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

Coffee and chat with a YHA Volunteer

Kate Lansley, YHAs Youth Engagement Coordinator, had coffee and a chat with Laurence Perks, YHA volunteer and all-round superstar, to find out more about his experiences with the organisation.

KL: So Laurence, you’ve given YHA over 250 hours of your time since summer 2015. What made you want to get involved with YHA in the first place?

LP: Initially, I was very impressed by the YHA’s potential to offer a summer camp experience without the high costs associated with the experience of spending a summer working abroad that seems to be so commonplace amongst the young people of my generation.

13342925_974399139346790_3426519318779588939_nKL: What different volunteering roles have you done with YHA?

LP: I’ve volunteered for the YHA in a variety of roles since the summer of 2015 including YHA Summer Camps Volunteer Team Leader at YHA Edale in the Peak District and as a YHA Young Champion where responsibilities involved speaking as part of a focus group at the AGM earlier this year.

KL: Do you have a favourite role?

LP: I love being a Team Leader on Summer Camp! Outdoor learning is something that I have a real passion for, so to be able to play a role in encouraging young people to push their boundaries and comfort zones and learn some practical life skills outside of a standardised classroom environment is something that I love to do!

KL: What about a favourite YHA moment?

LP: I’ve made so many great memories with the YHA so far; many of which are centred on helping young people to overcome their fears or own personal challenges and discover new things while at summer camp whether or not that be a fear of heights, a taste for new foods or observing new friendships flourish by the end of the week they spend together.  But, from a personal point of view, my favourite YHA moment happened quite recently when I was lucky enough to hear Alex Staniforth, adversity adventurer, public speaker and YHA Ambassador, share his story and speak about how our biggest obstacles will always be ourselves; truly inspiring stuff that I took a lot from!

KL: Has volunteering with YHA given you anything, or done anything for you?

LP: It’s given me more than I ever thought possible – honest! Some of the greatest friendships I’ve got were born out my volunteering with the YHA.  The care and attention that the Volunteering Team provide to every volunteer from the start of, during the course of and for long after a voluntary placement has finished is outstanding and I cannot speak highly enough of their efforts.  They have always been on hand after my volunteering to provide helpful hints, tips and advice on how to make those experiences stand out on a CV and since starting my volunteering story, I’ve seen a definite increase in the number of job adverts where I’m getting though the first selection phase and invited to interview and when I’m asked at those interviews to provide evidence of my leadership, team work or communication skills – I always pick a YHA example!

KL: What would you say to someone who is thinking of getting involved with YHA, but they’re not sure yet?

LP: Just give it a go; you don’t know where it could lead! Even if you’re not sure what you’d like to try, get in touch with the Volunteering Team and get them to talk you through what they have available – there’s something for everyone’s interests and time commitments.

KL: So… coming back to camps next year?

LP: Of course! I’m actually returning to YHA Edale Summer Camp this year as a Senior Volunteer Team Leader and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the extra responsibilities of assisting the Camp Manager in the planning and organisation of evening activities for the campers and supporting the Volunteer Team Leaders to ensure we deliver a high quality and enjoyable experience for 100 campers every week.

A big thanks to Laurence for talking to us about his YHA adventures! We’re sure we will see you soon!

If you’d like to start your YHA volunteering adventure, please get in touch with the team. You can call us on 01629 592 562 or email volunteers@yha.org.uk.

A Room with a Barcelona View

The YHA Exchange Programme allows YHA staff and volunteers to travel the world, meet new people and gain fantastic new experiences and memories. As part of the programme, YHA staff and volunteers have travelled from England to Spain to volunteer with Ribals, a Spanish kid’s activity company! Our intrepid traveller James has previously written for the YHA and The Guardian about working abroad, and this adventure in Spain is his next installment!

Capture

Room with a Barcelona View

4th July

It’s been our first week here In Barcelona, and already I’ve felt the pulse and vibrancy of the city with its independent flair. A Roman Gothic cathedral is our neighbour from the high-rise apartment we’re based out of, and the historical culture is breathtakingly right on our doorstep.

Venturing through the Gothic quarter backstreets feels like a golden opportunity to get under the skin of the culture we’re working in as summer camp volunteers soon. Marc, our organiser from activity company Ribals, has laid out for us our adventurous plan to soon travel to near the Pyrenees mountains and give an authentic English experience to the kids during their time on camp. It’s an amazing opportunity that the YHA has been partnering with here, offering everything from a chance to improve language skills, to gaining employable skills such as communicating across teams and culture barriers.

