Sue: ISEP Service Learning Program in Barcelona (June 2021)

In volunteering for ISEP’s virtual learning service program, I was lucky enough to work with Creart, a non-profit organisation focused on utilising the therapeutic and cathartic powers of art to help improve the quality of life of marginalized groups, such as those that endured human rights violations, extreme poverty, and natural disasters, to name a few.

Creart predominantly works with children and women and aims to use art within a framework of transformative education as a tool to face past traumas and conflicts in a positive and productive manner. Additionally, Creart also hosts teaching workshops with local teachers and educators to ensure that the community as a whole is able to be benefited. Through its work, Creart’s positive influence is seen on a global scale throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. For example, with the extreme poverty present in Senegal, Creart partnered local and international organizations and worked to protect and support children living with disabilities against the prejudice and systematic disadvantage they may face. This resulted in creating a safe support center and provided resources that elevated their living conditions.

My main tasks in this program were to edit and proofread Spanish to English translated documents and ensure that it was coherent and accurate to native English speaking audience, particularly as Creart looked to expand its brand awareness globally. The translations included a master document of all the content on its website and internal documents. Additionally, my meetings with my supervisor became sessions for me to experience the transformational education while my supervisor practiced her English speaking ability.

Through this program, I was able to expand my cultural knowledge through not only learning about the Spanish culture, but also how the global society co-exists through the differences and similarities between subcultures, thus improving on my cross-cultural competences. I also gained awareness of the different communication styles that appear through cultural influences and was able to grow my understanding of my own communication style. By being aware of how communication differs across borders and cultures, it has allowed me to become more flexible in the way I interact with different people as I am able to adjust how I communicate to then produce better and more valuable interactions in the future.

Additionally, in participating in this program, I was able to experience working remotely, which I found to be very different from studying remotely. With relationships formed completely digitally, I was able to strengthen my interpersonal skills with how I can form a relationship and nurture it even in the face of technological barriers. The best part of this experience was meeting my supervisor at Creart, Maria. I really enjoyed the meetings we had where we were able to share stories of our lives in the countries that we lived in. I found it really interesting to listen to how different life is in Spain and the different experiences Maria has had travelling not only within Spain but also beyond to the numerous other countries she had been to for work and for leisure. From hearing her stories, she has inspired me to be mindful of the different ways I could weave travelling the world into my life and career.

While this program was exceptionally enjoyable, I did find managing my time challenging, particularly during the exam season. To overcome this, my advice would be to physically schedule everything out and block out different times of the day with generous leeway to avoid feeling pressured and overwhelmed by how tight time seems. Once a routine is set, it would then become more natural to delegate time to tasks and managing all the responsibilities.

University of Auckland – ISEP Study Abroad

Hannah: ISEP Service Learning Program in Barcelona (June 2021)

During my semester break at the University of Auckland, I volunteered at two organisations through the ISEP Virtual Learning Service Programme in Barcelona: Islamic Relief and the IBO Foundation. Working for both these organisations opened me up to a whole new world of humanitarian aid that I had never before experienced first-hand. Throughout June, I developed fundraising strategies for the humanitarian organisation, Islamic Relief. As a student in New Zealand, I presented the possibility of promoting the organisation within NZ schools to gain parents’ attention and potentially sponsor a child in a developing country, as one of my ideas. Other ideas included improving advertising of the organisation in countries where Islam is not the major religion. I discussed the potential idea of partnering with a Christian humanitarian organisation in New Zealand such as Caritas, which could enhance the effectiveness of both organisations.

By July, I began my volunteer work for a new organisation called the IBO Foundation. This foundation works primarily in the Ibo district in Mozambique which was unfortunately devastated by Cyclone Kenneth in 2019. As a result, poverty in this country notably the Cabo Delgado region, has worsened. My tasks involved updating the foundations’ database. This database was created by previous volunteers containing potential international donors that IBO could reach out to and ask for funding from. I updated the spreadsheet to a clearer format and contributed several ideas by adding contact details of other organisations that would potentially fund the IBO Foundation. Alongside this, I gathered research to update the organisations’ information on Ibo and the Cabo Delgado region. I specifically focused on the weakening tourism industry and also women empowerment in Cabo Delgado. The latter has always been an important issue to me that I aim to pursue in the future, so it was great to experience this type of work in a real-life situation.

