As a student, school can get tedious at times. Papers, assignments, and exams all seem to blur together throughout the year, and it can be hard to see how all this work will be useful in the future. Internships, research, and jobs are all great ways to put the skills you learn in the classroom to use and apply your knowledge to real-life situations.
A unique and rewarding way to do this is through volunteering. Volunteering at an organization that participates in work similar to your area of study can give you hands-on experience with your studies. As a student, you can even use take this experience and apply it to your school work when you return. It also gives you the chance to give back to a meaningful cause.
One of our volunteers, Dorien, volunteered with Bobbi Bear in South Africa and wrote her dissertation about her experience. Working at Bobbi Bear for three months allowed Dorien to use her knowledge from her criminology courses to study the differences in therapeutic techniques in Belgium and South Africa. Read more about her story below!
I found Bobbi Bear through the university because someone else from my school already went there, but they had gone five years before me. The university suggested I contact Bobbi Bear for my research, so I did. It was a very difficult process to learn what subject I wanted to research because Bobbi Bear didn’t give a lot input. They were also new to this type of research, so they didn’t really know what I was going to do or what competencies I had, so I think that was a difficult point.
My research was about the different therapeutic approaches in Belgium and South Africa, so I used Bobbi Bear’s approach and I contacted some psychologists here in Belgium so I could see the differences. But research in South Africa is not something that’s easy because people were a little bit reluctant, they were worried I was going to tell them they were doing something wrong.
They were very reluctant, which doesn’t mean they didn’t help me. I had a lot interviews, but it wasn’t something where they were like “yeah I want to do that”. They were also always thinking “oh I have to watch my words while she’s here”, which was very difficult. It was difficult to break that barrier, but it came down when they started to trust me. I was there for three months, and the first month was difficult. During the second two months it was much easier for them to trust me.
I started my time at Bobbi Bear by not working on my project for the first four weeks and just waiting and seeing how they worked, being a normal volunteer and not an intern. I tried that and I had a very good relationship with Eureka, so I knew that if something didn’t work she would help me because she’s the boss and people listen to her. She would also help me by telling people that I was just there to ask questions and not make a judgment between good and bad, and she really helped in that process. So we started doing that after two weeks. I would tell them about my research and I talked about how I had done the interviews in Belgium, which I think helped a lot. I also contacted the older aunties because they were more experienced and less reluctant. I also worked with them quite often and I chose people that I worked with a lot.
It would take a lot of time because when I first asked someone to do an interview, it took about two weeks until the actual interview took place. When I would have an interview, I would just say “ok we’re going to have a talk”. I also had to record the interviews and that was a difficult thing because if you record something, every person is bit reluctant because they want to know why you’re recording them. I explained I was recording anonymously and I was only using it to type it out and that I didn’t put the name on it, and everything else, but that was a difficult thing.
My first three or four questions were very open and very general, not really specific about how they work. So the recording would be used when I asked more interesting questions. I didn’t change my research criteria, but I did change my questions to make them less difficult. Normally in research you can’t use examples in questions because it will lead people, but I had to use examples otherwise they wouldn’t understand what I was asking. They speak Zulu and they speak very good English, but question and answer can be difficult so that was a way I met the goal I wanted to meet.
On a day to day basis, I tried to work as a normal volunteer during the day and then worked on my internship at night or on Sundays, since there is a support group on Saturdays. But I did as much as possible. I went to the police center and I went to court a lot of times. I also had two clients that I handled myself therapeutically. They were cases around family issues and they were English speakers, so that was a project of my own. I just tried to do as much as possible. It was also quite busy while I was there, there was always something to do.
I’m a bit more self-aware since Bobbi Bear. I wouldn’t say I was shy, but I wouldn’t stand up for myself very often, but at Bobbi Bear you have to do that. You can’t way “oh can I maybe go with you”, you have be more straightforward. And if you are direct with them, they will be direct with you and that’s something that helps build confidence. And that’s something I found also difficult the first three weeks, so that really changed me in a positive way and it changed me even to this day.
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