18 December 2019
SLV.Global is a mental health organisation that organises mental health placements in India, Bali, and Europe. I participated in their three-month placement in Sri Lanka in October 2018. In this article, I will share all the useful skills I learned during volunteering, which have helped me in my current Master's in Marketing.
In the marketing field, groupwork is almost inevitable. We have a lot of group projects on our programme and to work successfully with people from all over the world, a knowledge of cultural diversity is appreciated. The cultural diversity I experienced in my volunteer placement was so rewarding as it helped me make new friends quickly. Working with people from different cultures can be challenging, there are differences in the way you perceive things, and different ways of communicating. If you want to be able to work with people, you need to be open-minded and non-judgemental, which were two very valuable qualities that were strengthened during my placement in Sri Lanka.
With so many group projects and presentations, it's important to have good communication skills for negotiations and effective problem solving. It is really important to get your message through, especially in a competititve field like marketing. While volunteering, I learned the importance of communication; not just spoken, but visual. Being in a completely different culture, it can be challenging to communicate, especially if your native language is not the same, but something that can really help is visual aids: hand gestures, facial expressions, even body language. These are not only helpful in a new environment, but also during presentations. I think to get your message across effectively, it always helps to be as expressive as you can be.
I worked as a peer mentor on the mental health placement and had the responsibility of monitoring and supporting fellow volunteers. This role helped me understand the importance of responsibility. I gained skills like risk-taking, problem solving, supporting peers, and quick decision-making which are valuable skills for a leader.
While volunteering, I had a very busy schedule from 9-5pm, which forced me to become organised and change my priorities and routine. Volunteering in a fast and busy environment has benefited me at the Business School. With countless meetings, networking opportunities, events, lectures, assignments, group work, and job applications, anyone can feel overwhelmed. This is where organisation skills come in handy, and in order to be organised, you need to manage your time well, which brings me to my next point.
Organising my busy schedule on placement was a challenging task but super fun. I have always been a planner, but what I learned on placement was how to use my time effectively. Moreover, it was essential to know my priorities; which tasks to do first and how much time to spend on them. Another aspect which was really important for me was taking time out for myself. My Business School university life is similar in some ways, it is important to manage time and take time off for myself.
One of the most valuable skills that I learned during volunteering was creative problem solving. I planned creative mental health and wellbeing sessions every week for three months for service users in the placement, and ran those sessions effectively. In the process, I built problem-solving skills as it was quite challenging at times, for example when I didn't have enough resources. I had to come up with something quickly on the spot to keep the service users engaged. Every marketer needs the skill of creative problem solving!
When I moved to Edinburgh, I had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into but immersing myself in the culture, making new friends, and throwing myself into challenging situations really helped me adapt to my new environment. If there are three things I would recommend to anyone moving to a new country, it would be:
- Have and open mind: you don't know what opportunities await you
- Be non-judgemental: you don't know who you might learn from—everyone looks at the world differently and you are lucky you have the opportunity to see it through the eyes of people from diverse cultures
- Last but not least, be experimental: go on and try new things!
Volunteering changed my perspective on a lot of things. Helping someone in need is reason enough to volunteer but the awesome feeling you get afterwards is great too. I have learned so much on my placement abroad and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to build useful skills and learn new ones.
The last thing I want to mention is, you never know what doors are opened when you try something new. I volunteered with SLV.Global as a psychology graduate, and now I work as a student ambassador for the organisation which is great because I am studying marketing. This way, I'm still connected with the organisation, helping out in the field of mental health, and building marketing skills in the process. The more creative and different things you try, the more opportunities open up which is perfectly reflected in my favourite poem by Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Vrinda Narain is studying for the MSc in Marketing.