What it’s like to be a fellow instead of colleague

17 Jun 2020 - blog

When your job is to take care of the communications regarding Yes We Can Youth Clinics, you need to know who you are communicating with, right? At least that is what I thought… And in my eyes there is no better way then just (try) and be one of them. So that is what I did. I went into Yes We Can Youth Clinics as a ‘fellow’ for a week. It turned out to be an intense but special week. To give you an idea about how it was like, I would like to share my experiences from the first day with you.

I must say that I felt quite nervous the night before I went to the clinic. Questions arose like; ‘what are the fellows really like? Would they accept my attendance, as I would explain them that I usually work at the head office? Would they feel like I was observing them maybe? Knowing that I would be in the clinic for a week, also means that I need to share things myself. ‘What would the fellows think of me?’ This was already the first lesson I learned; it is actually really scary going into a clinic, and it must be way scarier for the fellows themselves, who go to Yes We Can for 10 weeks, working extremely hard for a happier, better life.

Monday morning. I joined the group just before we would have a group session. I got to introduce myself and explained the reason why I would be a fellow for a week. Right after, already a few fellows welcomed me and asked: ‘Are you going to share something?’, ‘Are you going to share your life story then?’. Ough… I’m in their ‘home’ now for a week, of course they are curious who I am. And to really make a connection, they have learned to share their feelings and emotions. So I needed to do that as well. I didn’t see that coming, I thought I would get away with it by just ‘attending’ everything as a ‘colleague/fellow’. But it was clear I really needed to just be ‘the fellow’. That was also made clear by the coaches, who pointed me on the fact that I was wearing my jacket inside: ‘Romy, we don’t wear jackets inside, please take it off.’ ‘But I am cold’, is what I said to hopefully be an exception. But no, I needed to ‘accept the things I cannot change’. Okay, just be cold then…

I thought I would get away with it by just ‘attending’ everything as a ‘colleague/fellow’

Normally, the whole community is divided into two groups for the group sessions. But this time, the community was asked to join as a whole. I saw some surprised faces, as usually on Monday morning group sessions are the ordinary. A ‘week-9 fellow’ pointed me on the fact that during the weekend, the community wasn’t really calm, so this community meeting would probably be an intervention by the counsellors. Indeed it was. To be honest, I expected the counsellors to just tell the ones who were too loud during the weekend, to ‘stay calm’, and we would be done. But that is not how it seems to work. Lesson two is learned. By being very loud, there are probably some issues that are the ‘underlying problem’, and those issues need to get out in the open. So some fellows were confronted by the fact that they didn’t speak up about their true emotions and feelings. And when they do, they would feel more calm, and no over shouting is needed. Sounds easy.

After a few hours, we had lunch. Luckily, a fellow revealed that if I wanted to have chocolate sprinkles, I needed to be really fast. Because for the international fellows, chocolate sprinkles are a true miracle, since they (mostly) do not have this at home. I was just eating my salad and chit-chatting with some fellows, when suddenly one fellow got up on her chair and shouted; ‘My hair is nice, I like my eyes and I am a caring person.’ No one seemed to be surprised, everybody applauded and continued with their lunch. The fellow next to me explained that the girl who was standing on her chair had a goal for that week; accept herself as she is and therefore mention 3 things a day (in front of the whole community) that she likes about herself. And I must say, she was actually radiating happiness when she stood up on that chair.

After lunch it was time for a 3-hour activity. I wasn’t really looking forward to this, but once we reached the multicourt and a fellow explained what we were going to do (it was his goal to lead a group activity) my inner child came up. Crossing the line without being tapped by someone was the task. I used to do this when I was at primary school, but to see all those fellows being happy, working together to cross the line, I really understood the power of group work and being active. Another lesson learned.

They learn to be open and honest to others, which is quite difficult for most people these days.

Uni hockey games followed, which was really fun. Some fellows were more active than others. I got a little bit frustrated by them, without expressing this. But when evaluating the 3 hour group activity with the whole community, it was made clear to me that it is really important to speak out to them. Some fellows shared that they were frustrated by the fact that they were putting in effort to win the game, while others didn’t really do something. I think that most of these fellows, especially after ten weeks, are more mature than other people of their age. Maybe even more than most adults. They learn to be open and honest to others, which is quite difficult for most people these days. In that regard they actually have an advantage compared to other people. They learn a lot about other people, but mostly about themselves. For example, when someone is talking in a very attention-seeking way, the other fellows and coaches just ignore this fellow or start talking in the same attention-seeking way. Just to make clear that it is an annoying way of talking and to confront the fellow with his or her own behaviour.

After some room-time we had dinner; rice with veggies and meat, which was really good. Once everyone was finished, I wanted to go to the toilet but was held back by one of the coaches; ‘Romy, you cannot just leave the table and let other people clean your mess. First clean the tables together with your fellows, then you can go to the toilet.’ Okay…. Taking responsibility is definitely something which the fellows learn during their treatment. During ten weeks, they can rely on all my loving colleagues in the clinic, but sure they need to learn to take care of themselves as well, so they can practice this once they are back home.  

A lecture from a week-8 fellow followed, with the subject; ‘How to be a man?’. It was his goal for this week, since he has always been quite insecure about speaking in front of a group, or even just chatting with other people face to face. He had been playing games for years behind his computer and was very isolated. So to stand in front of a group was really out of his comfort zone. But he prepared the lecture in such a way that he could interact with the fellows, which made it really funny. The fellows could bring in words to describe ‘a man’, and some fellows even had tears in their eyes from laughter. The lecture turned out to be a huge success.  

To calm down a little bit, we watched an episode of planet earth. I would not expect 13-25 year olds to be interested in such documentaries, but everyone was paying attention like they just saw a miracle happen. The day ended with the ‘closing of the day’ in groups, where the fellows share how they have experienced their day. Then fellows had time to relax in the living room, or just go to bed. That last one is what I did; I felt exhausted after this first day. So many impressions, such an intense programme. It made me think about my colleagues, who work so close with these fellows and put all their effort, care and warmth in their work. But most of all I have a lot of respect for all the fellows in the clinic. They have chosen to work on themselves for a better life, and follow a really intensive 10-week programme. In my eyes, they are true heroes!