I remember when I was young, I thought that volunteering somewhere is only working and nothing else. But at that time, I was a little boy, learnt my stuff in the school and thought that in the working life, grades are the only and most important things you learn. Now when you look on your student CV and experiences e.g., the grades have only a small percentage. There is your professional working experience you do not learn in the university, additional experience in special software you don’t need in university, AND social engagement as well as soft skills and participations at certain courses and workshops.
When I started my career at IAESTE (Actually, it is not work for me!), I didn’t know that I could perfectly combine the keywords professional experiences and soft skills. But what exactly do you learn by volunteering in any organization? I learnt to take over responsibility of someone, in my case it’s the international interns who come to Germany, for some of them it is the first stay in Europe. It seems logical that they probably don’t know the culture and are very happy that they get help in their first steps. Moreover, they directly get to know some local people and have a contact person.
Another point for me is – as the word volunteering already says – starting to do things voluntarily. Saying “yes okay, I am in for that, I can do that”. In my case, it started e.g. with writing e-mails, asking questions and now even holding workshops at IAESTE conferences. I also improved my self-reliance. In an organization there are several topics to discuss and to keep up to date. There is not a fixed plan a boss tells you to do or a (more or less) fixed schedule of lessons you visit in university. It is more that you can decide what activities you are planning to do.
As I already mentioned the workshops, I also improved my presentation skills. In school I was very bad with this and I did not feel comfortable presenting a topic to a group of other people. It’s usually because you are forced to do it, not because you want to do it. I started with holding a university class to students of the first semester, after that presenting IAESTE at different fares and now voluntarily (!) holding workshops on national level and I even registered as international workshop leader because for me this was the next logical step. Now, another aspect I learnt at my time with IAESTE is networking. Especially at the national meetings as well as different meetings, I got to know so many new people spread all over Germany and even more I regularly stay in contact with. If one day I had to move to another city, I already know several people. I got to know more local people in my hometown which also enlarged my network.
What can I tell you? In school you get to know all the basics and hopefully figure out your strengths and skills, but by volunteering you can even improve them – maybe you even need these things later in your working life and as a student you can learn these things very easily, quickly and cheap. That’s why I can recommend everyone to commit oneself voluntarily in any organization or something comparable. If you realize you don’t like it, you can also leave – usually nobody is angry about that because it is your free choice.
Kevin Meister, member of LC Erlangen, IAESTE Germany