When I realised nearly two years ago that I would be eligible for long service leave from my employer, I came up with the perfect plan. I decided I would take a few months off from my career as a town planner, and come to Switzerland as an Our Chalet Assistant. I would swap stunning beach sunsets for snowy mountain peaks. Departure Day could not come soon enough!
Let me take a step back. My name is Ally, and I’m from Darwin, in the Top End of Australia’s Northern Territory. It’s a tropical climate, with the temperature rarely dropping below 27 degrees in the coolest month. More often than not we’re sweltering through 32 degrees with high humidity. Every. Single. Day. I’m more used to trying to remember to put up the sun shade in the car and not burning myself with the seat belt buckle than having to scrape ice and snow off the top or to worry about snow chains on the tyres.
My Guiding journey began when I was seven years old, and it has taken me all around the world. Guiding has given me many wonderful opportunities, such as participating in the Juliette Low Seminar and being a WAGGGS Youth Delegate to UN conferences on climate change and sustainable development. I’ve met some amazing and inspirational people from all walks of life. And yet the right timing just hadn’t come up to undertake one of the experiences I yearned for most – to be a World Centre volunteer. To be able to spend three months meeting people from all over the world, and working in an international team – business coaches wish they could replicate this learning environment!
For lack of not knowing what else to call my career break, a fellow volunteer suggested ‘sabbatical’. In considering this, I found that a sabbatical is no longer just an extended time off work to go on holiday and/or relax. There’s an expectation that you’ll use the time to upskill and to actively undertake some professional and personal development.
So during my time as an Our Chalet Assistant, what skills have I been developing? What personal and professional development have I been undertaking? What from this working holiday can I take back to Australia and implement into my (currently forgotten) paid employment? Somehow, I don’t think my boss will see the value or usefulness in my newly-found snow-shovelling skills, so here are some skills that might be considered worthwhile:
Communication skills: I’m part of an international volunteer team, and we all come from different backgrounds with different expectations and ideas on how to get things done. It can take patience and lots of explaining and clarification to make sure everyone has the same understanding. This can be through talking, demonstrating, writing, drawing, and even mime or interpretative dance.
Working as part of a team and working independently: There are lots of daily tasks to do at Our Chalet to keep it operational and the guests happy – mostly housekeeping and preparing meals. Facilitating the distribution of these daily tasks, ensuring everyone knows what they are doing and can do so independently and that tasks are completed in a timely manner and to a high standard, can only be achieved by everyone working together and supporting each other. When someone is finished their assigned task, they check in with everyone else to see how they can help and share the workload.
Public Speaking: From participating in daily staff meetings, sharing information with guests at dinner, running Our Chalet tours, and giving programme briefings to large groups, I’m constantly in situations where I need to speak up and speak out in front of groups from 5 people to 50 people (and potentially more!). You learn to speak clearly, to speak loudly, and to be concise in your message.
Leadership: leadership means something different to everyone, whether it be taking charge of a group, being able to make quick, important decisions, or simply setting an example for others to follow – these are all attributes I am further developing on a daily basis. I’ve been learning about WAGGGS’ Leadership Mindsets, and am working on how I might be able to better balance my strengths and weaknesses and work better with those around me, both at Our Chalet and when I return to work.
Although it’s common for many World Centre volunteers to be on a gap year after completing either high school or university, volunteering once you’ve been working for a few years can be a valuable experience too. Being a volunteer at Our Chalet has reminded me that you should always be open to trying new things, and to be challenged to think differently, as you only grow when you move from your comfort zone into your learning zone.
Allison Hooper, Australia – Our Chalet Spring Volunteer