From First Impressions through Reflection to Fulfillment
Author: Dan Jones, VOICES Peer Mentor & Expert Citizen
A Journey from Volunteering to Higher Education
“Am I in the right place?”
“OK – I’ll give it a go”
My first day at University
These were my first thoughts. I was at University because I am a volunteer Peer Mentor in the VOICES partnership and had been provided with the opportunity of completing a level 3 Peer Mentoring qualification which meant that I needed to attend university for 6 weeks. I felt, at first, that I was doing it for VOICES, not for me – ‘a bit of an obligation’. I thought of the course as being ‘separate’ from my mentoring. I was just an addict who, through some miracle, had gotten clean and could provide some visual recovery to others whilst the professionals did the important work. When I arrived on my first day I was made to feel very much at ease by the two course tutors whom I soon felt comfortable with. They introduced themselves and began to give an overview of what we would be doing on the course; what we would achieve together; what it was all about. My defences began to come down and I felt clear-minded. I even thought, “I will enjoy this”. I left that day with a clear idea of what was involved, comfortable with the people I would be working with and, most importantly, I had a goal! My goal was to complete the course – because it had been explained to me and ‘broken down manageable chunks’ I felt that I actually could compete the course and achieve the qualification. So – all in all – it was a pretty momentous day. Throughout my life I had always wanted to study, but hard drugs and the lifestyle that goes with it always had a hold over me and I never felt good enough to apply. I watched some of my childhood friends go into higher education and can remember myself thinking, “Why can’t I do that?” …but I never did.
“It was a dream that never left me”
The Learning Journey
Over the next few weeks I learned a huge amount of stuff about mentoring; about the people doing the course with me – students and lecturers – and, ultimately, about myself.
Reflection: I learned about the importance of reflection and how to get the most out of it, for example, by keeping a journal in a timely fashion and to value the process. When I was using drugs I spent a lot of time ‘living in my own head’, overthinking and worrying; anything to escape reality and myself. On this course I learned how to reflect on things and how to learn from them constructively. Through practice, reflection has become a very useful tool to me and one that I highly value.
Communication: I also learned a lot about communication; knowing how to communicate effectively with another human being and not only in a mentoring role. Again – another really wonderful tool for me to use.
Space: I learned to value my own space and how to help others to become aware of their own space, both internal and external; how not to encroach – something that made a huge impression on me. I took a lot from learning about unconditional positive regard – an integral part of mentoring; a tool to create space. This is something I have found to improve my mentoring but also something that I now practice with myself. I am now both more comfortable with myself and others as a result.
These three things were huge breakthroughs for me and that is why I have mentioned them first. But I value everything that I have learned on the course. It was very holistic and I feel that, everything taken together, increased my confidence in myself as a Peer Mentor – gaining insight and knowledge, but also having a framework and structure to work from. We learned a lot.
Looking back over the course and thinking about how I feel on that first day, I am extremely touched by the process of learning, not just about Peer Mentoring, but what I have learned about myself – two things that are interlinked but not mutually exclusive. I felt that I had actually received a lot of mentoring on the course; this gave me a deeper understanding about myself and real appreciation about what Peer Mentoring is – both formal and informal. I gained confidence, feel better qualified to continue mentoring and also have a desire to learn more. This includes embarking on further higher education – something that I had denied myself through addiction.
I started this course off thinking I was ‘doing it for VOICES’, but came to realise that, not only was I in the right place, but that I was doing it for me. “Immensely fulfilling!!!”