These two experiences helped me to grow as an individual through interactions with my supervisors on the other side of the world. In this current pandemic climate, I have been able to experience a slice of Spanish culture without having to leave home! The most obvious cultural difference I observed was the relaxed nature of the Spanish. At times, this was a little frustrating particularly when organising a video call during the week. Often these did not start on time, a very different approach to what I am used to in New Zealand. In order to overcome this, I simply adopted the same approach and ensured that my schedule was free for a lengthy amount of time to allow for lateness or technical difficulties, as this was also a potential problem I identified early on. The time difference and limit to the internet made work a little more challenging but it certainly taught me the skills I will need as we enter an age of increased digital communication!

But all differences aside, the best part of the experience was, in fact these video calls with my supervisors. It was an incredible experience to chat with someone in Spain, and work with them and their organisation to improve the services. The potential of these humanitarian organisations to succeed and provide aid to those most in need is immense and absolutely necessary! To all future students entering this programme! Your intercultural competence will be tested to the limit. The variance in culture between Spain and New Zealand is much more vast than you may think and may be difficult at first! By going into this programme with an open mind and a willingness to improve yourself as an individual but also to support an organisation as best you can, you will gain an immense amount of knowledge and skills that will be beneficial throughout the remainder of your lives!

University of Auckland – ISEP Study Abroad

Aria: ISEP Service Learning Program in Barcelona (April 2021)

For my leadership through learning course I was privileged to volunteer for the Organisation of Islamic Relief. My mentor Ahlam was an amazing woman who is based in Barcelona. I found her passion and determination to help others inspiring and challenged me to reflect on what I can do in my day to day life. My central tasks revolved around fundraising for an Islamic Relief project named ‘Vida para la Agua” or ‘Water for Life.’ The project focuses on providing sustainable water resources for isolated communities.

Through the fundraiser I learnt that a large proportion of African women have to walk on average 6km a day to access clean water. Furthermore, a devastating estimate of 800 million people do not have access to clean water. Not only does the campaign provide water resources, it also establishes facilities that educate communities surrounding hygiene and water sanitation. I felt lucky to be a part of such an amazing project that creates such a meaningful, positive impact for these communities.

A key thing I took from this experience was acknowledging the vast range of opportunities that I am given as a student in New Zealand. It is easy to forget about the hardships that occur overseas when we get caught up in the business of our lives; being part of the Islamic Relief project highlighted my privileges as a kiwi and urged me to use my platform effectively.

The greatest challenges I faced were working both cross culturally and over different time zones. Efficient and good communication is needed when working on different time zones to negotiate when meetings should be held and when deadlines should be set. The added cultural and language barriers further contributed to this adversity. However through this program I was able to enhance my communication skills cross-culturally and learnt how to be kind yet also clear when getting my points across.

I aspire to work globally, thus I know having the ability to effectively work cross culturally will be immensely useful in my future. Furthermore, learning the skills to co-operate and work together via zoom is an important skill to have during these unprecedented pandemic times.

I thoroughly enjoyed Maria’s seminars and was able to take a lot of valuable knowledge that I know I will carry with me throughout my future professions! I am grateful for this program and the amazing Maria and Ahlam who organised and mentored me through it, muchas gracias! I encourage other students thinking of undertaking this programme to do so – as it is so rewarding!


University of Auckland – ISEP Study Abroad

Tayla-Lee: ISEP Service Learning Program in Barcelona (April 2021)

I was lucky enough to volunteer at the Ibo Foundation with Anahita. The Ibo Foundation is a beautiful non-profit organization that works to help those who live on the island of Ibo. The main values that the foundation focuses on are female empowerment, relief work, children education and nutrition.

My main tasks were to assist in monetary funds by seeking out donors, creating a social media plan and designing a new project proposal. I sought out donors by researching potential foundations that donate money to smaller NGO’s, then checking their values aligned with Ibo’s. I then made a document collected with all this information to make applying easier for Anahita. I created a social media plan showcasing the importance of building your brand through consistent images, promotion of logos and using unique designs through software called Canva. My final project is designing a new project to propose to the donors that I found. The project I chose was to create self-care packages for the women of Ibo. The idea behind this is to promote self-confidence and the opportunity for sustainable business ideas to have ongoing packages available. These packages look to include period-proof underwear, shampoo and conditioner bars, and essential oil perfumes. Each of these taught me something new about how non-profit organizations operate and allowed me to explore new opportunities to enhance my skills in those fields. I was also able to continue learning Spanish through my conversations with Anahita.

