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Planning Retirement Online

Volunteers' Stories

From IVS, the International Voluntary Service

Founded in 1931, IVS is a non-profit organisation that promotes peace and social justice through volunteering.

This article series will bring you stories from their volunteers about their inspirational experiences helping local communities in the UK and around the world.

Q&A with a long term volunteer!

Volunteer Voices

Douglas Stevens is currently on a Long-term placement in Norway at the children’s charity, CISV.

Q: What have you been learning through this experience?

A: For me, the majority of the learning has been personal – aka personal development. Being in a new country, a new environment, a new social situation and a new workplace has really made me consider my pre-existing relationships, and ask what it is I need to fulfil and sustain them. This experience has helped me recognise which qualities mean people come across as open and accepting, and which don’t. I have found Norway a challenging place to move to as I have found it difficult to fully integrate into, but simultaneously, I have learnt a bit more about what it is that I need to make myself happy. I do feel that I am more aware of what it is in a job, and a work environment, that I am looking for, and what parts of my life are worth working towards and fighting for. I’d be lying if I said I’ve not learnt some important lessons here. But, I’d also be lying if I did not mention that it’s not always easy.   

Q: Have you had curious situations wherein you felt culturally different?

A: All the time! Before I left I rather naively had the idea in my head that Norway and the UK (and Scotland in particular) couldn’t be all that different – Norway is sometimes referred to as ‘Scotland on steroids’ after all – but I have been surprised just how different it feels in reality. Despite being just a short hop across the water, I have noticed differences in social conduct and rules, some behaviours as well as, and of course the completely different language. Taken together they do have a collective impact and can make someone from a relatively ‘similar’ culture feel completely lost! In fact, I’ve found that it’s been the ‘soft’ and subtle differences, such as social behaviours and norms, which have caught me out as these are precisely the aspects which you can’t just ‘block out’ or learn straight away. They’re around you all the time to shape how you are treated, interacted with, and perceived. In reality, they have had a huge impact on my experiences up until now.

Q: Have you had moments of fun?

A: For sure! Some of my best moments have been when volunteering for the Oslo World Music Festival. Offering my time as part of that community was like becoming a member of a big family, and I also felt like I could contribute some of my creative skills, which was a great feeling. Being in situations where I’ve felt like I have had something to offer, a skill to share, or making a meaningful contribution has really shaped my enjoyment during my time here. Another moment which I have yet to experience, but hope to do so, is the phenomenon that is cross-country skiing in Norway. Don’t get me wrong, I knew Norwegians had a reputation for skiing, but I had no idea just how important it seems to be for a lot of people! The moment snow arrives the streets become empty. Literally. There’s hardly a soul in sight as they’re all out in their sports gear zooming across the snow in the neighbouring woods. I know it’s not a big thing, but the level of which skiing seems embedded in the Norwegian psyche has been quite a surprise.

Q: What will you bring back with you to the UK from this experience?

A: Jumpers! I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to indulge my love for big hand-knitted woollen jumpers, and I fully intend to bring back some samples with me. Beyond that, I feel I will bring back a more nuanced understanding of Norwegian (or at least Oslo) culture; one that extends beyond the fairly one-dimensional picture that’s painted for us by the media. Norway is not always the environmental and social haven it’s made out to be – it suffers from the same issues that a lot of countries in Europe do. It has its own conflicts and contradictions, and it’s short-sighted to think that it doesn’t. There are definitely friendships I will bring back with me too. I feel that forging friendships can make or break an EVS experience as they’re what will keep you going in times of need.

Q: What would you suggest to the people about to apply for a Long-term project, or about to leave for one?

A: This a great programme and potentially a fantastic experience but, and it’s a big but, make sure it’s right for you. Make sure the project you’re working on is right for you, make sure it’s the right time of your life for it, and that you can fully commit to the project. Make sure that the project matches you: think about what your motivations for the project are, and try to identify what it is you want to get out of it. Then, check to see if these expectations can be met. If not, or you’re just not sure, contact them and ask, do more research, or perhaps just wait. Getting a good match for your motivations is vital so it’s worth taking a bit of extra time to consider it. Beyond that, it’s the usual stuff: stay open-minded, recognise that it’s not going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time, and try to stay balanced and be honest with yourself. Only if you’re honest with yourself, will you be able to recognise what it is you want, and how you will achieve it. Good luck!


Visit the Laterlife Interest Index for more Volunteer Stories

If you are over 50 and want to volunteer with IVS please contact
Our projects in 60 countries worldwide are open to volunteers of all ages and can be accessed here.


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