I guess there are so many different reasons for going abroad and for spending a time of your life in a foreign country. When I was 13 I was in England for a language course with pupils from over 30 different countries. From this moment I always dreamed of going abroad again but then – as it is in life – there are always other things. For me there was first of all my graduation.
Nonetheless, to do something valuable I started volunteering in a home for disabled people in Germany. During that I informed myself about opportunities of going abroad. By a fortunate coincidence I found the German branch of the oldest exchange organization “The Experiment in International Living” in the internet and applied for going abroad to Ireland. A few weeks later I was on a preparation weekend and then suddenly I was at Amsterdam Airport, my dad gave me a hug and my flight to Ireland started.
My 22 weeks in Ireland are separated in three different projects. In an ecological project as well as in two different social projects. Four weeks on a farm (Leades House) followed by 8 weeks in St. Laurence Cheshire Home Cork and finally 10 weeks in Newbridge Respite Cheshire Home. After my first night in a hostel in Cork City Centre I was welcomed to Ireland by Anton Kiefer from EIL Ireland, got my full information package and started my first project at Leades House.
Leades House is a free-range farm with magnificent gardens, storybook scenery and with a special focus on environmental awareness and sustainability. The owners, Colin and Sally Wolfe, have a strong commitment to share these values with the public. The 250 acre estate is situated near the town of Macroom in County Cork. Next to the beautiful gardens there are a lot of animals on the farm: free-range hens, sheep, cattle, pigs, a range of geese, duck, guinea fowl and other birds and dogs.
The volunteers were living in the basement of the main house helping on the farm in all different kind of areas. We had our everyday things like feeding the animals as well as projects in the garden. Of course working on a farm means hard work but being outside the whole day – also when it is raining – is very refreshing.
At Leades House I learned so many different things. I think it is the real Irish life I got in contact with when driving to the neighbor’s farm to get milk and understanding nothing except “Oh Jesus…”, when controlling fences on a farm at the seaside in the middle of nowhere, when running at 9 pm in the evening to the sheep field cause a sheep needed help giving birth to a new lamb, when listening to Colin and learning very interesting things about the Irish life, when going every Tuesday to the Country market in Macroom and every Saturday to the farmers market in Cork in order to sell our farm products or when just sitting after a working-day on the lake enjoying the sunset, looking over the fields to the hills while having company from the dogs. It was a month that couldn’t have been better!
After the first month I moved to Cork and started to volunteer in the St. Laurence Cheshire Home which is a home for disabled and ill people. I am living in a house directly next to the city center with the other volunteers and cycle to Cheshire Home which is a little bit out of the town.
We are working concerning the Cheshire Ethos which says “Independent living is not and should not be about what a person can physically do. It is more about what a person emotionally, spiritually and intellectually chooses to do with his/her life. By focusing on the core issues of choice, Cheshire services in Ireland aspire to implement the Independent Living ideal in practical, realistic ways.”
The volunteers are doing all kind of activities with the residents: playing games, baking cakes, reading books, listening to stories or just talk to a resident. Furthermore, we are going on day outings to the shopping center or to a pub for lunch and on evening outings to the cinema or concerts.
Some of the people in Cheshire are disabled and so they are used to their situation since they were born. Other people who are sitting now in a wheelchair unable to do anything had a totally normal life before and are suffering e.g. from multiples scleroses. In a Cheshire home you get in contact with lots of different stories and fates. Most people are sitting in a wheelchair, some can’t talk, hear or see but the atmosphere in the house is so friendly and positive. When I tell people where I am working and what I am doing they have a lot of respect and couldn’t imagine themselves working over there but working in a Cheshire home is a very rewarding work and in my view nearly every person would be able to work there cause also the residents are a mixture of all kind of characters.
My last project will start in the mid of May and is also a Cheshire Home. Then I will move to Newbridge which is a small town located next to Dublin and I am really looking forward to that even though I will miss my life and friends in Cork.
I know that it always takes some time to get used to a new situation – e.g. a new project and a new place where you live. But as far as you explored and created your own world in the new world you stepped in you will feel home. I am e.g. in a fitness course from the university where I got in contact with Irish girls who are my age and sometimes we meet for a coffee or go shopping.
To volunteer is a work experience as you are really working and living there but especially this point is for me the best about this kind of going abroad. Of course there are also boring moments but this is absolutely normal and part of daily life. But even though it is “just life” you will explore so many different things and realize that you are in a new country in situations where you never thought about before.
Of course I am also interested in traveling and seeing all the amazing things that you can see in Ireland as e.g. the cliffs or the national parks but this I will do step by step when I have a day off.
Today going abroad may have been becoming something “normal” or well at least something that seems to be not that special as some years ago but I say it is still a challenge. I know when I will come to Germany there will be another day when I will sit in a plane that will bring me to a foreign country that is going to be my home for a little time.
Before I wrote this article I decided not write a very exaggerating and emotional article with the sentence “this was the best time of my life”. But as I am looking over my article now it seems to be a very emotional article. It is the only way to give you a small idea of what I am experiencing here in Ireland and how rewarding the combination of going abroad and volunteering in ecological and social projects is.
Along these lines I can only give the tip to go abroad and to experience that you can find a home everywhere in the world.