The key takeaways I had from this experience is an acknowledgement of how effective these foundations are and how much work goes into helping these areas. I also took away a newfound knowledge of Spanish culture especially the culture in Barcelona which I will always hold with me. I learnt a lot about issues they have to face in Ibo with terrorism and struggling with communication. Ibo is such a small island and suffers greatly so for me being able to learn and adapt to the situation there has been tough but also eye-opening. I learnt how important intercultural communication is in facilitating healthy and comfortable relationships between one another. I learnt personally how vital it is that I am learning a language and how this is going to benefit me widely in my chosen area of politics. I also learnt the importance of skills such as confidence and the value of a good work ethic. I found myself enjoying the work I was doing for the Ibo Foundation, and putting a lot of passion into it. The best part of this experience was meeting Anahita and getting to know her as well as the foundation she works for.

Doing any experience online is always going to be challenging and I wish I could have been in Barcelona however, in these times I am so grateful to have learnt the new online learning skills that I have. I would advise future students to do research about their foundation before starting and get in contact with the previous intern and this helped me so much. Researching about the Ibo Foundation helped with all of the tasks I had and allowed me to execute them to the standards of the Foundation.

University of Auckland – ISEP Study Abroad

Catherine: ISEP Service Learning Program in Barcelona (April 2021)

When I started the ISEP Virtual Volunteering Program, I wasn’t sure what it would entail. I’ve volunteered before – at charities, with university groups, and even through another internship – but before the pandemic hit, I’d never contemplated the idea of making a difference through an overseas organization, from the comfort of my own bedroom.

However, having now done so, I can wholeheartedly endorse the concept as a rewarding and enriching experience for organizations and volunteers alike, and believe it is an amazing and unique way to gain valuable cross-cultural and professional knowledge. I was lucky enough to volunteer with Oxfam International, working on the new Oxfam Climate Initiative. I am extremely passionate about our environment and sustainability therefore I was elated to receive this position, working for a world-renowned NGO.

At the outset, it was outlined that I would be working on developing the Oxfam Climate Initiative’s Internal Communication Strategies. This involved helping to design and implement a new internal webpage for the initiative, an area I haven’t worked in before, as well as creating a new promotional PowerPoint for external donors. It was awesome learning how to use and edit an NGO’s internal database, while also being able to read about Oxfam’s various endeavors regarding climate change. Once I was experienced with the database, I especially enjoyed being able to give insight to my supervisors on what I thought worked best, and when these ideas were implemented, it felt especially rewarding.

The program also allowed me to gain fantastic cross-cultural communication skills. We had three cross-cultural seminars over the course of the internship, and I was able to implement the knowledge I gained from each of these – such as ideas about the theory behind different cultural values and communication styles – into the context of my internship. Applying this knowledge into real life circumstances was invaluable and has allowed me to take away an essential skill from the experience which I know I will use in life going forward.

For future students participating in this program, I would advise you to take the opportunity with both hands and utilize it as much as possible. It is not often that you will be given the chance to work in a different culture’s workplace from your own home, so make sure to put in as much effort as you can in the knowledge that the hours of work will be greatly appreciated by your organization, as well as being an enriching and valuable experience for you.

University of Auckland – ISEP Study Abroad

Ariana: ISEP Service Learning Program in Barcelona (October 2020)

This year I was meant to be studying abroad in Europe all year long, but as Covid-19 slowly took over the world I made the decision to fly back home to New Zealand after only two months. As upset as I was at my plans being dashed, this experience meant I was on the hunt for other opportunities to motivate and inspire me for 2020. ISEP’s Virtual Service Learning program in Barcelona presented an awesome opportunity to work in a cross-cultural environment and help make some tangible change within our global community. Through this program I was able to connect with people on the other side of the world without leaving my desk. Although virtual experiences cannot fully replace real life immersion in a new culture or country, programs like this are the next best thing!

