Everyone go put Alberta, Canada on your bucket list right now eh!

In my humble opinion – Alberta, Canada is the most beautiful place in the world. Granted, I haven’t won the lottery (yet!) and gotten the chance to visit all 194 countries our wee Earth has to offer; but from my other travels, extensive Instagram stalking and google images ‘research’, that is the conclusion I have came to.

I mean, in 20 years time you could ask me – “where is the most beautiful place you’ve visited?” – and my answer may well be completely different; but right now in my 22nd year of life my answer is Alberta, Canada and that’s that.

You know in all those super awkward ice breakers you have to do in school or at the start of a new job, well my “interesting fact” was always “omg I’m like so totally half – Canadian eh!”, I just wanted to sound cool and cultured even though I’ve never actually lived there I just piggyback on my Mom’s nationality. So because my Mom was born there she made it a tradition in our house to visit her family in Canada as much as possible and I’ve carried this tradition into my adult life as well.

GD2When I visited at a young age it was all about maple syrup, big malls and ice hockey games; but as I got older my cousins who grew up there started to take me on hikes and mountain trails with them. I mean I know Ireland is basically a big green hill but walking up the Rockies is completely different territory.

To the right is a photo of me at stunning Lake Louise which is about a 3 hour drive from Calgary, the most populous city in Alberta. This is me at the start of a 4 hour hike – I had just gotten a spray tan the day before (#justholidaythings) and it’s safe to say after walking up mountains in the blazing sun for 4 hours my lovely white top was NOT white anymore.

As hard as the hikes are, everything is worth it once you get to your destination. I’m sure everyone has seen that Instagram caption – “The best view comes after the hardest climb” – I’m certain whoever came up with it must have been making their way up the Rockies.

 

 

GD6This is a photo from the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff which is a town situated in the middle of the Rockies in Alberta. I took this picture in July of 2019. The only real way to describe the view if you haven’t seen it in person, is that it literally looks like your staring at the worlds biggest postcard.

 

When I visited in summer 2018, I stayed with my family in Calgary, it was then that my cousin introduced me to the concept of “sunrise hikes’’. In my head this sounded magical and exciting when in reality it was a very grumpy and sleep deprived me being dragged out of bed at 3am to go look at the stupid sun rise. My mood quickly changed however when we arrived at Moraine Lake to watch that “stupid” sun rise.

I took these photos moments apart when we reached the top of Moraine Lake’s viewpoint at about 5am. Again there are no words to describe the view, watching the sky change from pink to blue and yellow in a matter of seconds is something I will never forget. I know you can watch the sunrise from anywhere in the world but watching it in a place like Moraine Lake with the Rockies as a backdrop; it really makes you appreciate the natural beauty the world has to offer.

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This is another picture from an attempted sunrise hike at Peyto Lake, which is an hour from Moraine Lake. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the sunrise because it was a super cloudy morning but we didn’t mind because we got to spend our time wandering about with our heads literally in the clouds.

I could share plenty more photos of mountains, lakes and skylines but the views aren’t the only things that make Alberta beautiful. It is definitely a stereotype that Canadian people are “the nicest people in the world”, but in my experience they actually are. When you walk into a shop it’s not hard to imagine the clerk or even another customer getting down on one knee and pulling out a Tiffany’s box they are that happy to see you and there’s no difference between stepping into a Walmart, a 5 star hotel or just walking down the street, Canadians genuinely are happy to see you.

It’s funny I was talking to someone recently about Canadians and they asked me “but aren’t they too nice?” and it just stuck with me; because in the world that we live in today I don’t know how anyone could be too nice, kindness is something we can actually control and why wouldn’t you want to be as kind as possible and put a smile on someone’s face in the midst of all this uncertainty.

So I urge anyone reading this that is planning a holiday soon, put Alberta on your bucket list! It’s an amazing place filled with spectacular scenery, kind and generous people that LOVE anyone Irish and a welcoming nature that feels like you’ve never left home.

I’ve included a video below of Moraine Lake during the sunrise, just in case the photos haven’t twisted your arms!

Gareth Donnelly is a Final Year BSc Communications Management and Public Relations student at University of Ulster. He can be found on LinkedIn at http://linkedin.com/in/gareth-donnelly-1a6161196 , Twitter – @GarethDonnelly4 and Instagram – @garethd__

Small Steps Together …

Oscar Wilde once said ‘The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention’.

I recognise how agonising it may feel when lecturers continue to brag about the important of volunteering in order to enhance your CV, but last summer volunteering became much more to me, much more.

‘’We are delighted to be in a position to offer you a place in our 2019 Volunteer programme.’’ The email that started my African adventure, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to meet my team, it all happened so fast I literally blinked, and it was time to go.

Nothing could have prepared me for the moment we stepped of the plane, that overwhelming feeling of ‘I can’t believe I am actually here in South Africa with nine other people’.  We were all as apprehensive as each other and didn’t really know what lay ahead of us. As we drove for hours upon hours upon HOURS, I had the opportunity to absorb what would be a defining experience for me.

