I’ve recently been asked to be a case study for the TES. As part of this, I was asked to summarise what I’m getting from my VSO placement in a nice, quotable few sentences.
After much thinking and joking around with phrases like ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger’, I decided that it simply isn’t possible to paraphrase VSO without sounding naff. But answering this question really did get me thinking. What am I getting out of my time out here? I know the stock response would involve polishing my halo and saying things about fulfillment and rewarding etc. etc. But really it’s something more than that, and something completely different.
A friend of my parents once said that I’d come back from VSO a completely different person. I might be a little skinnier and a tad browner, but sadly the tan will fade and I’m sure that with the help of a few cheesecakes and one of dad’s roasts, I’ll fatten up a bit too. So what’s changed? I think that in all honesty, what I’m getting most from VSO, is to know myself. Well. Take yourself out of context, stick yourself in the middle of South East Asia and you come face to face with, well, you. Like it or lump it, for a good portion of the time you have yourself for company, and you really have to learn to get along with that person. You can only lie to yourself for so long and after a while you have to accept things about yourself, good and bad. Being able to say ‘yes I want this’ , ‘no I don’t want this’ or ‘I need this’, is important and not always easy. For a while I wondered if I had the strength to do this, and though it was a struggle, I’ve found that strength – and part of it is accepting what does and does not make you tick. I need some regular Jen time, can only pretend to be excited about talking about rice for so long and like to feel useful. I like to know what I’m doing, have a plan and feel in control – but I think the Lovely Matthew could have told you that one long ago. I’m also really coming to appreciate the things I have in England that I don’t have here, and I’m not just talking about cheese, gravy and pizza. Here I have most of the material possessions I want and need. But (and now it’s going to sound naff) having a mum that knows I’d appreciate a Shaun the Sheep shower exfoliater, a boyfriend that takes the piss out of my moods and gives me some perspective, and friends to go dancing with the minute I get back… those are what you don’t get over here, and it may seem a stupid thing to have realized it, but there you go. And I think that an acceptance of these things, and of myself and how I work, well that’s the biggest part of being here – because now I can just get on with it and enjoy it.