Volunteering with International Future Challengers

21 July 2020

Clara undertook a volunteering opportunity organised by International Future Challengers, in Bulgaria.


I undertook a volunteering opportunity organised by International Future Challengers Ltd in the summer of 2019. The programme aimed to help psychology students to gain practical experience of working in social institutions. Our work was based in Veliko Tirnovo, the former Bulgarian capital in ancient times, and the whole project lasted for 1 month.

I, with a group of 14 other psychology students from different universities in the UK, volunteered in a range of institutions which provided care and support for people in need. Some examples of the places that we worked at were children’s centres for those who were abandoned by their parents, a crisis centre in which teenage girls who had been victims of human trafficking refugeed temporarily and some elderly homes that provided day-to-day care to seniors whose family could not take care of them. These places may seem unrelated at first glance, there is a common theme that tied them all together – mental health. Service users in these places were vulnerable groups who were at higher risks of developing poor mental, and it was the job of psychologists to monitor and improve their mental wellbeing. During many Q&A sessions with the staff at these institutions, I developed an understanding of the tasks they undertake to ensure the smooth running of the service and to maximise the quality of life of the residents that they care for.  As a volunteer, I befriended with service users and engaged in recreational and therapeutic activities with them, such as playing sports and crafting arts. It was important for them to felt loved and cared for and that was the primary duty of the volunteers. As a psychology student who has an aspiration to become a clinical psychologist in the future and be dedicated to improving people’s mental health, the whole experience has therefore been extremely relevant to my career preparation and some of the academic teaching I received at UCL.


Not only is the experience professionally enriching, it has also brought to me personal growth. During the course of 4 weeks, I fostered valuable friendships with my fellow teammate. I got to know many people from different backgrounds, of different values, and of contrasting personality characteristics, and I learnt to appreciate the beauty of all that diversity. It was an out-of-comfort-zone experience to live and work intimately with people you had just met in a foreign country, but thanks to that, we seemed to have bonded even more closely and all the life lessons were absorbed faster and more profoundly.


Aside from all the professional and personal learning, the fact that I lived like a local in a beautiful country is another reason why this experience was so amazing. The warmth and kindness shown by Bulgarian people transcended our language barrier, which made me feel at home. During the weekends, my host organisation also arranged tours around attractions in the city, which was relaxing amid all the work that we had been doing all week. In addition, I leant so many interesting facts about Bulgarian history, culture and language through my interactions with the locals, all of which would not be possible to come by if I was just a tourist sightseeing in Sofia for a couple of days.

I would highly recommend other students to undertake a study abroad or work abroad opportunity, believe me or not, it will turn out to be not just a few lines in your resume but also deep friendships, valuable life lessons or some random inspiration you took by being away from your routine life.


By: Clara Cao