"Studying Geography makes you aware of other countries and cultures, which led me into international volunteering after graduating."
What first attracted you to study at Birmingham?
Firstly, the variety and level of sports, particularly the swimming team at the University and secondly, the recommendation of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences from a Birmingham alumnus. And to be very honest, it was a beautiful, sunny day when I went to look around it for the first time!
Can you tell us a little about your career progression since graduation?
After leaving university I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do as a career so I volunteered in Honduras with International Citizen Service (ICS). I wanted to gain experience in different areas to see what I did and did not enjoy. Upon returning from Honduras, I felt that volunteering had given me a lot of flexibility to try out, and experience new things. I applied for All Hands Volunteers, a volunteer-powered disaster response organisation, in the Philippines a couple of months after Super-Typhoon Yolanda had hit. In Tacloban, the worst hit area, I was working alongside locals and other volunteers to rebuild devastated communities, from digging trenches ready for foundations for homes to carrying out safe demolition of schools. Keeping in mind that I had no previous experience in construction or being in a disaster zone, I was given the chance to gain many different skills according to the work we were doing. All Hands Volunteers gives anyone wanting to help those affected by natural disasters, the opportunity to do so, without a fee.
From originally planning to volunteer for just six weeks, I ended up being in the Philippines for a year having been successful in applying for a staff position as a project coordinator. This led to even more opportunities, and I later joined the Disaster Assessment Response Team (DART) in Vanuatu after it was hit by Cyclone Pam, and acted as AHV Operations Manager in Nepal after the earthquakes in 2015.
Currently, I am based back on 'safer soil' in the UK office as the UK Development Director of All Hands Volunteers heading up corporate partnerships, volunteer alumni networks and fundraising events.
How do you feel your studies have influenced or helped you in your career?
Studying a subject like Geography can be active – getting out in the field, learning how to use equipment etc., and being a keen sportsperson I was never great at sitting at a desk. I enjoyed being hands-on. During my studies I particularly enjoyed the semesters focusing on international and humanitarian aid as well as the physical geography of natural disasters and preparedness itself. Studying Geography also makes you aware of other countries and cultures, which led me into international volunteering after graduating.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The people I have met since graduating. From volunteers of different ages and backgrounds (I have volunteered with two 72-year-olds as well as someone who was cycling across the world – literally), to the locals I have worked alongside in Nepal and the Philippines, and the stories I have exchanged with those affected by natural disasters.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Birmingham? Any favourite memories of campus?
Being part of a sports team! I was a member of both the swimming and netball team and those team mates still remain friends today. Having friends outside of your degree subject as well as being ambitious in something other than work does benefit other aspects of your life, including your productivity during your degree.
What advice would you give to current or prospective University of Birmingham students?
- Go out and gain experience before deciding what you want to do. Even if you try something and don’t like it, it’s been beneficial and part of a learning curve to know that it isn’t what you want to do. There are several careers out there that I didn’t even know existed! And you may find something you didn’t realise you enjoyed or that you are good at.
- Challenge yourself! It can be scary to try new things or do something you don’t know how to do, but a challenge will push you and improve you! Continuously doing something you know blindfolded gets monotonous and boring and you lose excitement. Always push yourself to do new and challenging things and you’ll feel a sense of great accomplishment once you overcome it.