Farihah Haroon is a second year student studying MSci Psychology. Read on to find out how she stepped out of her comfort zone to help her community.

Tell us a little about your volunteering

I started my volunteering journey in June/July with Action Tutoring. I took part in weekly online sessions with a primary school. Later in September, I decided to join IntoUniversity after coming across an inspiring student profile. I immediately started the training sessions and DBS checks for the role and formally joined this January. They matched me to a student who is currently preparing for her GCSEs. Since my experience of high school was fresh in my head, I was able to help her in both academic and social aspects.

I also started volunteering with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where I undertook 4 hour shifts every week. This was while I already had other part-time jobs going on! Sounds quite crazy now that I think back, but definitely kept me on my toes last term! The role I had with the hospital was particularly insightful since I am interested in topics of mental health, which is linked to my degree. I was able to interact with people of different ages as I had the chance of working in both the elderly and children wards. I also assisted the medical professionals with more admin related tasks, which gave me insights on how things work in the background.

How did you find out about the role?

Like I mentioned earlier, I applied for the IntoUniversity student mentor role after reading a student profile on a newsletter. I came across the mental health buddy role in a similar way, through an advertisement on the UCL volunteering page.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I guess you can say the student profile inspired me. But I also knew that IntoUniversity had a graduate scheme that I was interested in, and volunteering would be a good step in that direction. Same goes for the hospital role as well since I am interested in working in similar roles. So this was an exciting way of improving my job prospects.

In terms of my academic life as well, I had actually never done any extracurriculars till then. I got used to spending my free time on my phone – I wanted that to change this year and grabbed any opportunity that came my way! I sort of wanted this to be my year. I thought I would feel guilty for taking time out of my study schedule, but honestly seeing the change I could bring was definitely worth it!

I thought I would feel guilty for taking time out of my study schedule, but honestly seeing the change I could bring was definitely worth it!

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

I guess I did not see any tangible result but just being there makes such an impact. In both roles, I could see and feel how people relied on me. So taking ownership and bringing them comfort was truly rewarding.

For the tutoring role, knowing that someone actually wanted my opinion and was listening to my story was very touching.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

It is definitely a refresher from my studies! I didn’t have much of a routine before, since I was practically studying all the time. But now I have to maintain a schedule and manage my time wisely making me a lot more organised. I guess I also pay more attention while watching my lectures and procrastinate a lot less, since I know I have less time than usual for academics. So surprisingly, with more work you become more organised!

I also learnt how to navigate my way through the hospital and the fact that I am interacting with people from different medical backgrounds is very enriching.

What’s the best thing about volunteering? 

It really pushes you out of your comfort zone. I can’t imagine someone like me is now fully integrated into a hospital community full of vulnerable patients and medical experts. A role like that requires you to step up and take action which builds your confidence.

And even with the tutor role, the fact that a student was relying on me and saw me as ‘knowledgeable’ was a new experience. These are things you don’t get paid for but pays you with the experience.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges? 

Settling into the hospital was a challenge for me. Especially since I was working with patients. I wanted to be sympathetic, but at the same time didn’t want to bother them. I was nervous of upsetting that fine line, but slowly I got more accustomed to it. I had a nurse there to guide me whenever I had questions and learnt that it was okay to not know the answer to everything.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering

During the mentoring sessions, I was able to relive my high school years and help her calm her nerves about exams. Sharing our stories helped both of us learn.

In my hospital role, there were long-term patients who I would regularly meet and seeing some of them recognise me during my shifts was heartening!

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why? 

Definitely! I did not know this was something I wanted to do, but I thought I would try it out for experience sake. Once I started though, I thoroughly enjoyed giving that time to others. I guess this is something you don’t understand till you get out there and volunteer. You get to go and see the world a bit more! Yes, you will face challenges but that will just help you to grow and meet new people.