Experiences of an ISWI Volunteer – the world right on your doorstep or “With gaffer tape this surely holds together!”

Today I sit enthroned on my chair like a queen. Well, like a very casual uncombed queen.

Musing, I sit in front of my laptop and stare at the white Word document. “I“ am Anni and the cultural volunteer of a student association called ISWI and overwhelmed by the overall situation. Already for half an hour I tried to squeeze my collected experiences of an almost finished volunteer year into a compact text for our web page. Phew, not so easy.

It seems to me as if I had my first working day yesterday. At that time I was still wondering how you can remember everything: where exactly the keys are, who I have to call and above all how the Wlan works (we don’t just have a normal router and a comprehensive Wlan, oh no, at a Technical University there is an own association that takes care of it and woe if there are not at least three official Lans in one room). Today, I can even match the right names to those ISWI faces, that only drop in the office from time to time, hang out in front of the computer screen or stay for a coffee.  I even know where the cookies are hidden and that is a clear sign that I am now officially at home here. If I were to cover the whole time until “today”, I would have to write a book. This would take longer than the writing of the complete story of Game of Thrones, so I’ve put together my most remarkable events in a non-chronological order:

I remember best the moment when I stood in the huge ice rink of the International Student Week in Ilmenau (ISWI) 2019 with my colleagues from the cultural team and got my own walkie-talkie. At that moment I felt incredibly important and professional and at the same time I realised that it was getting serious. Even eight months of planning couldn’t prepare me. Even more exciting was the following drive through the pouring rain back to the office, which I was able to enjoy in the large transporter in the passenger seat, still with walkie talkie total wiring and corresponding headphones in my ear and the musical accompaniment of Rammstein. Or the experience of my two self-organised parties. The first: a ska party, during which I talked with my SELF-invited band and ate grapes in the backstage. Later, when I jumped on the dance floor until my feet hurt, I was happy that everything worked out. My second party took place right at the beginning of ISWI and was the welcome party where our participants could get to know each other and celebrate the start of this special week together. It was also a great feeling to see the crowd pouring in, knowing that I contributed a small part to making this exchange happen. Further highlights for me were the Mensa information stands in preparation for the ISWI. Doesn’t sound so exciting at first. But it was really fun to approach strangers and to win them (sometimes in a very funny way) as members, hosts or helpers for ISWI. I also remember how excited I was when I was allowed to briefly present my association in the large Audimax in front of the new students. In retrospect it was almost as great as the feeling when I first worked out how to design websites in HTML code and found out that it actually works; or the moment when I tried at Battle Rap during the Secret Santa Weekend.

My mother thinks that I’ve grown more mature and serious this year. The latter may not be true. You just have to remember the memorable preparation evening just before ISWI start, where they made the big mistake of handing out finger paint to me so I could “decorate” a white coat. Spoiler: After that the finger paint was everywhere.

But some things have definitely changed for me. Not only am I knowing the names of the postwomen, the kebab vendor and the organ grinder, the past year has given me more self-confidence than I can describe. With a casual self-evidence I can now call and book bands, hold workshops as an expert for getting-to-know-games, tinker with websites, and distribute and coordinate tasks. I have learnt to create emergency solutions, and Gaffer tape and Edding have become my constant companions. I also learned how to remove both when it’s not where it’s supposed to be, how to set up beer tent sets the fastest, how to write emails error-free and fast (I don’t need at least 15 minutes for a mail now), how VGA and DVI connections look like, how to roll in cables correctly and that cleaning up cable bridges is pretty annoying.

Other high school graduates spend a year abroad in Spain, New Zealand or Latin America. I went to Ilmenau and America, Asia and Africa came to me. Of course, there were rarely moments when I didn’t want to leave my bed and the warm embrace of my pillows. But I am so grateful for everything I have learned during this one year and what wonderful people I have met during this time. I will take all this with me. And who knows, this probably wasn’t my last student week. Until then: Good by(e) ISWI!