So…you’ve enjoyed your time as a volunteer and you don’t want your island experience to end. You want to get more involved in the running of the project? Why not become a scholar? What is a Scholar? How do I become a scholar?
A scholar is basically a staff member – the main difference being that it is an unpaid position. In all other respects you are part of the staff team. The staff team selects scholars after an application process (normally about 6 weeks before the position starts). It might be that you start your position straight after your volunteering (like me) or perhaps you might return home and come back later in the year (like my fellow scholar Finn). Applying whilst you are a volunteer is straightforward – your base manager will announce the application process is open and you fill the form in and wait for a decision. Alternatively, you might indicate your interest on a form when your leave and then you will be contacted by email when the position opens. You need to be prepared to get stuck in, have plenty of enthusiasm, be self-motivating and have lots of energy.
The first part of my scholarly adventure was completing my PADI Rescue Diver course. If you’ve never done this I highly recommend it – lots of fun and you learn skills that really increase your confidence in (and out of) the water. Then I joined the team at base where I was given further training in leading coral spots (I’m a self proclaimed coral geek), aspects of Health & Safety and – in time – delivering a number of the regular orientation sessions – like Radio, Machete and Compressor Orientation – not to mention study sessions and taking the volunteers on the President’s Village Snorkel and International School Seychelles lessons on the beach. There’s plenty of support from the full time staff – most of them are also ex-scholars so they know what it’s like.
I was trying to think of a typical day – or even a week – but that’s the beauty of working here – there is no typical day. Of course any day that you are diving is a good day – and for the majority of days you will be diving at least once. Dives range from leading coral/fish spots to teaching survey methodology as well as the occasional turtle dive/Plankton Pull. In between all that you might be supervising a duty group, driving the green van back and forth to the bay, collecting money for the bar bills, taking a group up to Cap Matoopa, going to Victoria to do the weekly shop, cutting out wooden turtles, fixing things around camp, prepping activities for the many community events, sitting and chatting with volunteers. Aside from the normal day-to-day activities you might take on a project of your own. One of mine has been revamping the cookbook for volunteers – hopefully a lasting and tasty gift to the camp.
I’ve also had the opportunity to branch out from my coral specialism and get signed off on group 1 & 2 fish – this has illuminated my dives – I can now identify most of what I see under the water instead of just seeing ‘pretty’ fish. It also means I put my head up once in a while instead of staring at the substrate as us coral geeks tend to do!
When I first came to volunteer I had about 6 dives under my belt. Now with well over 100 I am a woman obsessed with diving. I sometimes look down upon myself underwater – now diving with confidence and helping new volunteers refine their own diving skills and find it hard to believe how much my life has changed after 6 months with GVI. Like many here I have ditched the idea of a normal 9-5 job and see the value in doing something you love that has an impact on the world and those who inhabit it – of course living in a tropical paradise whilst you do this is a bonus!
Downsides?? I can only really think of one – when I was a volunteer I used to love to take a little afternoon nap – perfect after a dive or two. Now, as staff there’s simply no time for such luxuries so you make the most of the weekend! The days are long – but it’s hard to say that this is a downside considering where we are and what we are doing.
On a personal note being a scholar has given me the opportunity to gain experience working on an expedition and that in turn will hopefully allow my future career plans to combine my love of travel, conservation, diving and adventure. A far cry from my previous career as a musician and Head of Department in a music college – fun though that was…. So whether you’ve yet to start your GVI expedition, currently on it or an alumni I would whole-heartedly recommend the scholar experience.