R&A Scholar 2013/14

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.

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

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.

Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic

Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic

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.

Bienne-lez-Happart, Belgium

Bienne-lez-Happart, Belgium

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.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia

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.

Hvegardi, Iceland

Hvegardi, Iceland

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.

Rhode-St-Genese, Belgium

Rhode-St-Genese, Belgium

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.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

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.

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea

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.

Seeds of Change, Glasgow

Seeds of Change, Glasgow

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.

New York, USA

New York, USA

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.

 

 

Sprout: making the invisible visible

I’ve now finished my programme with Sprout, which is extremely sad as it’s been a fantastic experience. My last trip was a respite trip to the Catskills, in Upstate New York. We had a great time and a great group, we were even able to take a skilift up to the top of a mountain to get beautiful views of the surrounding area.

My group in the Catskills

My group in the Catskills

It will be sad to leave NYC, but I’m also looking forward to returning to St Andrews, of course. I’ve missed the auld grey toon!

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Sprout: volunteering to go on vacation

Outside Caesars in Atlantic City

Outside Caesars in Atlantic City

You heard that right! I’m currently volunteering to go on vacation with adults with learning disabilities. As volunteers, we’re in charge of basic things like food, medication, directions, but also making sure everyone’s having fun! So we plan lots of great activities. So far I’ve been to Rhode Island, Catskills, Atlantic City and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Love in the caves

Love in the caves

 

It’s a great experience for two reasons: 1. We get to see lots of cool places we wouldn’t otherwise. 2. We have lots of responsibility so it’s a great opportunity for personal development. So far my favourite trip has been to Atlantic City, where we went gambling and to the beautiful boardwalk.

 

 

I also get to spend time in New York City when I’m not on trips. I’m loving exploring the city, meeting new people and trying new foods. It’s such a buzzing place to be, the city really gives you energy. I’m having the best time here, I don’t want my time to end!

St Andrews girls in NYC

St Andrews girls in NYC

USA!

Flying to the United States, I couldn’t quite believe that this is going to be the last trip of my year as the R&A Scholar. Only one month until I have to return to St Andrews to complete my undergraduate degree! America feels like the perfect end to my trip though. I start my volunteer placement on Wednesday, where I will be taking adults with learning disabilities on holidays with a great non-for-profit, Sprout. I’m very excited to start but have also been having a fabulous time exploring America!

I flew to Boston, where I spent 5 days exploring the history (and seafood!), and then I headed to Pennsylvania to stay with my friend from St Andrews, Amanda. It was so lovely to see her and she took me to Princeton which was just beautiful. Since then, I’ve been enjoying a few days in New York and have already been to a baseball game and ran in Central Park. I love NYC so far! I’m so excited to see what the next and last month will bring!

Beautiful Boston from the sea

Beautiful Boston from the sea

St Andrews girls in Princeton

St Andrews girls in Princeton

View of Manhatten from Brooklyn Bridge

View of Manhatten from Brooklyn Bridge

Americana at my first ever baseball game

Americana at my first ever baseball game

Northern Europe

At a presentation earlier today at the Copenhagen Science in the City Festival, an academic talked of the problem so-called ‘how to get to Denmark’. How to get an accepting society, good health care, benefits system etc, you know the score. Of course Denmark is not perfect, recent reporting on discrimination against minorities shows. But they’re trying, really trying, to build an equal society. That’s why I wanted to come to Scandinavia, to see what it was like to be in a society like this. And Copenhagen is pretty great.

One of the great things about Copenhagen - so few cars and so many bikes!

One of the great things about Copenhagen – so few cars and so many bikes!

The science festival was really interesting too, looking at the relationship between science and society and philosophy. For example the philosophy of neural enhancements, would they be acceptable? For who? For everybody? On the free market?

Before Copenhagen, I went to Berlin and Hamburg, to visit a friend I’d met in Vietnam who also worked with adults with disabilities. So great to see her again and chat. This is one of the most important parts of my scholarship year, meeting international contacts who I can work together with in the future.

Being inspired by Berlin

Being inspired by Berlin

Planting Seeds of Change in Glasgow

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I’ve spent the whole year volunteering in other countries, with local people giving their time to help me, so this week I changed direction and have been leading an international volunteer project in Glasgow. This has been great for two reasons: 1. to give back a little to the international volunteer karma, and to Xchange Scotland who have helped me so much, and 2. to see how far I’ve come this year. I can now say confidently that I can lead a group of young people and be comfortable dealing with both highs and lows.

at the opening ceremony of the Seeds of Hope exhibition

at the opening ceremony of the Seeds of Hope exhibition

This project was based on sustainable development and the Commonwealth, linked with the Seeds of Hope exhibition at the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow. (http://www.sgi.org/resource-center/ngo-resources/education-for-sustainable-development/seeds-of-hope.html) We were tasked with engaging the public, especially children, with the themes. Thinking of concepts to engage children in potentially complicated themes was difficult, but we succeeded. We had workshops on individuals countries, including on retaining cultural diversity in Papua New Guinea, where we made headdresses. We were also planting ‘seeds of hope’, which was great because even very young children could join in.