Capturing the experience on camera, I’m collaborating with the YHA team to be releasing after-films and a photo journal of our time here, so make sure to stay tuned for the best to come!

Check back in soon for updates from James…

Zali and Kayleigh Take On Ribals!

The YHA Exchange Programme allows YHA staff and volunteers to travel the world, meet new people and gain fantastic new experiences and memories. As part of the programme, 2 YHA staff members have travelled from England to Spain to volunteer with Ribals, a Spanish kid’s activity company! Our intrepid travellers, Zali and Kayleigh, have been writing about their adventures…

21st June

Day 1 our official first day in Barcelona, and wow what a welcome from the Ribals team.

Barce 1

Barcelona and what a view on the balcony!

Marc, Anna and Chris made us feel so welcome, and explained what the plans are for the upcoming weeks.

We have been planning activities for the groups next week, and all sounds great. Can’t wait to get to Cardona now, see the castle and explore the fantastic site for our historical camp.

We then got to go on a car journey for roughly 85km to go see tamarit castle, a wedding location for the rich and famous, but also the beaches are used for one of Ribals summer camps, they where doing water sports when we arrived, and the kids looked like they really enjoyed it. I have included a picture of the castle, it’s fantastic, well worth buying a hat if you’re invited to ever attend a wedding there.

Playdo

A busy morning creating knights and dragons ready for the historical camp!

Will keep you updated on progress as our time goes on blog readers.

26th June

Sorry for delay in the blog, it’s been a crazy few days with limited service, but back to full blogging capacity now, and loving Barcelona. We are now in Cardona, and what a sight it is! Castle to the front, Pyrennes to the left – perfect!!!

So today and yesterday we got the camp ready for the imminent arrival on Monday of our excitable young historical campers.

We got to help the animation team out and I have to say we had a really great time, we all did fancy dress and took a late night walk with the keen little guests (and parents) and I have to say, dressing up as a wizard is perhaps something I should of done sooner.

IMG-20160626-WA0000

Dressing up as a wizard is perhaps something I should of done sooner!

We had great fun, even though we couldn’t fully communicate with the children due to language differences, they all had a amazing time and we assisted the team to give a entertaining walk.

We have also been painting medieval based characters for the walls and doors in our section of the complex, pictures to come on that one.

For now I will leave you with a great picture of all of us dressed up. Nobel knights and all.

28th June

Hello blog readers.

Farm 1

On the farm!

So today was our first full day with the kids and to kick off we obviously did some jousting, and knight worthy activities. When I say jousting, we got the kids to go against each other on scooters with foam swords, but it made us all smile!

Then we had fun on the farm, getting the children used to things they wouldn’t normally come in contact with living in the city. We saw donkeys, ducks, lambs, chickens, peacocks, and some of the cutest baby rabbits I have ever seen! Unfortunately I think customs would be a bit awkward if I tried to take them all home…

ViewHowever I really loved how the activities are planned around these kinds of things. The children made up the bread and water mix to feed to the animals, and even with a few faces being pulled, they got their hands in and gave it ago. Then we did an activity of giving the children a code to break using the pictures of the animals, which kept them occupied, so I could change back into my magicians outfit for the night time relax activity!

All in all a great day, tomorrow brings horse riding and a outdoor centre… fun times ahead!View

Hope you all enjoy a few pictures and reading the blog.

29th June

So today was a great day for activities with the history camp. First of all we got to visit a equestrian school, where the children got to see all aspects of what was involved, from the joy of mucking out, to the eventual riding of a horse. It was really good to see how there confidence grew in such a small amount of time, and they loved the ride they had. It was great to see how inquisitive the kids are when they are in new surroundings.

From there we moved onto a lake based activity centre, which had everything from rock climbing and abseiling, to rafting group activities and canoes. The kids loved it, and it was great watching them have so much fun, gaining confidence and growing with each activity.

In the evening as they were so tired we had a film night, the film was great (Minion movie!). We even got popcorn so the kids were all really pleased, and will definitely sleep well.

A long day, but worth every minute. The kids are loving it, and so am I!

