Back in the UK, and ready to start my fourth and (hopefully!) final year at St Andrews, it still feels unreal how many places and people I’ve had the opportunity to meet this year. The scholarship has given me the space to grow into a better, more confident person, to learn about different cultures and to find out about the lives of disabled people in different parts of the world.
I began my trip in Grottaferrata, Rome, Italy, where I worked in a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. I learnt about how Italian culture influences their services, and I was also able to spend some time in Rome, Florence and Milan.
Next I headed to Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic, where thanks to some last minute scheduling changes I ended up working with Roma children. It was really interesting to see how another marginalized group is treated, and I was very moved by the Roma people’s cycle of poverty.
I then went to Bienne-lez-Happart, Belgium, where I worked in a modern centre for people with cerebral palsy and other motor neurone conditions. This project was great because I learnt a lot about physical therapy and the medical details behind the condition.
After Bienne, I arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia, to volunteer in a centre for adults with multiple and complex disabilities. I was amazed to find out that in an EU country, they couldn’t afford electric wheelchairs for anyone, and it was only in the last couple of years that it was even thought appropriate for the clients to leave the centre at all.
Next, Iceland was a totally different world to Bratislava. I was staying in a state of the art health and rehabilitation centre with a focus on holistic health and nutrition.
I then moved to Rhode-Saint-Genese, Belgium, for 3 months to live and work in a house of 13 adults with learning disabilities. I really got to know them and their lives, and have visited them since! It’s great to have been on a project I can see myself having some long term involvement with.
After Belgium, I headed to Hanoi, Vietnam. As soon as I left the airport, I was transported into another world! I volunteered with two different organizations: one rural home for disabled children and one urban school for autistic children. It was amazing to see how different the two projects were, even though they were within 2 hours of each other.
After Vietnam, I visited South Korea and some volunteers I’d met in Rome. I had such a fantastic time in South Korea, it’s a beautiful country and all the locals were really kind to me.
I then spent a couple of months doing little projects – leading a project at home in Glasgow, going to a festival in Copenhagen, and attending a disability studies conference.
My next and final experience was in New York City, USA, where for 6 weeks I worked as a leader taking adults with learning disabilities on vacation. Volunteering to go on vacation has got to be the best job ever! I had a blast but I also developed my planning and teamwork skills. I was so sad to leave, and I’m hoping to be able to return one day.
Every one of my projects has taught me something different, I’ve learnt so much over the course of my year. The R&A Scholarship has been an incredible opportunity, and I would like to take this chance to thank everyone involved in making it happen.