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  • Writer's pictureSonja Lembke

Back Home – What I’ve Learnt and What’s Next

After one year of living and working at Corbenic Camphill Community in Scotland, I went back home to Germany at the beginning of August. In this final blog article, I want to share my experience of settling in at home and my reflection on my volunteer experience.

On 2 August was my journey back home from Edinburgh to Hamburg via Amsterdam. Luckily, everything worked out with my flights, and thanks to relaxed covid rules, I didn’t have to go into quarantine at all. The reunion with family and friends was very nice. Being back home, I especially enjoy the space and freedom to make music anytime I want. However, settling in at home has been challenging. The intense work with the residents and the frequent contact to co-workers left behind a void. I lacked a routine and a support system of friends who were always accessible. I tried to keep myself busy: I cleaned out my room, I painted my room in a different colour, and I found other things to occupy my mind. Don’t get me wrong: It’s nice to live with my parents again and I love meeting my old friends. But it takes time to process the loss of my “new life” in Scotland and it feels like nobody who hasn’t been through this kind of transition can truly understand me. I still don’t feel completely settled in yet but it’s getting better the more I fill my time with the people I like and activities I enjoy.

Just in time to give me some closure before the beginning of my studies, I had my final seminar at the beginning of September. The aim of this seminar held by my sending organisation, the Friends of Waldorf Education, was to reflect on the year and take a look towards the future. We began by talking about our experience of coming back to Germany and how we’ve been settling in. We took time to reflect on the year behind us and in small groups we had the opportunity to recount our experience in detail. That felt very good because when talking to family and friends from home, I often left out the bad stuff, so as not to worry them or because I thought it would be difficult for them to understand. And the bad stuff was actually all I needed to talk about; I just needed to get that all out of my system so that I could process it in a safe space with enough time having passed between the events and the reflection. After half the seminar, we were invited to literally shake off everything from this past year that didn’t serve us anymore. Shaking out every body part that we could think of at the same time, this exercise was incredibly liberating. It marked the end of looking back and the beginning of looking towards the future. From then on, we talked about our plans for the future and our life goals. We also had a workshop about cyclic living which I found very interesting. On our last evening, we were tasked to make corollas for ourselves and write a small speech for another participant. This turned out to be the preparation for a coronation ceremony: one person read the text about the person they picked and that person, wearing their corolla, was celebrated loudly by everyone and afterwards read the speech for the person they picked and so on. We were crowned for ourselves and for everything that we achieved this past year.

I am going to give you a quick recap about my whole voluntary year and the different stages that I’ve encountered. I came to Corbenic at the end of July 2020. At that time, we were quite understaffed: my house Mullach, which was designed for four volunteers (plus full-time staff), only hosted me and a co-worker. Consequently, my first month had been very stressful; sometimes we even had to work double (morning and evening) shifts. In addition, I had been homesick and hadn’t found any friends yet. Luckily, that changed in September when two new volunteers came to Mullach. The more I got to know my co-workers, the less homesick I felt. In October, at which time both of them had completed training, their help was a huge relief and the workload for each of us volunteers became less. I particularly liked November and December because it was my birthday in November and I enjoyed the Advent Market and the festivities around Christmas. On my birthday, Mullach felt like my second family for the first time and this feeling only got stronger over the year. Between January and March, however, I found myself in a subdued mood for most of the time. It started with a new wave of homesickness around Hogmanay. On top came the stress due to long working hours and our fruitless endeavours to improve working conditions for volunteers at Corbenic. After having decided to shorten my voluntary year to ten months for exactly those reasons, I began to feel better. At the end of March, my roommate and best friend at Corbenic went home and that to me was eye-opening: I realised that my time there was valuable and that this was a unique experience – I decided to stay a whole year after all. As I realised that the residents can give so much back emotionally, I gained a new appreciation for them, which guided my work ever since. In May, the weather got better and the lockdown had finally been lifted so that we could travel more. At the beginning of June, I spent a holiday alone in Edinburgh and took an English test there. In July, I wanted to use up the rest of my holidays in order to see as much as possible of Scotland. Unfortunately, a few people from the Community had to self-isolate, so I cancelled my travel plans and helped out in the house. Luckily, no residents were affected and the virus didn’t spread. Nevertheless, I had a couple of nice last weeks, during which I could still travel a little and simply enjoy the daily life in the Community.

Throughout my voluntary year in Scotland, I’ve learnt many new things and a great deal about myself. First of all, I’ve gained confidence in interacting with disabled people through the work. I’ve learnt a lot about people with learning disabilities and I liked working with them so much that I could imagine myself going into this field of work in the future. They taught me patience, gratitude for the small things, and kindness to myself and others. Beside the work with the residents, I’ve also become more confident in myself through doing things on my own and solely for myself. I cooked, made plans, organised, travelled, and went on a holiday alone. Before my year abroad, I had never really travelled much – at least not alone or alone with friends. In Scotland, I’ve learnt that I love travelling. I hope to keep this love alive as I am continuing to pursue travel plans outside of Scotland. I’ve always struggled with being spontaneous, but in Scotland I’ve come to love the freedom that is invariably connected to this trait. I often met friends spontaneously and I realised that I don’t have to plan and overthink everything in order for it to be good. On the contrary: letting go of that makes for an even better time! Meeting friends spontaneously, driving somewhere, anywhere, listening to good music and having nice conversations, that to me is freedom. Something that I want to highlight is the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency, which I took in Edinburgh in June and passed at Grade A! It proves that I mastered the English language at the highest level (C2). I’ve been learning for this exam all year and I am really proud of myself for achieving such a good mark. Since English is a big passion of mine, I really just took the test for myself, but I do hope that the Certificate will open up ways for me to go abroad in the future.

I often asked myself – during the year and in hindsight – if my voluntary social year in Scotland was the right decision or if I should rather have volunteered in my hometown in Germany. Living within Corbenic Camphill Community, together with our residents, could be very challenging; on the other hand, living together with other volunteers was the base for very strong friendships. The positive as well as the negative experiences have been more intense than without living-in, and so it balances out. Even so, I think volunteering abroad was the best decision for me because through these more intensive experiences – stress, homesickness, friendship, and appreciation – I have learnt more, grown more.

Since I came back from Scotland, I’ve been feeling homesick. I miss the country and its stunning nature; the language which I had cherished before and was able to integrate into my life so naturally this year; my friends, the other volunteers, the staff members from my house, who were always there for me; and the residents who have given me so much and whom I locked into my heart. Thanks to the other volunteers, my house-coordinator, and our residents, Mullach was the best house I could have wished for. I am beyond grateful for these people and they will always hold a very special place in my heart. I am a bit afraid that my memory of my time in Scotland will fade eventually; it’s just natural that the more time passes, the further away this year will feel to me. But photos and people keep my memory alive. It’s nice to know that there is a second home, a second family for me in Scotland.

Now, I am looking forward to my studies. I chose a course in social work in order to be able to help people professionally. I have many more ideas for the future and I’ve learnt that I don’t have to have everything figured out yet. In the famous words of a resident: We will see first. Wherever my path will take me, I hope that I can apply everything that I’ve learnt this year and forever hold this experience in my heart.

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