So that’s it. After a whirlwind three months, I have completed my Progressio ICS placement in Malawi. This sadly means that I have been returned back to the normality of the UK for just over a month now. For those who haven’t been to Malawi this means being unable to buy boiled eggs, doughnuts and samosas from the market stalls and a distinct lack of nsima! I can now class myself as a ‘returned volunteer’ or alumni, but here’s eight things I have learnt:
1) ‘This one time in Malawi…’
Now I’m sure any returned volunteer will agree that the phrase ‘This one time in Malawi (or your respective placement country)…’ will be met with internal groans from friends as you excitedly relay yet another story about your time on placement. So many incredible things happen on placement that you want to share and remember, but sometimes it can be difficult for family and friends to truly appreciate or understand your experience. That’s why keeping in contact with the friends you make on placement, both within your team and other teams, is so important and great fun too!
2) People probably think you are getting paid to promote Progressio and ICS
I have told so many friends and even strangers that they should look into ICS that people probably think I am getting endorsed to get people into the programme. I think that is a testament to the experience that you gain from it. Here I go again…. You learn so much about yourself, as well as learning so much from other people too. This is especially relevant for Malawi, but you will grow especially tolerant to Justin Bieber, and maybe even start to love him a little - maybe ICS shouldn’t put that in their marketing material!
3) Everything now seems SO expensive
Going from paying the equivalent of 5p for an avocado to a whopping £1.65 is a bit of a shock to the system, let alone being able to get mangoes straight off the tree in your garden! Walking into a gigantic Tesco’s is also a bit daunting now, with so much variety on offer to you. This is in comparison to the small market stalls and limited range available when on placement. Ultimately you become used to what you know, but it almost seems more of a shock when returning to the UK. Becoming accustomed to a much less materialistic way of life is very calming, so it’s definitely a shock at first to come back home!
4) You miss food you never imagined you would
Nsima, rice, dry doughnuts and boiled eggs. Enough said!
5) You question why British people aren’t as friendly
Being constantly met by warm smiling Malawian locals is a bit different to walking through London and actively avoiding eye contact on the Tube. You will also begin to question why it’s no longer socially acceptable to burst into song or dance in the street, or why people find it odd when you meet their gaze and greet them with a smile. Safe to say the British are much more reserved than Malawians.
6) Malawi time is actually pretty amazing!
Now during my placement after waiting five hours for our community awareness event to start, I most definitely would not have been saying this, but on return to the fast paced life of the UK, Malawi time is pretty brilliant. For those of you who are yet to experience Malawi time, it’s basically a much more relaxed way of life. Five minutes does not mean five minutes. In reality five minutes probably means about half an hour, if you’re lucky!
7) Becoming an ‘Active Global Citizen’ is actually a thing
One of the key objectives of ICS is to become an Active Global Citizen. It would be difficult to not meet this after a three-month placement living and working in a developing country. After the exposure to a new culture and alternate ways of doing things, your view point is certainly challenged. For example, I am now much more aware of food waste within the UK after experiencing a severe drought in Malawi where the effect is undoubtedly hunger for millions. Being an active global citizen certainly starts at home and I’m definitely now going to be more interested in local politics and issues that will affect me directly and the wider global community.
8) It’s okay not to have everything planned out
Before ICS, as a recent Geography graduate, I was feeling a bit lost being thrust into the ‘real world’. I hoped that three months in Malawi would give be a bit of clarity and allow me some time as well as space to think. It well surpassed that and have now got a Masters course lined up to start in September in International Development! I’m not saying that everyone who completes ICS will find a love for development, it’s slow and sometimes frustrating, but this allows some thinking time. I’ve also come around to the idea that it’s okay not to know, or have everything planned out. Sometimes it’s good to take some time out for personal development and make a change in the community, whether it’s your local community or one on the other side of the world. Malawi time has definitely helped with that…
Safe to say my ICS placement was amazing and has definitely changed me as a person, how could it not?! You will do things you could never dream of and make so many memories that will stick with you forever. Although my ICS placement has ended, that does not mean my ICS journey is finished, it’s something that will always stick with me forever and has even altered my potential career path.
Written by ICS Alumni Chloë Britt (January - March 2016, Team Masomphenya, in Nkhata Bay)