Alex: I realized that I was quite ignorant

Workcamp can be a good starting point to travel on your own for the first time. Read a story of Alex, who organised music festival in Barcelona!

Alex was living in Carmarthenshire when she first stepped into UNA Exchange and the world of travelling & volunteering, joining a two-week festival project in Catalonia. Since then she has led projects in Wales, trained other young people to volunteer abroad and help to spread the word about international volunteering. 


“By accident two years ago I went to a project for two weeks in Spain because there were free spaces, I was the right age and I had free time. I have done a bit of volunteering in Wales before, but I had never travelled on my own before and volunteer abroad. I was always saying, that “I would love to travel one day” but I wasn’t really actively seeking it.  I just thought I would go nice and brown and see lots of sun and it will be like holiday for me. And I ended up organising music festival in Barcelona with 25 people from 14 different countries.

Before I went, I thought I was pretty mature and I knew how to hold my own and that I could get by. I was a student volunteer in Info-nation as part of my degree and I had moved back with my parents after few years living on my own. Then I landed in Barcelona and I knew no Spanish at all. I freaked out a bit: “Oh my God, what am I doing? How am I going to get to this place?” No one spoke English well enough for me to be able to ask them, where am I supposed to go? I didn’t know if I was on the right train. But after looking back on it, when I come home I realized that I managed everything and I developed my travelling skills and the confidence to know that I would be okay. I think it is important to learn life skills like you can go to a different country on your own and not die or  get adducted, those kind of things which you think might happen.

Breaking the stereotypes
Our work in music festival involved moving a lot of benches. We helped to put flag poles up and put up gazebos. I remember all the volunteers from Barcelona and I think about them quite a lot. I think how lovely everyone was, about conversations we had. Even really normal things, like food for example. We had conversations like: “Ah, what do you eat in your country, what is kind of normal food for you?” There was guy called Sergei who is from Moscow and he was lovely. He was total opposite of that stereotype of Russian macho guys, drinking vodka all day. He was so sweet, so philosophical and he actually didn’t like vodka. Going to Barcelona just totally blew all of those stereotypes out of window. During free time in Barcelona, we did many different things. We explored the local town, talked, read together, and taught each other skills like playing guitar or speaking a different language. Or we just played or slept! During the evenings, we mostly went out to the bar and had a great time!

I remember that day when we were leaving-I didn’t stop crying the whole day. I realized the day before that I needed to leave quite early in the morning so that I could get my flight. But so much had changed inside me, I actually didn’t care if I missed my flight or not. I actually ended up missing my flight and was totally comfortable with it and left Barcelona day later, while my mum was freaking out.

It made me more interested in the world
I came home from Barcelona and bought myself a massive map that I still have on my wall and I have got lots of dots on the map for places where I want to go and that kind of inspired me to actually go to travelling around Europe. I travelled around eleven different cities and learned about youth work in Europe. It inspired me a lot and I ended up doing my dissertation for my degree on international volunteering.

I have never learnt so much in two weeks as I did that time. I realized that I was quite ignorant, that I was that kind of stereotypical British person not really knowing anything outside of Britain, for example I was really bad with geography. On the first day on girl said to me: “Oh, I am from Belarus” and I didn’t know where that was and I thought it was in South America, because for me it sounded like Bolivia. And the other kind of mess up I made in terms of geography was thinking that Taiwan was in Thailand, because they both start with “Thai.” But girl from Taiwan explained to me, that it is very different.

Now I am much more aware about what is going on in other countries.  I met woman who live in Ukraine in the city which was surrounded by conflicts recently and I was really worried whether she is alright. It just made me more interested in the world. I started to volunteer and travel much more, and I started to do the things that I have been maybe little bit scared to do before. I was brave enough to lead project in Wales and be responsible for six people who had never been to Wales before and keeping people together as a group and keeping them happy. I started to be more patient with people and tried to understand why they act in certain way.

It is quite interesting that five people could go to the same work camp at the same time and they all could come back and say that they learned different things and changed in different ways. I think that this experiences inspire everyone and I think that everyone should have the opportunity to go volunteer abroad at some point. I think it should be part of the school education! It is great opportunity to see more of world. I know it is really scary and you can be really apprehensive about who you are going to be with, what you are going to do, that you don’t speak local language…forget about that. Just jump in both feet and go. And I don’t think that you will regret it. “