught to express myself implicitly from my parents because of cultural difference. After attending the seminar, it was eye-opening to learn there are different types of communication styles that I’ve never heard of. I am extremely grateful to have attended the seminar because I can distinguish between different communication styles between different cultures. Professionally, I can change my communication style to suit whoever I am talking to. This would be an invaluable skill to have in the business industry because one of my key jobs will be to communicate and negotiate with people from different backgrounds so being able to read their body language will benefit me greatly. Cross-culturally, I have learned that despite growing up in a country where explicit communication dominates, my culture outweighs this, and this has taught me that the culture where one is from determines how one chooses to communicate.

To future students participating in ISEP, I advise you to listen attentively to the seminars and take notes as they are very useful in developing your professional skills. Getting to know other students and what they are doing in the program is also a good way to learn more about the differences in culture as well. Lastly and most importantly, enjoy and make the most of every moment in the program as your time with the program will go very quickly.