International Pen Pals
University of Limerick International Division
Hi! My name is Liam Gleeson. I am a second year International Business student at the University of Limerick. I received a gold ‘Presidents Volunteer Award’ (PVA) for my volunteering efforts during my first year in college.
The question is often posed, ‘why did you start volunteering?’, and to be honest, I always struggle to answer this. Volunteering was not something I thought about much when I was younger. I didn’t go out seeking volunteering opportunities. When I was younger, I probably didn’t appreciate the benefits of volunteering. When I was in TY, my school sent me to the AGM of ‘Comhairle Na Nóg’, Tipperary. This is an organisation designed to give young people a voice in their local communities, in the development of local services and policies. I somehow got elected on to the council, and this is where my volunteering journey began. I served two years on this council, before beginning my work with the ‘Youth Executive’, a similar concept to Comhaile na Nóg. With the Youth Executive, we invited other organisations from different countries to come visit our organisation, and held a workshop for a week last Easter on Mental Health, which was attended by over 20 Croatian students. I also volunteered with Special Olympics Ireland, working as a volunteer for the Summer Games in UL in 2014, and travelled to Lourdes as a youth helper with the Cashel/Emly Dioses from home.
I applied for the PVA for the academic year 2015/6, and received a gold award for my volunteering efforts. I applied for the PVA, as it is a fantastic opportunity to have your volunteering efforts recognised by the University. In an age where University students are being slated for ‘acting like apes’, or the stereotypical student, who spends half their semester boozed up and missing lectures, it is nice to show the wider community that UL students do care about the community, and those who are often less fortunate than them. Students are sick of being stereotyped into one homogenous group, and the PVA is a way for me, and other UL students, to show that not all students are like this. Your PVA award is also included on your transcript, so it is a great way to show that you put in that extra bit of effort during your time in college, and that is hugely attractive to employers.
Often, people will say that volunteering is a great way to give back to those less fortunate than you, and it is, but it is also a personal journey. Volunteering has opened my eyes to so much more than I could have ever anticipated. I have become more self-reflective, and have learned that everybody is on a different journey- don’t judge people, just because they don’t follow social norms. Everybody has different things going on in their life, which makes them the person you see before you. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated! It sounds so stereotypical and Cliché, and I am cringing a small bit writing it, but just be kind to one another! You never know what somebody else is going through, even if they are your best friend, so don’t be afraid to listen and learn! Volunteering is not just a way of giving back. It is so beneficial to your learning experiences as a person. There is so much to be learned from the people you volunteer for/with. It is a privilege to be a volunteer, and it has, without doubt, changed my outlook on life, and the way I see the world.
Volunteering during my time in UL has certainly enriched my time as a student. Often, people think that volunteering is a great way to give back to those less fortunate than you, and it is, but is also a personal journey. Volunteering has thought me so much over the past few years, far more than any lecturer could teach me during a semester. I have learned how to work as part of a team, how to network with people of similar (and dissimilar) interests, I have learned new social skills, and as a result, have expanded my social and professional circles. The list of benefits is endless! Volunteering has pushed me to be more outgoing, and as a result, far more doors have been opened for me- I am now the Equal Opportunities Chairperson with the University of
Limerick Students Union. I sit on the Student Executive which is an enlightening experience. I am learning new skills and information with every meeting. I have become a far more engaged student as part of my volunteering. I came to college with the aim of making the most of my four years here. I now feel like I am doing that, as a result of my voluntary work.
Finally, I would advise anybody considering volunteering to just do it! I can guarantee it will be the most rewarding experience you will ever have. That one hour you spend cutting the grass for your elderly neighbour, or visiting your granny’s friend at her home at Christmas, may not seem like a big deal to you, but it can have a huge impact on someone else’s life! If I was to offer advice, I would encourage you to find a volunteering opportunity that interests you. If you pick the right one, you will stick with it, and enjoy it. There will be so much to learn from it, and you will be able to make a genuine difference to the life (or lives) of someone else. I sometimes find that the hardest part about volunteering is signing up to do it. You are not sure of the time commitment, or if you will like it, or if you will bond with the other volunteers. The longer you leave it, the more you overthink, and probably don't end up volunteering at all. It has happened to me loads of times, and I kick myself over it afterwards. Just jump at the opportunity, take the risk! If you don’t like it, that’s okay! There are plenty more groups who need volunteers. As I said earlier, you need to find the right group or organisation to optimise your volunteering experience. The power of volunteering should not be underestimated, and always remember the impact that you are having on someone else’s life with every hour you volunteer.
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