Almond Vocational Link hosted Thomas Shmidt in Spring 2014. We organised a work experience for Thomas within the education sector. It was a true pleasure to meet him and work with him. His fantastic sense of humour, charisma positive approach to life and others made a great impression on all of us, and Thomas will not be forgotten about anytime soon. Please take a few minutes to read about his work experience in Plymouth and the places Thomas visited whilst in the UK.
Well, how to start a short narration about my trip to Plymouth?
Good question, and to be honest: It is not easy.
Should I start with the trouble I had because I brought my bike with me?Or what about the weather…not that it was too bad, not at all in my opinion…not while I was there anyway.Maybe I should start with the wonderful town of Plymouth that really offers a lot for visitors.
And then there is Almond Vocational Link and the Language Cafe. Not only did they invite the students they had under their care to this weekly event, no: all foreigners could and still can come and join in every Thursday at 5.00pm and enjoy each other’s company over some chats and games, that encourage you to connect to others and use the English language.
I think the best thing would be to start chronologically….
It all started with, that I had to check in like a car because of my bike. Through customs with l my two suitcase, a backpack, two small bag AND my bike in a row of cars, up the ramp with the bike in one hand, the suitcase and the 2 bags in the other hand and my backpack on my back. All of a sudden this ramp seemed to be endless.Even though this way was much longer than the girl’s way on board, I did beat them by 10 seconds and reached the elevator first, just way more sweatier.It was a eventless sail with loads of fog and after we arrived in Harwich, I had to endure the same procedure again, being treated like a car….I just wish i had the same power. We quickly bought tickets for our last bit of train at Paddington station, just not quickly enough: We missed the train we aimed for and had to take a later one.Because of the rain, that had harassed the country during late winter, we (that is Martha, Nina and me) had to change from train to bus at Tiverton Parkway. The tracks had been washed away and were being rebuilt.
And at about 7.40 pm, the dark had already showed its face, we arrived at Plymouth Train Station and were greeted by Janet from Almond Vocational Link. She presented us to Sina, our host for the next 8 weeks. Fortunately she had a big car, so all our luggage fitted inside, unfortunately my bike did not. But no problem, on with the gloves and thehelmet and off I went.
Alone in a foreign land.
Alone in an unknown city.
Alone in foreign streets.
And for the first time in British traffic.
With all the others driving on the wrong side.
Luckily I had a few percent of battery left on my mobile, so I could turn on the GPS halfway through town.At first it was not that bad, up and down some smaller and not very steep hills. But then i entered St. Budeaux, the quarter we lived in. I should have known, when i checked the map a few days earlier, that there will be many hills when there is a quarter called Higher St. Budeaux. But that these hills were very steep I did not anticipate at all. And steep they are…and many. By the way, did I mention, that they are very steep, these hills?Anyway, I made it to Sina’s home and we had a great view over the beautiful town of Plymouth from our bedrooms.I should probably mention, that I was so lucky to occupy Sina’s own bedroom for the first 4 weeks, because she had taken more guests in than space was available. So she slept on the sofa.
As we arrived on a Friday, we had to start with a weekend and we started exploring the City Centre and of course the Plymouth Hoe, the Waterfront and the Barbican. The following Monday we had an appointment with Almond and there we met Petra and Valentina for the first time. After a short briefing by Petra about British culture and customs and how to behave, we got a tour by Valentine round the Hoe, the Waterfront and the Barbican.The next day was our first day at our internship, the girls at the a preschool, and me at ……… , a school for young people aged 11-16 who have moderate learning, behavioural and social disadvantages.
I have never worked with children, that had such problems before, but it was definitely an experience i will hold dear to my heart: Wonderful children, staff that never treated me as an outsider, facilities that are light and open……except for ‘The Forbes’, that little dongle that opened the sealed doors. But this is necessary for security reasons. Foremost to protect some of the children, that had been exposed to some abuse in their early youth.Except for 2 or 3 days I always used my bike to get to work and it took me about 13 minutes to get there, but about 16 minutes to get home again.
During our stay in Plymouth we visited amongst others, the National Marine Aquarium (a fantastic place with loads of info about fish), Saltram House (originally a Tudor mansion it was altered to an early Georgian style and has a wonderful garden, it was also one of the beautiful locations in the 1998 film Sense & Sensibility with Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet), Royal William Yard (where we stopped for dinner at River Cottage Canteen & Deli), the City Museum & Art Gallery (with exhibitions of ancient Egypt, Local and natural history, paper-works by Peter Randall-Page and portraits by Laura Knight), Mount Edgcumbe House & Country Park (with the tremendous Folly and an amazing view over Plymouth) and of course several visits of the Plymouth Hoe with Smeaton’s Tower and the War Memorial, Devonport Royal Dockyard, the Waterfront with the Dome and the Tinside Lido and obviously the Barbican with Elizabethan House and Gardens, Mayflower Steps and the Prawn.
