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‘Get involved’

Rewarding experiences, fun times and a happy heart await you: volunteer

Student Life

By Leisha Toory

The Oxford dictionary defines “volunteering” as freely taking up a task.

A woman with long brown hair wearing a blue Memorial sweatshirt stands in front of a pond at sunset
Leisha Toory says volunteering while a student has made her post-secondary education fulfilling.
Photo: Submitted

Personally, I define “volunteering” as giving back to the community and, most importantly, making a difference.

‘Sense of belonging’

As a first-year student in January of 2020, I was excited to get involved in Memorial’s extracurricular activities to build a sense of belonging. I subscribed to the Student Volunteer Bureau newsletter to keep abreast of volunteer opportunities.

However, I prioritized my academic studies and put my search for volunteer opportunities on hold.

I adapted to the cold winter of St. John’s, purchasing appropriate winter coats, boots and gloves, explored the MUNnels and focused on my university assignments.

Less than two months later, Newfoundland and Labrador recorded its first COVID-19 case and soon, classes shifted online completely.

Cross-cultural communication

As the fall semester commenced, I was randomly browsing through the Student Volunteer Bureau’s newsletter and came across the English as a Second Language (ESL) Conversation Partner Program. The program involves helping ESL students with conversational English.

As an international student whose mother tongue is not English (my first language is Mauritian Creole), I felt it was my duty to help fellow international students. And so, the following week I started my volunteer journey.

I was partnered with a Memorial international graduate student and an ESL student, who were from two different countries. Through Zoom, we practised conversational English for one hour weekly.

“I was proud of my international conversation partners’ success.”

During that time, we shared about our culture, traditions, recipes, vacation trips, hobbies and other interests.

Not only did this simple conversational English practice strengthen my intercultural competency, it also gifted me the opportunity to experience rich cultural diversity amidst cross-cultural communication.

I found the ESL program to be a memorable volunteer experience: it was a breath of fresh air amidst the pandemic. When classes first shifted to remote delivery, I was cut off from normal daily classroom social interactions.

With the ESL session, I acquired communication skills and appreciation for different schools of thoughts.

Back in January 2020, I was a shy first-year student who was abroad on her own, away from her family. Participating in the ESL program made my confidence sky-rocket, strengthened my public speaking and boosted my personal growth.

Supporting my conversation partners’ language development also built a sense of fulfilment and achievement. At the end of the program, I was proud of my international conversation partners’ success.

A woman with black hair, black sunglasses and a black coat and scarf with a snow-covered forest in the background
Leisha Toory has a message for students: “Get involved.”
Photo: Submitted

‘Fills up the heart and soul’

The powerful education I received from volunteering in St. John’s is the bright joy that fills up the heart and soul when you make a difference, help someone and brighten someone’s day.

More recently, I am a proud volunteer for MUN Shinerama, the St. John’s Farmers’ Market, Eastern Health Long Term Care, the Association for New Canadians and the CNIB and I am the operation lead for Welcome Week 2021.

My goals are to help and connect with the community, to continuously learn, to improve and acquire skills and to make a difference.

“[Volunteering] amounts to rewarding experiences, fun times and a happy heart!”

I believe that it is a precious privilege to be alive and to breathe. So, true prosperity lies in dedicating the gratitude of the fullness of life to helping others when we are blessed with the ability, the power and the opportunity to do so.

I send this message to students: get involved. It seems cumbersome to accommodate volunteering amidst class schedules, assignment deadlines and part-time jobs. However, it amounts to rewarding experiences, fun times and a happy heart!

I found that I can focus more academically, meeting course and work deadlines, since volunteering has rewarded me with time management and optimism.

I am sending a big thank you to the English as a Second Language Conversation Partner Program and the Student Volunteer Bureau for the rewarding experiences and amazing opportunities!

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