Professional/Personal Relationships

When I work with VESS and VESL I often work with volunteers. And I work with them in-country. It can be really quite intense. It’s not just a normal 9-5 job. I often spend entire weekends with a volunteer, or group of volunteers. I sometimes live with a volunteer (usually sharing a room, sometimes sharing a bed). I take them out shopping. I take them out for food. I take them travelling during their time off. I introduce them to their school. I watch them teach. I help them teach. I meet their host family. I help them solve their problems. I hear about a lot of their personal struggles and difficulties and how they are working (or have worked) to overcome them. I build their confidence. And I do all this as a professional who has a professional relationship with the volunteer.

However, I also develop a personal relationship with each volunteer I come in contact with. I can’t help it. I’m a human being. Each one of them is a human being. They are, by and large, incredibly interesting human beings. I think it would be wrong for me not to develop a personal relationship with them.

I think the personal relationship and the professional relationship complement each other. I don’t let the fact that I like (or dislike) a volunteer personally get in the way of providing professional support for them. I don’t engage in professional favouritism.

Sometimes it’s tricky because it can be hard for me and for the volunteers to see the line between me providing them with support and me holding their hand and doing everything for them. I can certainly help you by working out which bus you need to be on, but you really need to decide for yourself whether to wear suncream or to bring a skirt or what time you should go to the toilet. 🙂

And, because my life is full of parallels, I found a parallel. In Istanbul there were 6 students from London who went to dance. There were two teachers. Each teacher had two students of their own and then another two who they shared. And the studio manager came along as well. On the non-dancing days we did bits of sightseeing. In the evenings there were dinners. And the instructors were very, very good at looking after us and making sure we had everything we needed. They fetched drinks for us. They carried cases. They danced with us. They counted us on and off the bus. They checked that we had enough food. Etc.

And they did this because it was their job. It was their professional responsibility. However, that wasn’t the whole story. They also did this because they have personal relationships with us too. Nothing inappropriate, of course. But, in spending their time talking to us, of course they shared some of their experiences and listened to our experiences. And it was all very relaxed and very good fun. They couldn’t be working all the time they were interacting with us. They needed some time off too!

I imagine that for them, it must have been a bit like my role as volunteer coordinator. I love working with and supporting every one of my volunteers because that’s my job. I love spending time with some of my volunteers more than others because they are people I connect with more than others. I sometimes find that volunteers try to take advantage. I sometimes find it hard to draw the line in the sand. I will help you to shop for a sari (because you need that for teaching), if you want to buy a ring then you can wander around the market all on your own, I’ll meet you at the other end for coffee. But every single one of my volunteers deserves the best professional service I can give them. If I fail to deliver that, then there is a problem. But until that time, I see no problem whatsoever with having professional and personal relationships with the same person. In fact, I think it helps!

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