Bubble football

More updates tomorrow blog followers!!

1st July

So today was mixed emotions, it was sad to see the children leaving but they had so much fun in the last morning with us.

We did lots of different activities from parachute play, to juggling and bubbles, was really good fun and enjoyed by all, and then we got the bubble football out and they loved it all, adults and kids!!

Parachute Play

It’s been a fab evening too, the new recruits to the camp came at dinner time and we gave them a warm welcome, then played some location based activity games to help them get used to their surroundings. It was so much fun and dressing up as a wizard in the evening now feels like part of day to day life.

I have however had a bit of a mishap and been bitten on the leg (unidentified vampire maybe) and unfortunately had a reaction in my muscle, so I won’t be doing the walk geo-mapping tomorrow, but I’m sure I will get a chance at some point.

Keep reading blog fans. :)

3rd July

Sunday the 3rd….what a day.

Imagine yourself, dear blog readers, you’re enjoying your last precious moments of sleep before you know the alarm is going to go off. You feel something on your head and immediately put it down to a room mate (there’s 4 of us in our room), and flick your hair thinking you will catch their hand….. imagine dear blog readers the shock of feeling a small furry bundle on your head and as I panic and flick it off it lands on my neighbour (Zali) and runs across her face ….. yes readers, George the field mouse decided to make a entrance!  20160703_180453

To make matters worse we then lost George… so while my fellow monitors go and do activities, I was on a mission… however I soon gave up and thought I would have a shower, on reaching into my bag I find George asleep in my t-shirt! Snug as a bug, or a mouse in this case!! I then tried to catch him and ended up taking the whole bag outside to remove items one by one as to not hurt him. He then happily ran off to freedom and to a new adventure (or a new room).

20160703_092126

Curious George

Quite the adventure. For all those who would like to see George here’s a quick photo before he left the building.

Also included is the beautiful scenery of Car-dona castle, took as the sun was blazing down. The kids did a few activities today such as rock climbing, and a code breaking game, they are so bright at picking things up fast. They are teaching us more Catalan/Spanish daily.

Enjoying the whole experience so far. Highly recommended for all who want to get a different perspective of kids camps over in Spain.

5th July 

Singstar

X Factor – Cardona Edition!

Started well, no George the mouse, kind of missed the little fella! We can only hope hes happy in his new abode.

Our first child free day (thank you Anna). We went on a walk (hike if you have tiny legs like myself) to Cardona town, to do a little touristy browse, and loved the old cobbled streets and views of the castle. Definitely worth a visit for any history fans, the views are spectacular, and the fields of bales made me feel at home.

We then had a lovely swim, and to top it off a cold Coke in the bar, and then a shower ready to meet the kids for the evening activities.

The kids went karting and swimming (not at the same time) for about 45 minutes away from the Vilar de Rural, and then in the evening we decided not to strain them and do more activities but to instead watch a movie (the new 2015 Peter pan) and played some Sing Star. We tried to get the kids to do group work and mix the ages, it’s sad when the older ones tend to stick together as the younger ones get a little left out. We try to mix where possible.

Anyway happy reading blog checkers, can’t believe our time here is nearly up. Which means back to Barcelona for a few days then home.

Kayleigh 10

A Knight’s Tale

6th July

Wednesdays dear blog readers!

Well it’s been a fun filled action packed day today, we have had scootering, jousting (foam of course) and biking in camp today, the kids are absolutely shattered and so are us monitors and the teachers too.

Kayleigh 11

Just a little bit of jousting!

Sun and activities is fun to a certain point, but kids do tend to get naggy and miserable as the day goes on, so we have been trying to save running games and crafting until evening as it’s cool for one thing and the kids want to participate more.

They absolutely love competing against each other, and the thrill of chasing games is always good no matter the age.

We are hopefully going to be planning a talent contest for tomorrow, I can’t wait, I really love this kind of thing, helps the kids get creative too, coming up with something in small groups and planning a routine etc.

Anyway short and sweet tonight all, as I’m fairly tired.

Happy hump day!!

7th July

So our last full day has come in Cardona dear blog readers.

And I have to say it’s been a blast, yes we are tired, but looking at these kids faces brightens your day.

