At the age of 19, Fiona Brown had finished college and was unsure about her next steps. Feeling that university wasn't for her, she went on the search for something different and that's when she discovered volunteering. Fiona shares the impact volunteering had on her life with us.
When I was at college everything was aimed at getting you to university. It felt like they had nothing else to offer us and I knew it wasn't for me.
With the insecurity of not knowing what I wanted to do and all my friends leaving to go to university, I would say I became depressed. I just wanted to do something worthwhile that I would enjoy.
So I signed up to the European Solidarity Corps and was contacted really quickly by a volunteering project in Poland. I found myself in an integration school, as classroom support, in a small town for three months – it was pretty overwhelming at first, but you quickly realise how amazing the opportunity is.
"I was really upset for a long time, but this completely changed everything and made me happy again."
Three months ago I found it hard to talk to people I didn't know or deal with new situations. When I first arrived, I was nervous people wouldn't understand me, and I'd never been away from my family before.
On my first few days at the school I closed myself off a lot but I saw all the other volunteers just rolling with it. The second you close yourself up, that’s when you’ll struggle and hold yourself back.
I ended up loving working and living with people from different nationalities, I’d never experienced anything like that before. Being around them taught me a lot; everyone was so confident and direct, it encouraged me to become more confident in myself as well.
In the school I was often put on the spot and asked to do something in English in front of the class. At first I’d just panic, but I got so used to it that I’m now more comfortable dealing with spontaneous situations and adapting. The teachers really pushed me and it's helped me to develop myself.
I spent so much time with people of all different ages; at work I’d spend time around 6-16 year olds, I lived with people in their mid-late twenties. It may sound strange, but at first I was really apprehensive of being around people that were older than me. Spending time with all these different people has made me realise it’s not a big deal, I feel comfortable talking to everyone now.
I feel like I’ve changed; I’ve matured in different ways. Now that I’m back home, my friends and family have started to comment how much more confident I've become.
A big world beyond Brum
I'd never had the opportunity to meet so many people from all over Europe before, it was so nice to find out more about their languages and cultures. I went to Polish classes and even learnt some Italian from my housemates!
I couldn't believe how little I knew about Europe or how easy it is to get from one country to another – my eyes have really been opened.
Since being away I’ve started to appreciate Birmingham, my home town, and the UK more as well. Everyone else was so passionate about their countries; I realised how little I knew about my own.
"I now have invitations to all different places across Europe – I feel like I’ve made friends for life!"
Do some good
The volunteering aspect made me feel like I was doing something that was genuinely good and I wasn’t doing it just for money, I was doing it purely because I loved it. That made me feel really good about myself because I knew I was helping. One of the students even got in contact with me recently to say that she got into university and wanted to thank me for all my help. The power of volunteering is feeling like you’re doing something genuinely good.
It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I was doing something really worthwhile, it made me quite emotional when I was leaving and realised that I hadn’t felt this good about myself in a long time.
I would definitely consider going back, I was so happy with the environment, the teachers, the students – I feel like I could do this for the rest of my life!