"Benenova offers the opportunity to see another side of Paris that isn’t the Eiffel Tower. It gives you a different perspective and really humanizes these issues.”
Back in January, 3 bright students from the University of Illinois joined the Benenova volunteer pool completing projects around the city in exchange for school credit. Meg, Madison and Lucero are juniors and seniors studying in France to both improve their French and pursue international majors. These ladies put in 3 hours per week and supplemented their volunteering with well-researched commentaries on their experiences. We sat down with them and we talked about their experiences with Benenova.
What has been the best part of your experience with Benenova?:
For Meg, Benenova has offered her the ability to practice her French in a number of different settings. With Benenova, Meg has had, “so many choices that have been really useful to me because it has nudged me out of my comfort zone. In the beginning I was really nervous about my French and Benenova allowed me to get out of that cycle.” Madison had a similar response and also added that volunteering helped facilitate building new relationships and getting to know people. As new-comers as well to Paris, “You are able to see that no place is perfect and it is cool to be a part of that change to improve the city.” Lucero has been happy with her time with Benenova because she gets to “see another side of Paris that isn’t the Eiffel Tower. It gives me a different perspective and really humanizes these issues.”
How has Benenova changed your thought process for a future career?
According to Lucero, “it just reinforced what I want to do in the future which is to work in the humanitarian domain and start up my own nonprofit back in my hometown to focus on minorities and education.” Meg was thinking more along the governmental side and wants to work in the United Nations to protect women’s rights around the world. This internship allowed for a nice compliment to her future career goals. Madison did not have plans to pursue non-profit work in her career but her work with a specific association changed her perspective on her future career. “Working with Singa Sport (one of Benenova's partner assosciations), I liked seeing their efforts to help refugees in the career force by integrating refugees into the workforce in France. There is of course the technical side where they teach them business management skills, but there is also the creative side. I have always wanted to work in a company or business but there is this whole other side of creative things that are also an option and it was cool to learn that through a non-profit."
Do you think there are advantages to being an English-speaking volunteer in France?
For Lucero, Madison and Meg, improving their French linguistic skills was one of the main reasons they came to Paris. However, through many of our organizations, they found that being an English-speaker truly had its advantages. For example, their work in migrant camps or with refugees demanded English because often times the people they are helping do not speak French. Similarly, several migrants and refugees are beginning to learn French so it was interesting for the U of I volunteers to be improving their French alongside.
When I asked my final question, what is your advice to future volunteers, the unanimous response was Do it! Get out of your comfort zone and see what Paris looks like from all angles.
As their semester comes to a close, we want to thank them for all the work they have done with us and we wish them the best of luck!