Lydia Hodgins, 24, volunteered as an ICS Team Leader for Y Care International in Senegal, and was able to use her French language skills to boost the experience of her and her team.
Speaking the language
"I first heard about ICS as two of my friends did volunteer placements themselves. I knew I had good experience from previous youth work which would help me in the team leader role, and that is what really attracted me to the programme.
"At school I started to learn French but I gave it up as soon as possible. However when I was 16 I made regular trips to France to visit my French boyfriend, so it was then that I really learned!
"I decided to use my French skills for ICS as I knew it would be hugely beneficial to the team, the role and the work. I also knew I would get more out of the experience in a country where I could communicate with ease. I was right - I settled in quickly and learned loads by being able to ask questions and converse freely with locals.
"In Senegal we did a lot of awareness raising on health and hygiene issues, to children and village communities. We carried out surveys and research on issues affecting the local community and sought ways the YMCA could offer solutions to these problems, such as when we built toilets in villages where there previously had been none. I believe our team were able to achieve all our goals thanks to good communication which was helped by translation between local community members and the ICS volunteers.
"What I most enjoyed about being able to speak French was the social times when I could translate jokes and create a good atmosphere and conversation between people. It also proved useful to gain more in-depth explanations on issues such as local politics, culture, traditions.
"I picked up on some interesting new words in French as Senegalese French uses some different terms, for example a cash machine in France is called 'un distributeur (automatique)' but in Senegal it is always called a 'GAB' (guichet automatique de billets). So I was able to add to my vocabulary, which was especially valuable when I returned to visit Senegal.
"I would absolutely recommend ICS – it is invaluable for learning great skills in so many ways, including languages. I lived in France for six months after ICS and so continued to develop my language skills. I still speak French every day and use it to stay in touch with friends, including those I met in Senegal."