Best decision I ever made
When talking to 1st year student, Alexandra Nebancea, it was hard not to be caught up in her enthusiasm about life, the universe and everything!
Originally from Romania, Alexandra, or Sasha to her friends, came to Coventry University to study for a degree in Management and has now transferred over to Coventry University College because the structure of the course suited her more.
Coming to Coventry, according to Sasha it was ‘the best decision I ever made’ but it was her mother who urged her to come and study in the UK.
“I could have stayed in Romania”, said Sasha, “but my Mum wanted me to have the opportunity to come here and she saw something at an education fair and told me that Coventry looked like the best place for me and she was absolutely right.”
Volunteering has been in Sasha’s DNA from a very early age, in fact, she was volunteering in Romania from the tender age of 10 and it was that love for helping others that made her determined to throw herself into volunteering in Coventry.
“For me, it’s not about getting things on my CV, it is about helping others. I love to be able to communicate with people and do things for the community. At home, I used to work with schools in the area and I was part of a group of people who worked with local schools on a variety of things and the children really appreciated it.
“I also worked with a local care home and I’d go in and talk to the residents and record their memories, so that they would be there for future generations to listen to. Some of the residents didn’t have visitors, which was really sad, and they said that our visits were the highlight of their week. This made me realise that maybe what I was doing was truly appreciated by others.”
Since coming to Coventry, Sasha has been a keen supporter of the Student Volunteering Team and is always on hand to help at meetings, welcome week events, MADD days and PAT visits – she particularly enjoys working with the Pets As Therapy dogs when they come in.
“Working with animals, what’s not to like?” added Sasha.
Volunteering has really helped Sasha with her confidence. She has made some great friends, learned to speak in public (she was recently a speaker at a TEDx event) and she is currently the President of the Erasmus Society.
“I have really enjoyed working with the Erasmus Society, said Sasha. “It is a wonderful society that helps exchange and international students get to know each other and find others from their own countries to talk to. It does make a difference as coming to a new country can be quite daunting, especially if you don’t know anyone.
“Erasmus puts on all sorts of social events, games and ice breakers – it is hard work but it has all been worth it as the feedback from the members has been wonderful but next year, it will be my turn to hand the baton to someone else.”
Over the last couple of summers, Sasha took her volunteering to a whole new level by going overseas.
Sasha was very impressed with an organisation called Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) who came into the University to talk about the work they did in Fiji and she worked hard to save the money to enable her to go over there and work in 2017.
Basic accommodation but a warm welcome in Fiji
“My parents helped me out as well”, said Sasha, “I couldn’t have done it without them. The opportunities they have given me, I will never be able to thank them enough for but working in Fiji and helping to build school rooms and toilet blocks made me appreciate the simpler things in life.
“We take for granted our mobile phones, PCs and other gadgets, but when you’re working in a community where shoes are a luxury, it makes you question your own lifestyle. The kids I was working with in Fiji came from nothing, but they had everything. Their life was simple, they didn’t have much, so they didn’t miss what they didn’t have. They were fascinated by the colour of our skins as they don’t see many Europeans and they wanted to be with us as much as they could.”
In the heart of the community
“Working on buildings and creating things that would benefit the whole community was an experience I won’t forget and the way the host families treated us was incredibly generous. They put our needs before their own. Nothing was too much trouble for them”.
Sasha makes a new friend
In 2018, Sasha was in Laos, South Asia, but this time she was working with elephants as part of a conservation programme.
The work centred around an elephant recreation centre which was home to female elephants that had been used in circuses or other shows and needed to get back to being free again and all the adjustment that entails.
“It was truly amazing, said Sasha “never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to work with these beautiful creatures.
“When I was little, I really enjoyed going to see the elephants in the circus because when you’re a kid, you don’t know any different. Last year, when I saw what happens to circus elephants and how they are treated, it broke my heart, so anything I could do to help them was my motivation.”
While she was there, Sasha found herself going on long treks in the mud (after all, it was the rainy season) to get to where the elephants were. Climbing over cockroach infested swampland and trees with red ants was a daily routine, so was clearing vast amounts of ground and rebuilding enclosures.
Sasha with an elephant - from circus to the jungle
“I hit my fingers more than I did the nails, but it was worth the pain just to see the elephants in their normal setting of the jungle. These creatures should not be used for entertainment, they should be cherished and worshipped. If we go on the way we are, there will be children in a few generations time who might not even know what an elephant is. That is why this conservation work is vitally important.”
So you see, volunteering can take you round the corner or around the world and whatever you do, you can make a difference to the community.
Sasha isn’t sure what she wants to do when she leaves University, but there is one thing that she is certain of, volunteering to help others will always be a big part of her life because it has given her so much already.
If you would like to know more about volunteering at Coventry University, then visit their pages on the CUSU website: https://www.cusu.org/coventry/opportunities/volunteering/
You never know where it will take you!
Helping hands around the world!
Credits: Story by Ali Bushnell
Photos: Alexandra Nebancea