“Hi, my name is Magdalena. I am the new full-time volunteer from German YMCA. Nice to meet you”
I must have said this exact sentence or slight variations of it around 80 times during my first week at PiP. While introducing myself to students and staff members, I was desperately trying to remember what names and faces belonged together. I didn’t have much success, I must confess. The moment someone told me their name the previous one was already gone! To avoid embarrassments, I had no choice but to spend my free time starring at the board in the reception, where everyone’s picture and name was pinned on, and mutter to myself.
On my first day, during Leisure Programme, we went cycling in Finsbury Park. I was very nervous as I was when first entering the building, not knowing how my year as a volunteer would turn out. As soon as the students started chatting and riding bikes with me, I had a feeling that I was going to have a great time. It seemed to me that they were genuinely pleased to meet me. Though I cannot be sure, since even after spending more than five weeks in London, I still struggle to see the difference between someone being friendly and someone using the shield of famous British politeness. 😉
My feelings did not deceive me. The rest of the leisure programme was just as much fun as the beginning. An absolute highlight for me was the annual PiP Summer BBQ. Eating delicious food, drinking juice, spending my pocket money on merchandise, chatting with staff, students and parents and shouting “HUH, HAH!” during the Tai Chi session, it was pure delight.
Learning new skills
Though Leisure Programme was a good way for me to slowly get acquainted with staff and students, I only really got to know PiP when the autumn term started. Since then I have constantly been developing new skills.
First and foremost, social skills. Since I have gotten here six weeks ago, I have become more patient and polite and I improved in detecting people’s mood by getting to know the students’ personalities. Additionally, I am getting better in figuring out when and how to provide help for the students, so that they can profit the most from their session, and for the Development Workers, which can mean simply accompanying a student to the kitchen. Sometimes that includes working with someone 1:1 on the computer or to help them with their spelling. It depends on the session, the students and the general mood of the day, because even though every day is similar, they are also in a way completely different. And that makes my job so exciting!
Besides that, I can benefit from the content of the sessions as well. Makaton really helps me to communicate with the students and Working Together and Cooking teaches me valuable household skills like cleaning, cooking, washing and tidying up. And to be honest, I need that extra exercise.
When the sessions finish, I head upstairs to either help Claire and Fernanda with fundraising, Social Media, office work or to write blog posts, like I am doing in this very minute.
Working at PiP means being surrounded by many native speakers and I appreciate this chance to learn more about London life and to deepen my knowledge of the English language. Now I know some not-so-daily-words like “mirror-reversed” and “seizure” and I got lessons in “How to survive autumn in London”! By adding my own experiences to the warnings, I feel I am now in possession of precious knowledge.
Rule #1: It rains. A lot.
Rule #2: Be careful getting off the bus! Otherwise you could be washed away by the river that had emerged along the sidewalk. Or you could drown in the enormous puddles. Serious guys, that is not normal.
Rule #3: Always have an extra layer warmth with you. British architects are no fans of insulation.
Though not having been here for a long time I already feel comfortable and like being part of the team. That is due to this great mixture of familiar and professional atmosphere at PiP, where everybody respects each other.
I can only say that I am really enjoying my time here and I cannot wait to see what will come up for me this year.
P.S. Notable mention: Lunch time is always around 12:00. Some might think that is pretty early, but as a person who struggles with being hangry (hungry + angry), I can assure you, it is perfect!