Summer Volunteer Work Exchange in London
The 8-Week Program Provides Cultural Immersion
|A London street scene.
Each summer, the Winant and Clayton Volunteer program sends a group of Americans to volunteer in London for eight weeks and provides housing and a small stipend to help defray the high cost of living. After seven weeks of volunteering, participants have two weeks to travel independently before returning to London to evaluate the program and get their flight back to the States.
The application includes a few short essays, a series of questions about the type of placement one would prefer, and an informal interview with former volunteers that gives applicants a chance to find out more about the program.
Deciding to participate takes a small leap of faith. The roster of volunteer placements and housing options can change from year to year and volunteers can't choose their placement in advance. But once you're accepted you instantly feel that you've joined a close-knit group. The volunteer coordinator is in frequent contact through mailings and emails to help you prepare for the trip, and there is a daylong orientation in New York that bring all the volunteers together before departure for London.
We were well cared for once we reached the U.K., too: our group was picked up from the airport and taken to our accommodation, a historic settlement house in London's east end by Brits who had participated in the English counterpart to our program; they offered to mentor us during our stay in London. After an orientation and a weekend to get settled we began our placements, nearly all of which were in London's east end.
My placement was at a youth and community project, an organization that served mostly Bangladeshi and Somali immigrants. Part of the appeal of my work was that it took me to places that casual visitors never see, like the community law center and the public housing office—places that affect the lives of most Londoners more than anything on the tourist trail. Although I had been to the city many times before, living in London allowed me to see it as a local.
For my 2-week independent travel period I visited Barcelona, Holland, and Copenhagen but was happiest of all to return to London for a few days before my flight back to the States; it had become my home away from home.
For more information on the program, visit the organization's Winant Clayton volunteer website.