How volunteering helped Andrejs Enhance his Student Experience…
When Andrejs Blakunovs left his native Latvia to come to Coventry, he was hoping that his time as a student would provide him with many and varied experiences, and he was right, it has.
Andrejs came to study for a degree in Sports Management. A keen athlete himself (he was a semi-pro in Latvia; winning the 2011 Latvian Junior Championships in athletics and ran the Paris marathon in April 2015) he wanted to do a degree in a subject he was passionate about.
“Coventry offered everything I was looking for” said Andrejs. “There wasn’t a degree in this subject in Latvia, so I looked for a course in the UK and Coventry seemed the most logical choice.”
It wasn’t just the size of the city that appealed to Andrejs, but also the location because it was ideally placed to get to other places in the UK to visit:
“I loved the size of the City and the position of the University within it. It is a modern University in the heart of the City and is growing both in size and reputation, in fact, Coventry seemed a very exciting place to be.”
Andrejs applied for, and was successful in gaining, a sports scholarship which meant a great deal to him in terms of finance: “the £1500 grant helped to sustain me as a student and gave me a helping hand, which was extremely important at the beginning.”
It didn’t take long for Andrejs to settle down and he moved into rented accommodation with some fellow Latvian students in Hillfields, which was extremely handy for getting to lectures.
“Everything is so easy to get to in Coventry and I also liked the cultural mix as one in four of the population is from overseas.”
As a student, Andrejs wanted to experience as many things as he could and so he threw himself into student life, taking advantage of every opportunity that came his way, including working as a Team Leader with the Coventry Ambassador programme for the London 2012 Olympics.
“I was absolutely delighted to work with the wonderful team of volunteers and to see how proud older Coventrians were of their City. It was a wonderful experience and one that gave me an initial interest in volunteering.”
It was volunteering that gave Andrejs his first job after graduation this year; working on a six month contract as the Community Engagement Co-ordinator at the University.
“My role was primarily to act as a connector between the student and the community and over the past year or so; we have provided hundreds of volunteer opportunities for the students to take part in from one-off events to community placements.
“Any student taking part in one of our volunteer projects gets the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge and share their skills with community groups. We have worked with more than 130 community organisations and provide volunteers to support them. It is definitely a three-way advantage to all concerned: the students get the experience, the communities get the much-needed help and the University’s reputation is enhanced.”
Andrejs would ideally like to continue working in the volunteer sector as he knows what benefits volunteers can bring to the community:
“I would urge any student with some spare time on their hands to offer their skills to the volunteer and employment service within the SU. You will benefit in so many ways from sharing your knowledge, to interacting socially with different groups of people. It develops you as a person and gives you the feel good factor. More importantly, it shows that you care and gives you that much needed experience which will make you stand out when applying for jobs.”
Andrejs is a prime example of how volunteering can make all the difference to student life:
“I came to Coventry looking to gain more than just a degree and I have ended up feeling part of a great City, working with some wonderful communities and getting experience in an area that I would now like to work in and give something back to the City that has been my home for the past three years.”
Just two of Andrejs’ Volunteering Projects:
Coundon Court Football Club
This was one of my very first volunteering experiences in the UK. As I was a Sport Management student and football lover, this project looked quite relevant. It was also a good opportunity to improve my language skills, get used to the local accent and practise my conversational speech. I got to see how a community football club operated and I met some wonderful people. This volunteering experience is one of my favourites and has secured a worthy place on my CV.
‘Wear Your Wheels’
I volunteered at a community event called ‘Wear Your Wheels’ in Millennium Square. It was organised for families and other community representatives. The object of the day was to construct a vehicle and wear it while completing a lap around the square. Family groups crafted wearable cardboard creations and challenged each other in a race. As well as being an event volunteer, I also helped two little brothers to make their own cardboard car just 2 hours before the start! It was fun, entertaining and created a great sense of cohesion and unity, which is what it is all about.
written by Ali Bushnell
edited by Esmé Spurling