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Volunteering at a Dublin Nursing Home

I recently sat down with one of my friends, Sarah Engelbrektsson, a fellow CEA study abroad in Dublin student, for an interview about her volunteer experience here in Dublin. She is enrolled in the Service Learning class here and was placed in a nursing home for retired nuns. Our conversation is transcribed below.

Could you tell me a little bit about your Service Learning placement here in Dublin?

I was placed at Santa Sabina nursing home, which is a nursing home for the Dominican Sisters when they can no longer live in the convent. I work with the activities coordinator, Amy Elbay, who organizes all the different recreational activities and therapeutic activities for the nuns who reside there.

 A view outside the nursing home Sarah volunteers at. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Engelbrektsson.)

What are your primary responsibilities at the nursing home?

I help out Amy with whatever she wants me to do and on Wednesdays we do recreational stuff, where we have an exercise class. I help the nuns to do exercises, I have to make sure they stay on task, like "Alright, you're gonna move your arms like this." It's so much fun. I help Amy do arts and crafts things, and life story work. It's really just about getting them to talk to me about their lives and learning more about them, rather than just talking about myself.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect about working with retired nuns?

Probably the mental disabilities that they have, because a lot of them have Alzheimer's or dementia, so not having a preexisting relationship and just jumping right in and not knowing if they're lucid or not has been difficult. That's because I thought some nuns were more "with it" than they actually were, but the longer I've been there the more I've realized that.

What would you say is the most rewarding aspect about working with retired nuns?

On the flip side, it's extremely rewarding when you have a moment with a nun where you actually connect and you know she's here and with you. Also, getting to know the nuns over the past few months has been great.

 Some of the arts and crafts that Sarah and the nuns work on. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Engelbrektsson.)

How has this experience helped you to grow as a student and person?

Well it's really helped my intercultural competence because I've had to work with people who, although they speak the same language as me, speak with a different jargon than I am used to. I've also appreciated learning with them through a completely different context than I ever had before.

If you could give advice to anyone considering volunteering abroad, what would it be?

Definitely get involved where you are. It doesn't have to be with your program, but reaching out and getting involved with the community really helps you to get a sense for where you are. It doesn't have to be in a nursing home, it could be at a local soup kitchen or something. Volunteering just really grounds you to the city you live in, which I have really enjoyed. I also think you get a better understanding of where you're at even if you only do it once a week.

Sum up your Service Learning experience in three words:

Rewarding, challenging, and eye-opening.

Rory Finnegan is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a senior at Virginia Wesleyan College.

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