Today we did some more jousting and a really good activity, which I personally feel is a bit like the gladiators duel match (do any of you remember this?)… I felt my self wanting to shout ‘gladiator ready, 3,2,1….goooo!!’ I held it in as much as I could but I think I might of said it once or twice and got some confused looks from the children.

In the afternoon they planned their talent shows, and made slime in a science class, it was really interesting to see who listened to the instructions well enough to make the slime. Which they all did mostly, and it came out very well.

All in all the children seemed to have a great day, and we finished it with a last night at camp disco, which was really fun. And they also shared what they liked about the camp, one little girl said she made friends, and I think that’s the main thing of these camps, they help to form bonds, which I think we as a team have done well at.

Tomorrow we move back to the city for 2 nights before home. Keep checking for updates.

Kay

Check back in soon for more updates from our intrepid travellers!

YHA Ravenstor goes for Gold (Residential!)

3At the end of May / beginning of June (30/05/16 – 03/06/16 for fact fans!), a group of nine Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award volunteers descended on YHA Ravenstor for a busy and fun week of volunteering. From a wide variety of schools, sixth forms, colleges, etc across the country (some from as far away as Aberdeen!), not many of them knew each other at first, but all were firm friends by the end.2

During their time with us, the volunteers accomplished a wide variety of projects around our grounds, including but not limited to: clearing and laying two new paths through our woodland areas; sweeping and clearing many of the steps and ramps through the grounds; making two big planters out of assorted wood (the remains of old bunk beds!); clearing a sizeable herb patch in a sunny spot off our back driveway.

4And they were no slouches inside, either – all of them got a chance to experience a ‘typical’ YHA housekeeping shift, and also help out in the kitchen, one day each. On top of this, they: repainted our games room; took part in a few deeper housekeeping tasks; cleared, cleaned and de-cobwebbed a mysterious toilet I had discovered near the entrance to the building one day!

As our volunteers had been so helpful during their time with us, we treated them to a cheeky session of abseiling with some of the YHA Edale staff on the Wednesday afternoon of their stay. We were all really pleased with the time they gave us – it has helped to give YHA Ravenstor a new lease of life in some crucial areas, and hopefully our customers will get a nicer experience overall thanks to their efforts.

Many thanks again to all nine volunteers for their fabulous commitment and contributions to YHA Ravenstor!

YHA Wasdale- a magical place to volunteer

 

was 3This 200 year old country house has bags of charm. YHA Wasdale may be old, but it has Wi-Fi and the team are very happy to collect/pick up volunteers from Seascale train station.

This small and friendly team always make time for fun, and there is lots of amazing things volunteers can do on their time off. You can swim in the lake (one of England’s deepest), climb Scarfell Pike, take the Wasdale Canadian Canoe out for a trip, enjoy some amazing walking, and even try to win honour for the team every Sunday at the local Pub Quiz. You can also visit Ambleside and other nearby Cumbrian towns on your days off.

wasdale 2

As a volunteer at YHA Wasdale you will get the chance to learn many new skills, and gain valuable experience which can help with your career. It’s a great way to experience the English countryside, meet new people, and make some amazing memories.

The team have volunteering roles available throughout the year, so get in touch with volunteers@yha.org.uk to find out more!

The Boggle’s Spanish Exchange Adventure

The YHA Exchange Programme allows YHA staff and volunteers to travel the world, meet new people and gain fantastic new experiences and memories. As part of the programme, 2 YHA staff members have travelled from England to Spain to volunteer with Ribals, a Spanish kid’s activity company! One of our intrepid travellers, Keith from YHA Boggle Hole in North Yorkshire (henceforth referred to as ‘the Boggle’!), has been keeping the hostels’ Facebook page (facebook.com/YHABoggleHole) updated with news of their Spanish adventure. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for their updates, or check out this blog which will be updated regularly!

5th June 2016
One of the many hidden gems of … hang on, this isn’t Robin Hood’s Bay… I’m a little lost Boggle…

barcelona 1
Fooled you!
Not really lost, the Boggle is in Barcelona working with Ribals, helping them provide quality outdoor education for schools and young people. The next couple of weeks, the schools have requested a heavy focus on learning English. Hence the Boggle. Hope they’re ready for some proper right Northern twang….

