When I was first thinking of what to write about in this blog kept by office staff, I wasn’t sure where to start. And then I thought about one of the documents that alumni have written for preparing volunteers – a day in the life on project. I know for some volunteers who are applying to work overseas that long term goals sometimes include working for an NGO in Canada. I feel privileged to have a paid job with such a great organization and thought that some of you might be interested to know what it’s like on a day to day basis.
So… let me describe a typical day in the life of a Volunteer Coordinator at YCI.
It’s Wednesday morning and I’ve rolled into work at around 9:30am after a slow streetcar ride through the downtown core. None of us are early birds in this office and I’m usually the second or third person to arrive. I’m scheduled to do 4 interviews between 10:00 and 12:00 and I have half an hour to get myself ready. While my computer takes its time to boot up I make myself a cup of tea and greet whoever else is here in the office. I do a quick scan of my email to make sure there aren’t any urgent issues to deal with. After grabbing the 4 applications and some interview guides, I sit down to review who I’ll be speaking with this morning. It’s amazing to see the diversity in applicants and it’s always interesting to get to know them in that first interview. With an applicant base of 18 to 30 year olds and with a pretty wide range of programming in countries as different as Costa Rica or Ethiopia, it’s always interesting to see who’s going to be calling at 10am.
This morning I’ll be speaking with a university student studying sciences interested in a summer program in Guyana, a student pursuing their Masters in international development looking to meet an internship requirement with a project in Ethiopia in the fall, someone who has been working at a bank for the last few years after graduating university and wants to explore new career directions and volunteer in Tanzania next year, and finally a high school student graduating in June who wants to go to Costa Rica in the summer. Three out of the four applicants call in for their interviews and it’s hard to keep each of those interviews under half an hour because everyone has lots to say and to share about themselves. That extra half hour gives me some time to catch up and respond to some of the email messages that have come in from the day before. Most of the emails are from preparing volunteers or overseas staff and while some of the answers are simple (like should I pack hiking boots or sneakers?) others require a bit of digging (like addressing a particular allergy in the field or programming information) and will have to wait until later.
By noon, I’ve been doing lots of listening and talking and you’d be amazed how much energy that takes! I’m hungry for lunch and need the break before trying to make it through the afternoon and attack my to do list for the week. At least 4 or 5 of us in the office make an effort to sit down together at lunch. We always end up having some great conversation – from swapping sibling stories to exploring how the latest federal budget will affect international and youth development. We’ve even had a tournament with one of the world geography games circulating on Facebook and so far Mike still holds the record with more than 625,000 points!
Back to work after lunch and as I review my to do list (it’s the only way to stay on top of everything!) I have a few choices. I start with communicating with each volunteer preparing for the next Tanzania project about what’s missing from their submitted files. That takes about 45 minutes and then I start crafting a group message about the next deadline and an update on programming including the latest immigration issues we’re facing in the field that affect things like visas and post project travel. Programming is constantly evolving and conditions in the field are ever changing. We’re always kept on our toes so by around 4pm, I’ve visited Jane about 3 times. Jane is YCI’s International Programs Director responsible for programming and overseas staff in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. Today I’m chatting with her about the situation in Kenya and the variables that affect sending a new staff member to Kenya. We’re also trying to figure out how to adjust to changes with Tanzania immigration. Impromptu meetings like this are always happening and allow for great team work whether it’s between Steve and me dealing with similar issues with volunteer preparation or with International Programs staff about particular issues in the field.
It’s 4 pm and I still have a few emails to write to make sure I can send my questions to field staff and hopefully have an answer soon. We’re working on some joint projects to make sure that information and research guidance I’m providing to volunteers is as accurate as possible. I’m also starting to plan for the next pre-departure session which means I need to get in touch with a couple of guest speakers to check on their availability. There’s also a new session we’ve been developing as a team so I have to work out a few case scenarios that will be explored for a discussion planned on responsible volunteering. While I’ve been plugging away, there’s still lots on my to do list… I have a reference letter to write for a past participant and I’m also acting as a referee for another alumnus who’s applying to law school. I also received a really interesting email from another alumnus who’s working on a fundraising project to partner with a connection she made while in Tanzania. I’ll need to meet with colleagues to discuss how we might be able to support her initiative.
Wow… all this to do and here I am at 5:30pm writing this blog entry!! There’s only so much you can do in a day and I always find it’s around now that I’m on a roll and I often can’t seem to stop. It might be 6 or 6:30pm before I can tear myself away and I know I’ll be leaving when a few of my colleagues are still working away! I really wish I’d brought more food to snack on because I’m definitely hungry again.
The day is over and it’s been filled with correspondence, some logistics and administrative tasks and some discussion. I feel very lucky to work with volunteers preparing for overseas projects in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia. In turn, that means I also have the pleasure of corresponding with overseas field staff and learning all about the variety of activities volunteers are involved with during their projects. And finally, I have the great privilege of working with an awesome team here at the office. They’re always willing to offer their support and it’s definitely a fun-filled and hard-working environment here at YCI.