We were quite lucky that we had 2 weeks Easter holidays and the girls went to London to wreck the city, while I stayed and protected Plymouth. They visited the Olympic Park, Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios, several patchwork shops and other attractions.
Meanwhile I rented a car and visited some nearby places like Tintagel Castle (where supposedly King Arthur was conceived) with a fantastic and poetic scenery, Dartmoor National Park with Dartmoor Prison and only the horizon as boundary, Buckland Abbey (Sir Francis Drake’s house, which he bought shortly before he defeated the spanish Armada, a converted monastery and abbey), Rame Head (with St Michael’s chapel and the amazing coastline) and the old smuggling villages of Kingsand and Cawsand.
The girls returned from London and after Easter we finished our last two weeks of internship without any bigger problems. It was just hard to say goodbye after these good experiences with our temporary colleagues and to the staff of Almond Vocational Link. They supported us all the way and had an open ear for the very few problems that we encountered.
So over all, a very exciting and unique experience. But what was it like to encounter a different culture than the Danish? Well first of all it was not that strange for me, because I was born and raised in Germany and lived there 30 years of my life before i moved to Denmark in 1999 and the differences between the German and British culture are less, than the differences between the Danish and the British. But having lived in Denmark for 15 years now, I obviously noticed these differences.
First of all, there is the politeness, especially at work, that is quite different to both German and Danish customs. Even though there are only some smaller differences between German and British politeness, they are bigger compared to Denmark. Even at work you, to a certain degree, address your superiors like you would address friends or family.Not in England, oh no! Sir and Mr. Schmidt I was called….at least when kids were in vicinity. And even if they were not close by, I still heard a ‘thank you’ for this and that, sometimes just for being there and participating. To a degree, that made me feel uncomfortable, because after a while it felt very superficial and not meant. Well I am not saying that it was not meant, but it most definitely felt like it in the end.
Then there is the staff-student-relation. I worked at some schools in Denmark, where there usually is a childcare-department, where children can play, talk, hang out and so on after school, until their parents get home from work. There is a slight difference between kids from about 6-9, where TLA’s are quite involved in activities for these kids, and kids from about 10-14, where they are more independent and less guided. And in both of these departments, but especially in the first group, it is very common, to get hugged or that kids are sitting on your thighs to draw a picture with you. They do not stop there and will definitely use you as a climbing frame. Not in English schools! Not at all! Not the tiniest bit! You risk getting sued and marked instantly as a pedophile. or worse. I definitely get it, that it is like that at ………They house some children that got abused to different degrees and being taken away from their parents because of these incidents. They have to be protected. But I learned that they handle students in the same way in public schools as well. That is what I had big issues with, coming from the loose environment of the Danish system. Do not get me wrong, we have pedophile cases here as well, but there is still some trust involved, when it comes to the people working with children. As a footnote I can mention, that I had some difficulties readjusting to the Danish system, when a few kids approached me in in a way totally inappropriate according to the English system. I started in an internship in a Danish school right after my return to Denmark and it took some of the children only a few days of getting used to me, before they started hugging me and accepted me as the new grown-up in school. I came very close to rejecting them, because the British distance was too fresh in my memory banks, but meanwhile I got more used to the Danish openness again. But now I am more observant to where to draw a line to keep myself and the kids on the safe side.
Actually i noticed, that my tutor at……… started to separate me a bit more from direct contact in the last two weeks of my work placement. Usually I stood at the door to greet the pupils to the classroom. But when I was standing there one of the kids, that had been abused, approached me several times from behind, standing quite close to me. I did not notice that, but my tutor did. And that kid had a history of having problems with personal space. So I was to sit on a chair in class, when the kids entered the room to avoid these kind of situations. Actually I think my tutor could feel, that I was struggling a bit to reject the kids. That is what it felt like for me, even though it just was pointing out personal space. But I have a natural low personal space, so I do usually not have a problem with others being close to me. I lowered my boundaries by the acting I undertook the last few years. And maybe they went a bit too low, but at least I am aware of that now, thanks to my experience in Plymouth.
Well I had problems to start this little excursion, now I have problems coming to an end. But actually the fact that I learned something, to be aware of my boundaries of personal space, is a good way to stop. I felt bit insecure the last days of my work placement, based on the fact that I noticed being protected by my tutor, but overall it was still an experience I did not want to miss. It was fun, exciting, new, fun, interesting, educational, fun, wonderful and most of all: FUN!And by the way: Did I mention that it was fun?!
I enjoyed my time in Plymouth very much, thanks to the staff of ………………., that accepted me almost immediately, the staff of Almond Vocational Link, I miss the weekly Language cafe and winning 😉 and the wonderful town of Plymouth with all its possibilities.
Now that I am almost finished, I have to mention, that I remembered a really bad thing about being in Plymouth:
having to leave!
Cheers for a great time, Mates!
*….. due to confidentiality, the names of work placements were omitted.