"It’s a dream come true and it’s happening ... it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy and it’s finally happening!"
Everyone’s study abroad story is unique, defined by the experiences and opportunities we choose to take part in. This is certainly evident for recent Arcadia Student, David, who became immersed in history and British culture, when he sought out a very different volunteering experience during his study abroad semester in the UK. Take a look below at what he got up to:
As a “lifelong railway enthusiast”, David made a trip to the National Railway Museum in York, one of the biggest train museums in world, where he was “the first person in and the last person out” everyday. This long-awaited trip spurred him on to learn more at a train gala at the Great Central Railway in Loughborough and, as a tourist, he started speaking to many other enthusiasts. Over lunch on board one day - black pudding to be precise (a delicacy for some!) - he spoke to two shareholders for the British railway company, GWR (Great Western Railway) who understood his passion for locomotives and suggested volunteering. David put himself forward to volunteer and was assigned as an engine cleaner, the starting point for everyone.
Over the course of just a few weeks, as he learned about the trains and how to maintain them, he became part of the team responsible for the upkeep of the train. Later, when in uniform and covered in coal dust, he ran back into the 3 people that had originally encouraged him to volunteer - they were thrilled to see that he really had become a volunteer!
We don’t call ourselves volunteers, we call ourselves friends of the Great Central line
How has this experience changed your time abroad?
“It’s made me realise just how much anything is possible, while studying abroad and while studying here” and “[Volunteering] gave me a new sense of work ethic”
He goes on to talk about a sense of belonging and states: “I’ve joined a real society of people who like the same things as I do and are there for same reason [...] and it feels really good”
“I’ve made lots of friends; It’s something I’m very proud of.”
What has it been like to engage with the locals?
“These people (the local volunteers) have so many different beliefs, and we’re all there for the same thing. We live and let live! [...] We don’t judge each other’s difference in lifestyles. They don’t [care that I’m] American. They don’t treat me like a foreigner, because they see I care. I mean we’re a nice bunch, and all we care about is that each other has common sense and that we do the work we’re supposed to do, we follow the rules and have fun doing it. It’s been really nice working with them!”
“As we would have done back in the day, we [go] for a pint afterwards [...], and I made several new friends who I look forward to working with”
What is one piece of advice you would give to others looking to engage more with the local culture?
“Volunteer somewhere, find something that you’re interested in and work with locals!”
“If you want to interact with the British people, find something you’re passionate about. Go find somewhere where they’re doing that, and you’ll find yourself with people who are local, who like the same things that you do, who will already think more of you because you’re where they are, for the same reason as they are.”
He reflects: “Mine is quite a unique experience, … but I’d say volunteer with the railway!”
“It was something that interested me and look how easy it (volunteering) was, [...] especially at Arcadia. I mean Arcadia already fosters creativity [...]. It’s a school where anybody can be anyone…”