In addition, as in all workcamps, we had fun parts! This time, instead of just being a participant, I was in charge of making sure it was fun! I was a tour guide in Edinburgh and Glasgow, we had a great time.

Tour guiding in Edinburgh

Tour guiding in Edinburgh

Unfortunately, as I’m leaving for Germany tomorrow, I will miss the last 2 weeks of the project, but I know my volunteers will continue the good work without me.

Bonjour/Au revoir Belgium

Regular readers of my blog (Hi Dad!) will know that I spent 3 months volunteering in Rhode-St-Genese, a small town just outside Brussels. An important aim of this year was making contacts for future collaboration and exchange, and to keep these contacts strong its essential to stay in touch. So I returned to Rhode-St-Genese for a visit! As well as being great for me to see everyone again, it’s also great for the residents when the volunteers return. Having someone be a huge part of your live for 3 months to a year and then just leave, well, that’s difficult for anyone. Volunteers coming back to visit makes the whole volunteer experience infinitely more positive for the residents.

phpf8ozK6AMThe visit was a very positive experience for me as well. I feel like it was only through returning that I really understood what I’d gained from the experience, what I’d done well and what I could have done better. And, I finally finished my Brussels tourist experience by going to Mini-Europe!

London in Mini-Europe

London in Mini-Europe

Last few days in South Korea

As you know from my last post, I’ve been having a whale of a time in South Korea, and this has continued even at a time of national crisis (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-27176844). The country is mourning the loss of so many school children and other passengers on the ferry, music concerts have been cancelled, comedy shows have been removed from TV listings etc. I was fortunate enough to still have a fantastic time seeing Korea, whilst also accepting the sadness of this time.

A crab makes a bid for freedom

A crab makes a bid for freedom

The weather was not kind to me in Busan, a city full of beaches. It was rainy and windy. But luckily I had my friends (met on previous workcamps) to show me around! I went to the fish market, with thousands of different types of fish, most of which I didn’t recognise, all alive. There were crabs trying to escape (and almost succeeding!) and old women shooing them back into their buckets. Its was great, a buzzing atmosphere taking me back to the days of old Busan.

In Busan, I also the saw the most beautiful temple I’ve ever seen. It was on the coast, surrounding by dramatic waves and rocks, and was truly breathtaking.

The beautiful temple by the sea

The beautiful temple by the sea

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

I left Busan and returned for Seoul for my final few days in South Korea, and my final few days in Asia (this year, anyway!). I enjoyed a perfect combination of new foods, culture, history and non-touristy things, thanks to my friend Leah (who I also met earlier in the year on a workcamp). My favourite cultural activity was seeing the Changdeokgung Palace and especially the secret garden within.

phpJrpSwLAMBut the best thing I did in Seoul was definitely tandem cycling along the Han River. It was beautiful weather and the view looked amazing with the combination of nature and high rise buildings. And then there was the cycling. Neither of us had ever rode a tandem bike before, and it was much more difficult than we expected! This only made it more hilarious. I have not laughed so much in a long time. I had the best time in South Korea. I really hope I will be back to visit before too long!

Beautiful Seoul

Beautiful Seoul

Entering the land of kimchi and kindness

When they say I was eating alone, they invited me to join them and gave me almost all the food on the menu, they wanted to make sure I tried everything!

When they say I was eating alone, they invited me to join them and gave me almost all the food on the menu, they wanted to make sure I tried everything!

I left Vietnam last week and made my way to South Korea, and so far I have to say it’s been one of the most interesting, fun and crazy countries I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in. Being a young, Western, female travelling alone almost everyone I’ve met has tried to help me (or give me food), which means that even though there’s little English and obviously I can’t read or speak Korean, it’s been easy going so far. I’ve been overwhelmed by the pure genorosity of people.

Korea is also a beautiful country. I’ve been in Seoul, Jeju Island and am

A beautiful palace in Seoul

A beautiful palace in Seoul

writing this from Busan. Seoul is a buzzing metropolis with so much going on, so many foods to try and so many experiences to have. IT has such an exciting atmosphere.

 

A volcanic crater on Jeju

A volcanic crater on Jeju

 

Jeju is an island resort where South Koreans go on holiday, it has beautiful nature and coastline. And I climbed the highest mountain in South Korea!
This is my first evening in Busan, a port city surrounded by mountains, and I’m looking forward to discovering the city tomorrow!

Relief! At the summit of South Korea's highest peak

Relief! At the summit of South Korea’s highest peak

Sapa – Trekking the Mountains of Vietnam

I’ve never been trekking in another country before, with a guide, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, we had everything I could have expected and more! Every type of weather I can think of except snow (but including hail!), 2 homestays and a guide like a mountain goat, who expected us to run up the mountain with her. The area around Sapa is just beautiful. The tribes have cultivated the hillsides masterfully, with rice paddies halfway up the sides of the mountains. But somehow, this manmade feature of the landscape just adds to the natural beauty. This is one place I feel especially lucky to have been, photos just don’t quite transmit the magical atmosphere well enough.

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Our guide in traditional dress

Our guide in traditional dress