Summer camp volunteering in Germany

It’s just before 6am on a Sunday morning and after 20+ hours on a coach, I have arrived in Hamburg and have been greeted by Bernhard, who is the manager of the Molln Jugendherberge (Youth Hostel), and after a 45 minute car journey I arrive at the hostel that will be my home for the next two weeks.

After staying up to have breakfast and to meet the rest of the team, I get my head down for a kip as the kids will arrive that afternoon. The team, that consists of 4 Germans from an education company called TeamExperte and 2 Brits (Including myself) from YHA, have already got a lot of the prep done, as some have been at the hostel a couple days.

That afternoon, the children started to arrive and by 1800 we had 50 boys and girls of ages ranging from 9 to 14 tucking into dinner. Most of the kids were happy to be at camp but we did have a few who either just simply didn’t want to be there and had been sent away by their parents or weren’t happy that they had to hand their Handy’s (Mobile Phone) over, along with their pocket money, and would only have access on Hamburg Day. That first evening was spent going through introductions, the house rules, the daily chores (Yes, chores) and Language Hour. Then after an hour of free time, it was 2200 and time for the kids to go to bed, followed by myself after a quick team meeting.

Monday and the first full day with the ids. I am the ‘Teamer’ for two rooms of boys and during the night each room was given the task of coming up with a room name for themselves, the one room come up with the name The Pokemon Bros, whilst my other room settle on Bad Neighbours (After the film).

Today it’s the Pokemon Bros job to set up the tables before each meal, so at 7.50am I make sure the boys are up and downstairs setting up.

Monday and the first full day with the ids. I am the ‘Teamer’ for two rooms of boys and during the night each room was given the task of coming up with a room name for themselves, the one room come up with the name The Pokemon Bros, whilst my other room settle on Bad Neighbours (After the film).

Today it’s the Pokemon Bros job to set up the tables before each meal, so at 0750am I make sure the boys are up and downstairs setting up.
Most of the days start by following the same schedule.
● 7am – Morning Sport (For those wishing to take part)
● 8am – Breakfast (followed by chores)
● 9am – Language Hour
● 10am – Camp Olympics
● 11am – Tuck Shop
● 12pm – Lunch
Language hour was probably the biggest challenge during the first week, as I would have the same group of kids each day (A mix of boys and girls), and I would have to come up with new things each day, where as it would have been easier and more polished if I had a different group each morning. I had to come up with games that had were language based, although I was given a list of suggestions. So during the week we would play Chinese Whispers, My Mother Went To Market, Hangman to name a few. I also downloaded this Ellen Degeneres game onto my phone, which would come up which would or name and the others would have to give you clues.

Camp Olympics was a chance for the boys and girls to compete in teams against each other, playing various games. Whilst this was going on, I has in the hostel completing one of my daily jobs, which was Room Olympics, where I would check all the rooms and given marks on how clean and tidy they were. Naturally the girls did better than the boys, although one of my rooms was only just behind them.

Then 11 am and for most of the kids it was their favourite time of the day, tuck shop. The kids could buy sweets, pop or even a souvenir from the money they had handed over when they first arrived, whilst we kept a ledger of what they had spent.

hamburg

The afternoon schedule did vary each day. We built cabins/forts in the nearby woods, there was also archery, climbing, swimming, plus other games. Likewise after dinner the evening schedule also varied each day with activities like a camp fire, BBQ etc.

Probably the most daunting day of both weeks was Hamburg Day, as we took the kids to Hamburg, which was just over an hour away by train, and hoping we didn’t lose any kids along the way. Whilst there, we took the kids for a boat ride, then after lunch in the Hamburg Youth Hostel, the kids were set free and could spend a few hours unsupervised in Hamburg. We had given them access to their money and gave them their mobile phones.

The final evening of the first camp was casino night and I was the Blackjack Dealer, so to look the part I donned my black YHA shirt and made a badge that said ‘Camp Casino’ and had a fun hour playing the kids for matches, which they could later on exchange for sweets. After the casino had finished, we all gathered in the common room for a photoshow of the past week. It was a great collection of photos that myself and the rest of the team had taken during the camp, there was much hilarity in the room as one by one the photos, some more embarrassing than others, popped up on the projector.

Saturday morning and the kids were all packed as the first camp was just about done, but not before we had the Honey Shower. A Honey Shower is an opportunity for the kids and the Teamers alike to give messages to the people you have met during the camp. How it worked is you would write down your message and place it in the envelope of the person the message is for and at the end you would have a envelope full of messages.

Whilst the honey shower was going on, the parents started to arrive one by one and by lunchtime all the kids were gone, as were the 4 German Teamers who were only here for the first camp, to be replace with two more later that day. I took the opportunity to have a look around Molln, which proved very helpful as I had to prepare a scavenger hunt for the 2 group of kids.

The second week ran similarly to the first, with only some schedule changes due to the weather and only half the kids. Plus instead of having a casino on the final night we had Singstar Karaoke, where both myself and Daniel (YHA Volunteer) at the request of the kids belted out Spice Girls Wannabe.

Overall, I had a fantastic two weeks in Germany and met some great people and some brilliant kids. I had gone into this experience not knowing what to expect but have left with experiences and a better understanding that I hope to use in the future at something like Camp America, which has previously been something I’d been interested in doing. I would certainly love and accept the opportunity to do this again and would recommend it to anybody else.

A Norwegian Volunteering Adventure

Before embarking on my exchange with HI Norway I took some time with a couple of friends to venture into Jotunheimen National Park, attempting to experience more than just the country’s urban lifestyle. We spent a week driving beside the fjords, winding over mountain passes, camping among the most spectacular scenery and scaled along Norway’s infamous Besseggen Ridge; finally finishing in Bergen for their annual food and beer festival.

As I arrived at my first hostel in Oslo I was greeted with the warmest welcome – not only was I shown around the hostel and introduced to the whole team, I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the city too! Instantly it was evident that opting for Norway as my exchange destination was the perfect choice and the next two weeks were going to be two of the best.
Throughout the first week at Oslo Haraldsheim Hostel my time was spent working alongside the Reception Team, attending business meetings with their National and Regional Office, interacting with guests and shadowing the other volunteers.

Interestingly I also helped to host a group of Managers from Hosteling International Poland, who were also on an educational visit to learn and share experiences with HI Norway. Myself and the other volunteers accompanied them on the guest hike to the popular local peak (pictured below), on museum tours and observed presentations from both parties about their organisation goals and values.

My time in Oslo flew by, meaning it was now time to board the train for the second half of my exchange at Bergen Montana Hostel. Six hours of dramatic scenery whilst snaking through the mountains of multiple national parks was absolutely breath-taking!
The morning after my arrival I met the Manager of the hostel who explained to me the concept of ‘Social Volunteering’ and suggested that I spend the majority of my time shadowing their team of volunteers. This involved taking guests on historical tours of Bergen, hikes to a number of peaks surrounding the city, general tourist information and organising evening activities. As well as this, I spent some time working with the reception team and analysing guest reviews whilst inputting the information into their survey system.
Being able to share the knowledge that I have built up over the past 2 years working for the YHA felt great, as did taking on the suggestions they had to offer. Looking back on my time in Norway I feel lucky to have explored as much as I did and feel privileged to have worked alongside so many inspirational people. I would like to take this opportunity to heavily thank those who made the exchange possible and also those who made it an experience I will never forget – I will be forever grateful!

Chelsey Robinson