I had the pleasure of volunteering for Melting Pot, a non-profit organisation that aims to equip migrants with skills and opportunities for a career in culinary entrepreneurship. Their work involves facilitating migrant chefs to share their local cuisines with the wider community, and engage in intercultural communication and learning. My tasks with Melting Pot were to assist with the redevelopment of their website, analyse their social media and do some market research into how similar organisations were operating during the Covid-19 pandemic. I was able to work with a lot of creative freedom, whilst still collaborating and checking in with the directors. From this experience I was able to enhance some of my existing cross-cultural and professional skills, as well as improve and learn other skills.

One key thing I learned a lot about was my own communication style, and how I am able to adapt it to work harmoniously with others. My style tends to be more direct in nature, whereas my supervisor communicated in a more ambiguous way. It was great to become more aware of my natural tendencies and practise being sensitive to others’ differences. The best part of the experience was simply being able to support a wonderful organisation doing fantastic things in their community. It was a pleasure to be able to offer my help so that they can continue to succeed in their mission. However, being online and participating in this virtual exchange did present some more challenging aspects as well. Sometimes it was hard not being able to be in-person having discussions, but Zoom does a great job of making meetings as real as possible. The time difference also sometimes came as a challenge, but after a while it was simply another factor to take into consideration when communicating with everyone involved.

For future participants I recommend applying to work with an organisation that is doing work that really interests you. Both you and the organisation will get more from the collaboration if you are equally as supportive of their goal. Because you have a lot of freedom around when you complete your work, it is a good idea to set aside one or two times a week that you focus on your tasks. This helps you work around your own schedule and creates a system of consistency with the organisation as well. Throughout the experience keep in mind that the work you are doing directly benefits individuals who need support, and even though you can’t physically interact with them all your effort is making a difference in their lives.

Overall this has been an incredibly rewarding experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for an enriching international experience from the comfort of your own home. A combination of intercultural interaction, self-development and charitable giving – what’s not to love!

Sharon: ISEP Service Learning Program in Barcelona (October 2020)

I am grateful that I got the opportunity to participate in ISEP’s Virtual Service-Learning Program in Barcelona to earn invaluable skills beyond the lecture theatres. I was placed in the communication department with the Islamic Relief, overseen by two supervisors, Ahlam and Kinda. One of my main tasks included creating my fundraising for my chosen charity with a specific target. My challenge was running at least 5km every day for 20 days to raise around $2000NZD for at least two orphans.

My key takeaway from this experience was learning how to plan properly. To create an efficient fundraiser, I had to research and plan with lots of detail. Being able to plan systematically has taught me a lot, such as being able to identify any mistakes, then fix it quickly and to retrace the successful ideas and use them again. This skill would be beneficial in the future as many employers’ value this skill.

The best part of the experience is leaving the NGO knowing I did something to help them and that I’ve left a part of me with the NGO. Knowing I contributed to helping orphans get their necessities is a heart-warming feeling. The most challenging part was finding an efficient way to fundraise despite COVID-19. COVID-19 limited some of the fundraising ideas I had, and I knew I had to overcome this by being more creative. Therefore, after researching and thinking about my strengths, I was able to establish my very own challenge to encourage people to donate.

One of my goals was to be more aware of my communication style and the seminar hosted by Maria helped me to achieve this. I have personally, professionally and cross-culturally learned my preferred style of communication. Being born and growing up in a country where we choose to express ourselves explicitly didn’t change the fact that I was taught to express myself implicitly from my parents because of cultural difference. After attending the seminar, it was eye-opening to learn there are different types of communication styles that I’ve never heard of. I am extremely grateful to have attended the seminar because I can distinguish between different communication styles between different cultures. Professionally, I can change my communication style to suit whoever I am talking to. This would be an invaluable skill to have in the business industry because one of my key jobs will be to communicate and negotiate with people from different backgrounds so being able to read their body language will benefit me greatly. Cross-culturally, I have learned that despite growing up in a country where explicit communication dominates, my culture outweighs this, and this has taught me that the culture where one is from determines how one chooses to communicate.

To future students participating in ISEP, I advise you to listen attentively to the seminars and take notes as they are very useful in developing your professional skills. Getting to know other students and what they are doing in the program is also a good way to learn more about the differences in culture as well. Lastly and most importantly, enjoy and make the most of every moment in the program as your time with the program will go very quickly.