It’s also great for the Boggle to see how other people deliver and promote experiences similar to those we have in the YHA. Check them out.

https://www.facebook.com/ribals.educacio.outdoor

6th June
After a morning planning and exploring the world of Ribals, we imbibed the madness of Gaudi at Casa Batllo and made it down to the sea. Today we’re off to Tarragona to field test some amazing iPad town tours that we’ll be using next week. All good stuff. Details to follow.

7th June

Next Monday I will be based in Tamarit, and one of the activities is to explore the old Roman sites in Tarragona. Using an iPad and clever little app, groups of children look for virtual “hot-spots” and where they find them the iPad, cleverly knowing their location, pops up a question, challenge or task. Sometimes is a simple multiple choice question, requiring a little knowledge or the nerves to ask a local;sometimes it’s take a photo or video and send it to the Activity Leader, who then marks it; and sometimes it’s a physical challenge to keep the kids engaged.

We field tested it today with three grown ups and it works really well.

Tomorrow, Laura & I go north for our first School Trip. Team games, aquatic trekking, slack lining, canyoning, archery and mountain biking. Oh, and orienteering on Friday morning. Hence the early night.

We’ll be staying here,
http://www.santjoandelesabadesses.cat/index.php/l-alberg

8th June 2016

So I’m finally in a hostel again. And in lots of water thanks to a Spanish storm and helping run an aquatic trek (gorge scramble to some). Fifty four eager Catalan kids all looking to enjoy the best that the countryside can offer, and of course they have to speak as much as possible in English. In truth I don’t think half of them yet believe that I am not Spanish or Catalan, as they happily chatter away, only to be met by a confused Boggle expression. That said loads of them are trying which takes some guts, and in truth school kids are school kids the world over, so it’s not so different.

Tomorrow I am gorge scrambling again …. All day.

10th June 2016

No post yesterday as it started at 7am and ended at midnight. There’s no question of us not getting a complete experience of the Catalan school residential . . . Orienteering this morning and then back to Barcelona.on the lookout

10th June 2016 Cont.

So it’s Friday night, Barcelona is revving up and Laura and I are exhausted. End of week one, and time for a little reflection. We’ve assisted on a three day two night residential, quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s not the content that varies so much as the duration….

Sant Joan de les Abadesses houses a hostel converted ten years ago from a railway engine shed. The Ruta de Ferra, or Iron Road, is a disused railway line now popular with cyclists in a very pretty, historic part of North Catalonia, just south of the Pyrennes.

Unlike the YHA, where if we had a school staying we’d look after them for booked activities, here Ribals works with the kids most 24/7 as the expectation from schools is that they hand the children over to the activity provider. So yesterday was an early start (the hostel hasn’t got the thickest of partition walls) at 07:30. Breakfast at 08:30 and then the kids were ours (the teachers always ate separately in peace after the children were done). During all free time we had to supervise the kids…. First activity at 10:00; one of either archery and slack line, cycling or aquatic trekking. This for three hours, followed by lunch at 13:30. Then free time (with us) til 16:00 and then another activity from the list above. Return to the hostel at 19:00 hours, sort and store equipment, supervise free time. 20:30 was dinner time (same model as before) with free time until the disco at 22:00 hours. Disco til 23:30, then team de-brief and planning for tomorrow, and then bed.

There is a major culture difference in the ethos and expectations schools have, and I’m intrigued as to why. As an ex-teacher I was always keen to participate as fully as possible with the kids, seeing them in a nehostelw light and having them see me as someone more than the chap who marks their spellings. As an activity provider now with the YHA we have a clear relationship built on working with the school staff at our hostel to maintain engagement, behaviour and encourage exactly this sort of positive experience.

During our initial conversations at the office it seemed clear to us that there is a culture of apprehension around school trips in Catalonia and Spain, as it’s something not as embedded into the educational programme as perhaps it is in the UK. And maybe that alone is the thing that governs the level of involvement from school staff here, and the overwhelming amount of work involved in working with kids if you are the “Activity Provider”. Either there is a reluctance to engage fully with the outdoor classroom experience as it is indeed quite a risky thing, the rewards of which aren’t always fully understood, or there is a need to have an external provider take full responsibility for the activities and experiences that a residential offers.

All of that said, the two school staff who came with the fifty four students did join in some of the activities and were very happy (10 out of 10 on the obligatory, international feed back form) with the whole experience. For me the memory of this residential is one of long rewarding hours that has made me look afresh at how we do what we do back at Boggle. Also it’s my torn sock from three water slides, and the lost shoe (again, water slides, now bobbing about in some Catalonian eddy).

