My voluntary social year at the ISWI

Left and right two clever heads of the board: Julia and Niko; myself inbetween as a recent volunteer

“Come to the dark side of the Force, we have tea and cookies!”. “Why dark?”. “Wait, I’m still looking for the light switch…So.” The light shines on an ordered mess. Three comfortable sofas circle a small table on which cakes and tea cups are already waiting. Kitchen utensils pile up on one wall and board games on the other. I go on to the next room, store my things, and boot up the computer. My gaze catches the purple card below the screen. In golden letters you can read: “Here works a glittering unicorn”. I have to smile. It is 10 a.m. in the morning in the halls of the ISWI e. V. association founded by students in the A-basement of the TU Ilmenau. But I am neither a student nor a university employee. My name is Anni Junge. Last summer I graduated from high school in Weimar. Now I am completing a voluntary year at the ‘Initiative Solidarische Welt Ilmenau’. I came to my place of employment via the Landesvereinigung Kulturelle Jugendbildung (LKJ). Every time I answer my friends the question, what exactly I do, they shake their heads first. “You sit in a cellar all day looking at a screen”. I don’t spend a lot of my time in front of the computer, but on the sofa mentioned earlier or under ilmenaublue sky in conversation with different people. In spite of the numerous members and subprojects, the ISWI e.V. always has a kind of family atmosphere, you cook together, go dining together or use the precious sunshine hours in the swimming pool.  For this reason, even after my interview, I was sure that I would be able to stay here for a year.

Until next summer, I can help organize the largest study conference of its kind in Germany, the International Student Week in Ilmenau. From 17 May 2019, about 380 students from over 70 countries will come here for 10 days and everything will be upside down. The motto has already been set: “Changes and Choices: Good by(e) Traditon?”. But until then the applicants have to be invited, hosts have to be found, the catering set up and concerts planned. In order to get all this going, as many committed people as possible are needed, who will later work in thematic project groups. Each group takes care of a different aspect of the ISWI, one plans the lectures, another the cultural events, another discusses the marketing concept, etc… As a person who is not stressed by studying, I have the advantage of being able to get a taste of each of these groups. So while I am always working on problems and plans with other people in the afternoon, eating biscuits, I have a fixed routine in the morning. After I have frightened the employee of the post office belonging to the university and picked up the corresponding letters, I check my emails on the computer and take care of the upcoming tasks.

I have the feeling that I have acquired more practical knowledge this week than in a month at school. A good example of this is the work on our new website, which gave me completely new insights into technology. Finally I understand at least rudimentarily how IT students can stare for minutes at seemingly pointlessly composed numbers and English words on their computer screens. I now know what a server is, how to process protocols, how to insert a picture on the homepage and also how casually I can handle unexpected phone calls. The classic question remains: How do I convince the giant office printer to print what I want? Fortunately nobody is annoyed when I ask the question for the 100th time: “Do I have to click on it now?

Make an FSJ they said. It’s fun they said. And … they were right.