Monthly Archives: March 2016

Gap year: volunteering abroad

By Beth Townsend

During my gap year I spent three months volunteering in Ethiopia, Africa. It was a brave decision for me because it was the first time I’d been outside of Europe.

I went with a government funded programme called International Citizen Service (also known as ICS). I chose ICS because they are well recognised, so I knew I’d be looked after and it was affordable.

Life in Africa is so different to England that trying to talk about my experience is quite difficult. But to put it as simply as I can, it had such a big influence on my life that I want to go back and work there. So it helped me choose a degree in sports development which will be useful for a career working in international development, perhaps working for an international charity or sports organisation.

What did I do nearly 4000 miles away? Let me try to tell you about it…

Every UK volunteer lived with an Ethiopian family and an Ethiopian volunteer (who was also doing the project) so they could help with translations. The family cook for you and at first you might not like the food, but you soon learn to love it.

My main role was teaching a class of disadvantaged primary school children. I fell in love with them and the feeling I got when they learnt something was unbeatable. The freedom to teach them whatever I wanted and the challenge of planning lessons gave me a new confidence and independence. The children were amazing. They don’t have much in their lives yet were the happiest, most energetic people I’ve ever met.

I realised just how lucky we are in England with education. The walls of the classroom were bare, with just a chalk board to teach with. Old school desks and benches filled the room, along with about 50 students. I now respect every teacher in the world and give them so much more credit than I did before. To create and deliver a lesson, and keep the children engaged is very difficult!

Besides working in the school, I helped serve food to a group of elderly men and women, planted trees, did litter picking, worked in a street school, played sports with street kids and ran a campaign promoting the benefits of hand washing because so many children suffer from diarrhoeal disease. I also had the occasional dip in a hotel swimming pool (it was very hot) and climbed a couple of mountains!

Volunteering with ICS definitely changed my life. My confidence grew, I gained independence and life skills like team work, communicating and taking on challenges.

You may have heard of National Citizen Service, or NCS for short. This is the sister programme to ICS and is for 15-17 year olds. I would recommend applying for it as soon as you are old enough. It runs out of term time, lasts four weeks and costs less than £50. You spend time doing super fun outdoor activities, a team project and living away from home. Plus it looks great on your CV.

ICS, who I went away with, is just a step up from NCS. It’s for 18-25 year olds and you spend three months volunteering in a developing country. Most of your costs are covered by ICS and all you have to do is raise a minimum of £800. But don’t worry, although that might sound like a lot, you have loads of time and help to raise it and the most important thing is that you show you are committed and have put in the effort. When you think about how much a holiday costs this is quite cheap, considering you’ll be spending 3 months abroad.

Beth is studying a BSc in sports development at the University of Portsmouth.

Read more about Beth’s gap year adventures here.

Here’s some information about working for charities and here’s a video about working in sports development.



Go to uni!

To celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March) we thought it would be great to share this video with you, created by a woman who we find inspirational.

Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States (or FLOTUS as the title is also known), was the first person in her family to go to uni and admits that she found it a little overwhelming to begin with. In her role as first lady she has set up an outreach programme aimed at inspiring young people to take charge of their future.  Her message?

“No matter where you come from or how much money your family has, I want you to know that you can succeed in college, and get your degree, and then go on to build an incredible life for yourself.”

Her video entitled ‘Go to college’, or uni as it’s called in the UK, is funny but has a serious message and is part of her ‘better make room’ campaign.  We at UP for Uni love this video and share Michelle’s hopes to

‘… honour and empower young people who are working hard in school and pursuing their dreams’.


Marine biology: Love’s tough for a sea slug

By Sarah Bruck

Sarah is studying a *master’s in applied aquatic biology at the University of Portsmouth.

(*A master’s is more specialised study after your degree)

When standing on land, the sea might look vast and lifeless. But dip below the surface, look very closely and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of weird little creatures. One of them is the brilliantly coloured sea slug, known as a nudibranch. The word “nudibranch” comes from the Latin nudus, which means naked, and the Greek brankhia, which means gills.

Nudibranchs come in a variety of colours and patterns. You’d think they’d be dressing up to impress a potential partner. Not so much. Nudibranchs are essentially blind. Instead of eyes they have a set of antennae, or rhinophores, on their heads, which they use to smell and feel when they are out and about hunting for food and looking for love. As these slugs are extremely slow, extremely small and it’s a big ocean out there, nature has made it a little bit easier for them when it comes to finding a mate.

They are hermaphrodite, which means they are both male and female at the same time. This means that in theory they can mate with any slug of the same species that comes crawling along. With what looks like a little arm on their side, they will ‘hold hands’ and fertilise each other.

Nudibranchs mating






But for one nudibranch species called Roboastra it’s not quite so easy. Imagine a Roboastra is out and about, roaming the reef. All of a sudden it smells another Roboastra close by. The pair meet and reach out for each other. Now, if one is large and one is little, the larger slug will gently widen its mouth and like a slow but efficient vacuum cleaner, it will swallow up the smaller one.

With its belly a little fuller, the nudibranch continues on its way and eventually it meets a slug the same size. Again, the two size each other up but because they are more equally matched will then start to fight and literally try to eat each other. The course of true love never does run smoothly! The fighting can go on for up to half an hour, until they eventually realise they would make a perfect couple. Then they stick their arms out, hold hands and make a whole bunch of cute little nudibranch babies.

So why would they do this, you probably wonder? Why would they try to eat a potential mate before reproducing, just because it’s small? As it happens, the female organs in the smaller individuals are not yet fully developed and are therefore less productive. By mating with her or him, the larger nudibranch would be wasting sperm on eggs that might not produce as many nudi babies. Even if it is able to get its own super good eggs fertilised, it wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of the spreading of its genes.

The moral of this story is; if the one standing in front of you is not quite right, just have a snack and wait for real love to crawl along.

Find out more about watery science careers and about what marine biologists do and how to become one.

Like this? Here’s another UP for Uni marine biology story.

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