Lots of the children were genuinely grateful for what we had helped to provide, and, in a very un-English manner, lots of hugs were shared before they boarded the bus and left mid afternoon. The Mediterranean spirit doesn’t do English reserve…

So anyway, it’s been an intriguing week, and it all goes to explains why we are going for a quiet beer before an un-Barcelona-like early night. This volunteering business might seem, from the wealth of tourist photos (loads more to come this weekend) to bst joan 1e a bit of a jolly. And indeed it is, but it’s also demanding and exhausting, hugely rewarding and (with a language barrier and a different educational ethos to contend with) occasionally frustrating.

11th June 2016

So the weekend arrived along with the Boggle, slapped all over with factor “Eee By Gum it’s hot” in his Hawaiian print shorts. We tracked him through Barcelona Cathedral, spotted him collecting Euros from passing travellers who mis
took his hairy knees for some sort of modernista-street-art-protest-installation-performance, and then did our best to keep him in sight through the warren of the Barri Gotic. Last seen wolfing down Paella in the Barcelonetta. If we find him again, and it’s a big if, we’ll try to smuggle him home as a novelty piñata.

12th June 2016

Well, it had to happen, and despite all the hype and inevitable build up, there was still nothing that prepared me for Sagrada da Familia. There was in Gaudi an imagination, will and tenacity that has left us with some truly incredible monuments to human creativity. And this Basilica is the icing on that architecturally bewitching cake. The symbolism, the form and structure, the use of light and natural forms; all combine to astound and amaze. That humans are capable of such things I am sure pleases whichever God you choose to worship. And on a day such as today both the Boggle and I offered up a silent prayer, bathed in the rainbow sunlight, for those who only saw the worst that men can do. When we create with love, rather than destroy with hate, we are a remarkable race.

Back to it tomorrow. Two schools, three campsites, a Roman quarry, bubble football, kayaking and snorkelling all on the cards. It’s gonna be a tough week on the beach.st joan 2

13th June 2016

So, it’s been a busy old day. Don’t let the endless photos of sun confuse you, it’s been hard work from start to finish. First there was a visit to one of Europe’s most extensive surviving Roman quarries. The centre piece is a column 14 metres tall that the Romans left in place to show just how marvellous they were at digging out the stone. The evidence of their work is incredible, and tomorrow we are going to Tarragona (observant readers will note that I was there last week field testing software) 8km south to see just what they built with the stone they quarried.

Tamarit is a huge holiday park, which is the base for me and the Boggle tonight, and also the location of this week’s activities. This afternoon was paddle and body boarding, kayaking and beach games. It came as a surprise that the Boggle is a poor swimmer, whose technique is best described as flailing panic. As such we observed how the leaders work with the kids, how they manage fifty eight 12 & 13 in the breaking Mediterranean surf, and marvelled at how similar teenagers are across the world. (Insert your own adjectives here.)

And that is about it. Apart from the Boggle being spotted by one of the school teachers. Their eyes locked, the Boggle trembled, and she confessed her roots were deep in Middlesborough. We talked, I explained where the hairy-kneed hobgoblin came from, and she lit up like a fire work. Loves Boggle Hole. Is coming home next week. Will call in for a coffee at the weekend.

Boggle Hole is truly international in its reach…la sagrada

14th June 2016

Day two with this school was anything but relaxing. Roman Tarraco was stunning but there was just too much to do. The iPad Gynkahna (?) was really good but some of the kids seemed beyond concentrating, at least in my boy-heavy group. Then there was a hurried visit to the Roman Circus (a half decent ex-archaeologist-sometime-teacher-YHA-bod could have spent all day in there) followed by a whistle stop tour of the amphitheatre (the Boggle seemed possessed by the spirit of certain Mr Crowe and keep howling in broad Yorkshire, “are ya not enjoying thissen?”). Then lunch and a de-brief and the kids on a coach and the feedback form and back to Barcelona for a blessed night of peace.

Technology is I think a great asset we currently don’t use enough of at the YHA. The iPads were hired, and as a technology a la mode, the kids were very keen to progress to the next hot-spot on their tours, perform the tasks (interviewing locals, taking pictures, answering questions) all sent into a master iPad (that also tracked their position) for immediate scoring and feedback. True, this was I think the first use of the iPads for this activity in this location, and as always there’s work to be done to improve, but otherwise, great. Ideal for some of our locations with 3G. Not sure what that is in Boggle….

