How I Ended Up Volunteering on Iona

How I Ended Up Volunteering on Iona

I love writing on my blog, and I love posting about a wide variety of topics. However the hardest topic to write about is myself. This post is long overdue because I have really struggled to find the motivation to cover a very painful period in my life.

Previously on eclectic imagination

My last really personal post can be found here. When I wrote it I was very excited to be moving to Moscow. Unfortunately, this would turn out to be a very disappointing and expensive episode in my life.

I hate saying bad things about such an interesting place, but Moscow is a grey and unfriendly place. For anyone with confidence issues, the cold impersonal face Russians put on is a real challenge. In the previous year I had broken up with my girlfriend and my best friend had stopped talking to me, so loneliness was a real issue for me. Moscow is also an expensive place, and I spent a lot of money to get there and to try and settle down.

I had expected the school I was teaching at to have a lot in common with my old school, which would make it much easier to settle in. On the surface it was similar, but I quickly found myself struggling. After two years preparing students for Cambridge Exams, I wanted to continue teaching at a Cambridge Exam Centre and taking advantage of my experience. However the school was a terrible Exam Centre. It was severely lacking in resources and the library was either lacking or simply out of date.

I must single out the text books for being the biggest problem. The books were incredibly boring, and featured lots of pictures, but very few activities. Supplementing text books is an important part of the job, but teachers at this school were expected to do too much with limited supplies and materials. Classes were bigger than I had expected and took place in very cramped, small rooms which made improvising activities that much harder.

Getting Sick

All of this contributed to my stress levels getting out of control, and led to me having severe stomach problems. I had to spend the night hospital which was an awful experience for someone with extremely limited Russian language abilities. Being woken up in the middle of the night in a very strange place to be poked in my already painful stomach was a horrible experience.

I did return to work afterwards, but it was too hard to continue for much longer. I had to be extremely careful with every single thing I ate and drank, which is hard to do whilst working long hours in a new place. Only a few weeks later, it was clear I couldn’t continue and I left Russia.

Returning to the UK and Quitting Teaching

In November I came back to England. After putting so much time and energy into living abroad and teaching English I have decided to leave both behind.

Moving to a new country is very exciting, but also has it’s own demands. This can range from language barriers, or an unfamiliar culture. Simply moving your things abroad can be challenging and expensive. Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff and it’s always hard to decide what to take with you. Every time I moved the urge to stay in one place grew stronger.

There are lots of opportunities for teaching English in the UK, but for me that career really loses most of what drew me into teaching. Teaching depends on understanding your students, and the best part of living abroad is getting a better understanding of your new home than would be possible whilst just visiting as a tourist. I can also be a very demanding job, juggling the needs of students, parents and the school. Some teachers can fly through a lesson with minimal planning, but I’ve never been able to do that. I like to create my own resources tailored to the students and the syllabus. This highly rewarding, but just too much work.

Coming to Iona

There is no doubt in my mind that I’ve made the right move. The drawback is that I can’t work out what the next move should be. I have a lot of ideas for the future for things like my art, for my blog, and for improving my Chinese. The problem is that I have no idea what to do for a career. For my health, it’s very important I need to find something much less stressful than teaching was.

In January I took a course on becoming a healthcare personal assistant. It looks like a very rewarding job, if not very well paid. There was quite a lot of overlap between the course and my teaching experience. The main commonality was from the emphasis on other people’s needs. I was confident this might be the right choice for me, but it requires a lot of background checks and clearances to get a job. This looks really difficult to do because I’ve moved around far too much over the last few years. If I stay in the UK, this could be an option for me in a few years. While I decide what to do I’m going to use to work in hostels in Scotland.

I’ve worked in hostels twice before, and I’ve always had a great time. My first time was as part of the cleaning staff at a large Christian hostel in the red light district of Amsterdam. It was a truly unique place to work. I wish I had been able to stay longer. My second time was in Transylvania. This time the hostel was a small boutique hostel and the work covered the day to day running of the hostel. Running reception was very satisfying, as you can really help guests feel welcome. Working in hostels is a fantastic way to meet new people and has always been good for my confidence.

My first hostel this time is a wonderful hostel on Iona, situated on a traditional croft with a beautiful flock of black Hebridean sheep. The kitchen and lounge is one of the cosiest and most homely hostel common areas I’ve ever seen. The beaches nearby are wonderful, and a lot of interesting people come here. The biggest drawback of staying here is that it’s a difficult place to be on a budget. The only shop has a good selection, but it’s an expensive place to do the weekly shop.

Along with three other volunteers, I do 20 hours work a week in return for accommodation and a small salary. The main work is cleaning the hostel, but there is plenty of other work on the croft. My favourite job is feeding the sheep. They get a winter supplement feed in the morning which they love. They get very excited if you go anywhere near them with a bucket.

I’ve been here for a month and I’ll be here until July. Staying here has been very good for my artistic side in particular. My art-book is rapidly filling up. I frequently sit and work on it in the common area, and has lead to a number of interesting conversations with other guests. I’m still struggling to work out what to do next, but everyone tells me I’ve come to a good place to figure it out, so let’s see what happens.