I’d had a pretty hectic few months. I arrived at University in September, trudging to my new room with an assortment of suitcases and questionably filled IKEA bags. Anxious at first, I stumbled into University life; the days whirred on through freshers’ fairs, introductory meetings and late night trawls through local bars. Finding that I didn’t click with my flatmates as well as I’d hoped, I went to society meetings by myself, finding friends through my course and, in one much recounted incident, because we were sat near the biscuits at an Amnesty International meeting.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but in my spare time I spent far too long nursing a hangover from yet another impromptu night-out. I wanted to see more of Sheffield than the (now sadly deceased) fast food shop, Padrinos.
With this in mind, I decided to pay a visit to the Volunteering Office. There, a lady helped me rifle through various volunteering categories I might be interested in: the elderly, arts and cultural events, asylum seekers and refugees. Having had a Grandmother who looked after a number of refugees – and having been hugely inspired by her – I decided to check out ‘Conversation Club’, a place where refugees and asylum seekers can chat to local people living in Sheffield.
Looking back nearly two years later, it’s one of the best things I’ve done at University. I didn’t know back then how much I would enjoy volunteering. I had gone to my first meeting curious, but not overly so. The first time I went, I was swiftly directed towards a table, handed a cup of tea, and a smiling man introduced himself. I spent the next couple of hours laughing and learning how to (very clumsily) dance with one person, to listening to another young man’s poignant tale of survival.
Refugees and asylum seekers often feel isolated in the new communities they go into. Despite only offering conversation, I felt like I was making a small difference. I was glad to go some way in making a person feel less alone.
I’ve now been going to Conversation Club on a Friday for nearly two years. I may only spend an hour or two there, but I have always left feeling better for having included it in my week. I’ve made friends, drawn some appalling portraits while sitting at the ‘Art and Crafts Table’, but, ultimately felt closer to the wider Sheffield community because of it. Living in a new city for University doesn’t just have to mean juggling academic work with going out. There’s so much more to do, if you only look around you.