Ribals, the company kindly hosting me, are a commercial venture, and as such I have noticed that the trip feedback form, given to the teachers during their final lunch, is a source of pride and trepidation. Through its simple scoring, they can identify specific areas to celebrate or improve, and as the paperwork is submitted to head office immediately via a photo on a smart phone, it keeps leaders on their toes. It’s also good to pat the staff on the back for a good job well done after an intense period of very hard work. The only thing under 9 or 10 out of 10 this trip was food at 7 …

Those might be a couple of the things I’d like to take back to the UK, but I will not miss the long hours. One Catalonian colleague is, after this weekend, working every single day in July (with occasional half days off) to run, manage and support their intensive summer camps programme. I was excused evening duties yesterday, but for all the other leaders it was again a mid day to mid night straight through affair. I might be just a soft English man under my patches of Mediterranean tan, but there’s no way I could sustain what they do.

It’s more summer camp than school trip, with the concomitant focus on non-school staff doing virtually everything. We at the YHA prefer to work with school staff to ensure maximum engagement and good group management and bseaehaviour. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work here the way they do it, because it does, but it’s interesting to note how different the expectations of school staff and delivery of activity providers are.

Tomorrow, 34 kids for three days and two nights. Wish me luck.

15th June 2016

I’m checking in and checking out. It’s been a long day. It’s ten past midnight and we’re still talking through the day that’s been and the day ahead.

I’ll send proper word tomorrow.

16th June 2016

So it’s another late night and I’ll beg your indulgence once more. Suffice to say at this point, the Boggle was squeezed into a wet suit today and drank a considerable quantity of the Med (so much that I might have to declare it at customs) while failing to stay on a body board.

It’s my last full day today and I think I’m almost in the swing of it. If crazy long hours, searing heat, being a little lost foreigner and moments of blissful delight are your thing, then this is a volunteering opportunity for you.

When I return to Barcelona tomorrow it will all be over. I will crawl on to the sofa, possibly with a Estrella Damm (other beers are available) and reflect on this all properly. Until then it’s me signing off, with a smelly wet Boggle still refusing to let me towel him dry.

17th June 2016amphitheatre

So. It’s done. The Boggle has discharged his duties as well as possible. I think we’ve jointly worked with nearly 200 children, from coast to mountains, from hostel to camp site. And it’s been a real eye opener.

To begin, on my list of favourite things, if I’m honest I’m not sure teenagers would get a mention. The work we’ve been undertaking has been mostly adventure/action stuff, and as long as you get them to focus for the safety bits, that seems to be enough. With primary kids, you have, even in 24 hours, sufficient time to make a real impression, and the rewards seem to be bountiful compared to those moments of connection you have with teenagers. Give me Bob the Donkey any day.

Now obviously there are caveats to that. I have very little experience of working with “The Teenager” and this showed. Similarly, if the first and second language of your audience is Catalan followed by Spanish, with English a third jostling with the French, German and Latin they have to do at school … then there’s barriers. They have control over their interactions with you. You don’t always understand the instructions being laid out by other leaders. You are kinda at their mercy. And third is related to the second; only really knowing the expectations people have of you when the activity is about to, or has begun.

Boggle is about fun and education, and it’s easy to see how these two go hand in hand through our programmes both with schools and, increasingly, with the general public. The focus here has been on the technical skills of getting a teenager to body-board safely, to understand the principles of coasteering, to trek through a rather scary gorge safely while thinking about their own and others welfare. In this respect the two weeks have been a huge success, but the Boggle will never been an Activity Leader, the type who wears sunglasses on their heads even indoors, has all the latest technical kit, and sneers if you haven’t belayed across the Grand Canyon in the dark using only yak hair and organically reared tofu.orange

The things I’ve learnt are copious. There are several games that I’d like us to do at Boggle as soon as winter is over. I have seen how much can be achieved with a slightly less prescriptive attitude to playing in and interacting with water margins (the sea). I will hug every single teacher who stays with us as their contribution to a trip is now so obvious by contrast to the Catalan model, that I will never take them for granted. School trips are a partnership, not a reason for teachers to leave their charges in the care of activity staff. The relationship between student and teacher is often transformed by an interactive residential, if both has had the opportunity to see the other in a different light and a new context.

