I’ll be honest. When I first ticked that box on UCAS for the four year (Sandwich) degree option, I was certain it was the right decision to make at the time. The year abroad option was actually what appealed to me most about International Development Studies at the University of Portsmouth, something that not many universities seemed to offer. However, as it got towards the middle of second year, approaching my placement year, I was becoming less and less sure. I had met so many people who I loved being around and many of them were not taking a placement year. I began to question, is this the right decision for me? You don’t actually get any university credits for it, can’t I just do a placement once I graduate? I had concocted a whole list of pros and cons in my head. Especially as I had come out of second year with a good mark, I worried that that work ethic I had in second year would go after taking a whole year out from studying.
I took a risk, leaving behind most of my really close friends I had made in first and second year, after a lot of persuasion from my parents telling me the usual ‘You’re not there to make friends, you’re there to get a degree’. I finalised my work place agreements, and sent off all the right documents, and that was it. I was doing a placement year. I am now going to tell you why it was one of the best decisions I have made.
Taking a placement year is not for everybody and it is not relevant for every course. You need to consider your individual circumstances, learning style and finances. It is not cheap to do a placement year. As you will probably know, you get a reduced student loan, I was aware of this and began putting aside savings from the bursary I received in first and second year to help fund my placement year and worked a part-time job every time I was home for holidays. It also takes a lot of time and preparation. Yes, there is a student placements centre, however, they are not there to hold your hand and tell you where to go. You are given the responsibility for researching and finding your own placement, this process, in itself, acts as a good learning experience for seeking opportunities once you graduate. But it does take time and dedication, especially if you are going overseas.
What I have found to be most valuable since starting my placement is my increased understanding of the sector. University is great for the theoretical side of things, but you are kind of in a bubble. I feel like during my placement I have been able to learn a lot about key trends within the sector, what works and the challenges that are faced by charities in today’s world. I went a bit crazy during my first few months and really took advantage of London by going to as many relevant debates and seminars as possible.
Being in London and at GlobalGiving has also enabled me to meet many different people and charities working within the third sector and beyond. This has allowed me to get a deepened understanding of the sort of work that is being done around the world. There are often GlobalGiving project partners who come into the office to tell us more about their work. I really enjoy and learn a lot from these visits and in a couple of cases it has bought to my attention issues that I was not even aware of. Such as the ‘Jogini’ practice that takes place in India.
Volunteering in a small charity means that I have been given a lot of responsibility and independence. I have really been able to get involved as much as possible and feel like a valuable member of the team. This means that I have been able to immerse myself in the programme management, planning, implementation, and evaluation and see it through the different stages. I have gained an increased understanding of how charities operate and how impact is measured.
From my time at GlobalGiving so far I have been able to improve upon areas that will be valuable further in my studies and career. Such as task/time management, this is something that you begin to pick up on during university but it is a different kind of workload and pace in a job. Doing a placement has allowed me to further my professional development and improve my communication, report writing and technical skills. This is all thanks to the support, guidance and opportunities I have been given.
I was recently given the opportunity to do a (very) short presentation about the programme that I am coordinating at the GlobalGiving AGM. The presentation was in front of project partners, staff and volunteers in person and online. The thought of this was so daunting to me but I embraced the opportunity and am proud to say I made it through alive!
All joking aside, this kind of opportunity is something I would of shied away from and not have been able to do at the beginning of my placement. As I have previously mentioned, presentation skills have always been one of my weaknesses and I feel that I have progressed a lot in this area. I even had project partners come up to me after and tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation and many registered their interest in taking part in the programme as a result!
I am glad that I took the leap and decided to do a placement year. Yes, gaining experience through a placement is something that you can do once you graduate. But it is also something that can bring you so many opportunities that will enable you to grow as a person and gain skills that will prepare and motivate you to complete your final year of studies. Lastly, I feel a lot more prepared to graduate and delve into the world of work with a clearer view of the kind of roles and areas an International Development graduate can go into. As I said, doing a placement year is not for everybody and everyone works in different ways. You just need to make an informed decision whether it is the right thing for you or not.