Kaitlyn’s volunteering role sparked her interest in supporting people with their mental health

Kaitlyn Whittaker wants to support people with their mental health, and it's the reason she's studying for a Psychology with Developmental Disorders degree.

Her drive to pursue a career in this area comes from a volunteering placement she undertook in China, teaching English to international nursing students.

Kaitlyn shares her experiences with us for International Women's Day:

“While studying for my A-Levels, a speaker from Project Trust visited our assembly. They talked about their experiences abroad and the different countries and projects where there were opportunities in which we could participate. Feeling inspired, I completed an application and received an invite to a selection course before gaining a volunteering place. It led to me spending my last year of college fundraising to embark on my Project Trust journey.

In August 2018, I arrived at London Heathrow to board a plane to Beijing. After spending a couple of weeks there, I took a 20-hour train up to Jiamusi city, where I spent the next ten months of my life. I volunteered as an English teacher in both a kindergarten and a college for international nursing students. They were all wishing to improve their English to apply for further study.

My college students experienced long days. So, I planned my lessons using lots of activities, games and crafts. It would give them time away from their usual methods of study. They also got to have some fun whilst learning English. My Kindergarten students had more freedom around their learning, as they were still young, so I spent most of our lessons singing songs, playing games, and building on the foundations of their English skills.

One of the biggest challenges in my role was seeing the stress many of my students were experiencing. Especially knowing there was little support around mental health within the community. Where possible, I offered to listen to them and support them as best as I could. It sparked my interest in studying psychology, as I would like to help people struggling with their mental health within communities.

I loved my experiences with Project Trust as I learnt about a different culture, learnt a new language and got to meet many amazing and inspirational people. The educational charity is now open to 17 to 25-year-olds. So, many more people can access the same opportunity I was lucky to experience. I met new people from different backgrounds, and I grew in confidence. I hope to go back to China to visit the lifelong friends I made whilst there, and I would love the opportunity to volunteer abroad again.

Following my return from China, I now work in supported accommodation as a Support Worker with young people. This role has allowed me to experience psychology in practice. I use my degree to bring ideas and activities to the project. It’s given me experience in psychology, and it goes hand in hand with my current degree, ‘Psychology with Developmental Disorders’. The role is improving my confidence even further, and it is helping me create a pathway for my career in psychology.

The pandemic has brought hardship to places so, Project Trust had to arrange for their volunteers to come home early. Now, it’s conducting training and selection online. My workplace has also adapted to the new rules and regulations surrounding the pandemic. We try to engage with young people via zoom activities and phone calls. I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over, so I can become more hands-on with my job and engage with Project Trust again.”