I’ve learnt how much I like my little hostel, in its damp, occasionally sunny, corner of the Yorkshire coast. I’ve experienced things I’d never have had the chance to, and worked with some incredibly talented, dedicated and seemingly tireless staff.

And that’s really all I have energy for. I’m down to one finger typing. I’m exhausted beyond words. I hope (in vain) to be refreshed for my final 24 hours in the amazing Barcelona. If anything else occurs during my hours of long slumber, that I remember, I’ll post them tomorrow.

But this is almost bye bye Barca, hello again Boggle.

18th June 2016

Bye bye Barcelona. Hello Boggle. I’ll be home tomorrow afternoon, but The Boggle will still be in quarantine being de-loused in Leeds Bradford. Nothing left to say. Thanks for watching. And good night.

“This week in Geesthacht was truly unforgettable…”

Daniel travelled to Geesthact as part of YHA’s Exchange Programme. We’re so pleased to be able to work with our HI partners to deliver amazing volunteering experiences, giving volunteers a chance to see the world, build skills and meet new people!

This week in Geesthacht was truly unforgettable. When I arrived at the Geesthacht youth hostel, I was met by Dominic and Sabina who welcomed me to the hostel. Once I heard the other teamers arrive in the car with their music booming, I knew I had let myself in for more than I expected. The barbeque was really interesting because I got to know the people in the hostel and was a good ice-breaker for everyone. My fellow English volunteers arrived about 5 hours later due to their flights being delayed, although they were still in good spirits.

The day arrived and the children flocked in. Everyone was extremely busy checking-in the children and showing them to their rooms. I was asked to play football with the children in my Great British onesie and I really enjoyed playing with them. Although, a few of them were very dramatic on the field.

Two days were designated to trips to Geesthacht and Hamburg. Each day was very different and I went to Geesthacht both days. I am glad I went to Geesthacht both days because I was introduced to an awesome energetic and strategical game called Stratego. This was played after everyone completed their orienteering from the youth hostel to the peninsula. The winner of Ultimate Ninja decided which team would leave the hostel first. This addictive game was played copious times throughout this week.

The Geesthacht and Hamburg days were separated by a survival day. The children built their own huts in the woods and the results were incredible. This was all in preparation for an exhausting game of Tornado where we were all separated from each other in the woods and we had to make our way back to our village. I had to walk on all fours and I had to agree with everything so I spent this entire game carrying everyone on my back.

Maggot’s Beatdown was certainly one of my highlights. The teamers were gladiators and there were fun events that we were champions in. I enjoyed the activities I was chosen for but I preferred watching my fellow teamers being chosen for events they were abysmal at, especially Kiah in wall-sit.

The last full-day was jet-packed like the other days. The children could choose from different activities but my activity was by far the most thrilling because we played Stratego in the woods. We finished a bit early so came back and played football with another group. The casino night was a complete success. I was the co-ordinator of the fight-club where I would choose a fun event for two children to compete against each other in such as wall-sit, flip cup or bottle-hold.

The final day was upon us and everyone was busy tidying the rooms and packing their bags. The honey shower was a perfect end to this week because this gave the children and teamers a chance to say what they liked about the people around them.

Evening activities were held daily and there were a range of choices. I was responsible for the club room and we had bundles of fun in there. The children kept coming back so I was doing something right.

In brief, this was an extraordinary week, crammed full of late nights preparing for the next day, incredible days in Geesthacht, entertaining games (Stratego and Contacto), Maggot’s Beatdown, craziness in the club room, language hour and a honey shower to top it off. It was enriching to see the children grow as the week went on, both in English speaking competence and personality-wise as well. I would recommend this opportunity to anyone who likes to travel and has a strange but fun character about them. Every teamer had their unique quirkiness and this made for an incredibly special week. I am really looking forward to working with a few of these teamers in a few months and hopefully for years to come. Thank you YHA for giving me this memorable experience.

Have you had a fantastic volunteering experience and want to share it with the YHA community? Do you want to have your own fun volunteering adventure? Get in touch! Email volunteers@yha.org.uk or call 01629 592 562.

Spanish Exchange Programme