My Gap Year With SLV.Global

Tom

I always knew that I wanted to take a gap year and go travelling before I started studying psychology at Uni. However, I also thought that I should do the sensible thing and get work experience as I knew that first hand experience in the sector would benefit me in the long run. So when I googled “psychology work experience” and found out that I could get experience in mental health abroad with SLV.Global, I instantly applied!

I was nervous about my interview as I believed that SLV.Global favoured students and graduates that already had Psychology experience but I thought I would give it my best shot. In my interview I spoke about my experience coaching rugby to young children, but most of all showed I was keen.

When I opened the email and found out I had got a place, I was ecstatic! I followed SLV.Global’s advice and researched activity ideas, booked my flights, got my Visa and was on my way.

I arrived in Bali to a welcoming team of grins and sky blue SLV.Global t-shirts. The journey was somewhat long and the airport was a complete scramble; immediately I knew Bali was going to be like no previous ‘holiday’ venture I had embarked on.

Our first week involved cultural training and helpful insights into possible situations we would find ourselves in. We also attended workshops and lectures from specialists in their field who gave an insight into areas of therapy that we could apply to every session we would run thereafter and also incorporate into day to day living outside of therapy itself.

The latter part of the introductory week was spent in the Balinese jungle for team building - attempting to solve riddles, trying local food and struggling to stay in white water rafts. This week really helped me understand how friendly and welcoming the people of Bali would be and also led me to befriend everyone on my placement. After travelling a long way, I suddenly felt very at home.

Sunrise

When asked about my trip to Bali I am always asked about my highlights, favourite moments, best bits and so on. I’m glad to say that no matter how beautiful the beach or how breathtaking the view, my highlight was undoubtedly the work from Tuesdays to Fridays on projects.

Before each project, you are given a feedback sheet from previous groups and a list of possible aims for each session. This helps you to design an appropriate session, while appreciating the people you will be working with and their culture. Every project session always began with Yoga, in order to bring focus to the group and establish a formal relationship between volunteer and service user. The objectives of every session ranged from improving decision making to fine motor skills, confidence and everything in-between when it comes to mental health.

Volunteers would all plan the week’s sessions on a Monday and would obtain all necessary resources when they were needed during the week. Things used in daily life at home were used to create engaging and transferable activities. I saw playing cards used in every setting from building towers to testing memory in order to promote positive mental health for the varying aims that each session had.

My projects were incredibly varied and I saw a range of ages, disorders, and personal progression each week. Working with children was a personal highlight for me, with the knowledge that we had the opportunity to better a child’s life through our session aims and could possibly even influence their life decisions and career aspirations forever.

I gained priceless insight into people’s behaviour when they are dealing with all types of disorders; I learnt ways to act and react depending on the situation at hand and above all, I experienced how different the Balinese ideas and treatments of mental health are to our own. I will forever be influenced in my education and career in clinical psychology by the idea of promoting positive mental health, rather than knowing a diagnosis and trying to prevent and treat symptoms. The Balinese outlook toward mental health taught me to remember that behind a label and a diagnosed illness, everyone is still a person and deserves to be treated in no other way. The West if often guilty of forgetting this and we try to categorise those suffering from mental health illnesses by their history all too much.

I also came away from my placement with a sense of security and faith in my own abilities. I was a young volunteer on the placement and yet never felt I was behind the pace or less useful on projects. I came into a session and I instantly forgot about how far away from home I was, how different my sessions were to my work experience, how little Indonesian I knew and so on and so forth. I put all of my efforts into each session and I felt it paid off. Seeing progression from week to week with service users, noticing their increased attention to us during and between sessions on top of their very humbling gratitude once a session had finished made me realise that enthusiasm beats knowledge every time. No matter the qualifications you possess, your interest and desire to help will always shine through.

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I was so inspired by my time in Bali that I knew I needed to return and do more of the work I started in 2018. I had also never been more sure of the fact that mental health had to be my life’s work.

I did not feel quite ready to go to University, but rather felt there was more to be done and that a year spent with SLV.Global would be the very best option for me in order to obtain priceless information about the mental health industry. My 2019 Summer plan is to return with SLV.Global as a coordinator in Bali, after having worked in the London Office in the meantime. I had been searching for the right company to dedicate my time to, and feel I could have done no better. From the top down I was always supported and cared for by SLV.Global staff and I made some friends who I’m sure will remain a part of my life for years to come.

To think now that I was so nervous to apply at 17 and felt I would be ‘deadwood’ on projects makes me wonder how many great volunteers hold themselves back. If you feel you aren’t experienced enough to take part in such an experience, think again! You don’t know just how much of an asset you can be in a volunteering environment!

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Aurora Trentin