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While in South Africa I had the opportunity to teach in Michael’s Secondary in Supinstad. NM3It wasn’t like teaching at home where you have 25 children in a class, along with an interactive whiteboard and a multitude of resources. Instead, my class (yes, my class) had 35-45 children per day with a blackboard being our only resource. We had to get very creative when making lesson plans which kept the children interested. Words cannot describe how the children absorbed every word we said, they literally loved to learn. (Unlike children here; school as a heaven of peace, not a punishment.)  It was so humbling to see how children with nothing more than a pencil and paper tried so hard in the classroom. I will never forget how excited the children got when we did a science experience with a balloon and Dearbhla’s hair- it is a moment I will never forget. Also think of the best teacher you have had in your life and multiply it by 100 that is the equivalent to the principal Shaki: he is the most inspirational teacher I have ever met. While we were in South Africa, he traveled 8 hours to Johannesburg so a child could sit an exam with the hopes of attending university. This is just one of the amazing things he did to give the children of his school the best opportunities he could.

After two and a half weeks in Supinstad we moved to Phokeng, a much larger town than we were used to. Within this town, situated a shopping mall…a very different type… IT HAD FIVE SHOPS!

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While in Phokeng, we worked in a squatter’s camp… breath-taking is all I can say. Everywhere I looked it was just tin huts with no electricity or running water and small shacks which people lived in. The most heart-breaking part of it all was seeing children run around these homes, with no care at all because they obviously don’t know any different at all. The Tsholofelo Community (Community of Hope) which we worked with run the crèche’s, school and clinics within the camp, the camps have around 15-20,000 people living in them. While teaching at the creche and school it was amazing to see how interested the children were as they would literally move their chairs as close to you as possible, they were so eager to learn… there was no such things as too close for comfort.

Volunteering for Friends of Africa gave me the chance to meet 9 of the most amazing people I have ever met, I had a chance to get to know them in a way that I never would have, had not for that experience. They are the only nine people in the whole world who can relate to this experience with me.

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Don’t get me wrong it was also very hard at times, hearing about the natural everyday hardships that they face every day and seeing the strength they must overcome them while knowing the only problems I have truly faced are nowhere near in comparison.

South Africa will always have a special place in my heart. If you ever have the chance to do international volunteering, please do it you will not regret it.

It took me until I was leaving Africa to fully grasp the fact that I had arrived.

Niamh McNally is a Final Year Bsc Communication Management and Public Relations student at ulster University. She can be found at: Twitter – NiamhMc_Nally

How Brands Are Supporting Us During the Coronavirus Outbreak

As we’ve all seen in the last few weeks Covid-19 has caused disruption to our livelihoods, communities and businesses all around the world. However, I’ve noticed, particularly from social media that many brands and corporations are using their creativity and their social power to spread important Coronavirus health messages such as social distancing. 

Below are just a few of the brands and corporations who are doing their part to try and tackle the pandemic and keep our communities save.  

  1. Unilever promises €100 million to tackle the virus

 

Unilever – a consumer goods manufacturer of brands such as Dove, Lifebuoy and Sure, as well as being the world’s largest soap company have recognised their moral responsibility to help people around the world who are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Unilever have recently announced that are working to make soap more readily available across the globe as demand surges. They revealed their commitment to adapting their current manufacturing lines to produce sanitisers for hospitals, schools and other institutional settings while also providing many communities with free soap, sanitiser and food valuing a total of €100 million!

We all understand the importance of washing our hands and medical authorities have made it pretty clear that washing our hands will help prevent the spread of infection, and because there’s no vaccine yet, soap remains our most trusted line of defence. As a result, Unilever have decided to teach people the most effective way to wash their hands in a hope to protect lives, families and communities.



 

 

 

The corporation are also making early payments to their most vulnerable small and medium sized suppliers, to help with any financial challenges they face at this time. Employees will also be protected from any drops in pay because of market disruption or because they simply can’t perform their job for a 3-month period.

2. Guinness reveals fund of €1.5 million to help bar staff and the elderly

With pubs closed across the island of Ireland and people consequently left out of work, Guinness has decided to provide a whooping €1.2 million to bar staff to give a helping hand to those who usually pour ‘the black stuff.’

The remaining €300,000 will be used to support elderly citizens during the current health crisis. This will be accomplished by partnering up with Alone, a charity which helps the elderly deal with loneliness, ill health and poverty to name just a few. In a time of such uncertainty, Guinness has really recognised that vulnerable communities require heightened support, and therefore they’ve shown that they’re committed to playing their part.

Also, on the run up to St. Patrick’s Day Guinness acknowledged that this year it would be a little different (which is was). No parades, no bars and no pubs. However, Guinness managed to lift our spirits and highlight what was required from all of us at such an unsettling and disheartening time.

We know that St. Patrick’s Day feels different this year. But we’ve been around for 260 years and learned over time that we’re pretty tough when we stick together. However you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, stay safe and be good to one another,” Guinness said.

3. Supermarkets provide special shopping hours for the elderly and NHS Workers plus additional measures to encourage social distancing

 

 

 

 

 

As consumers continued to ignore every supermarket’s plea to stop panic-buying many stores quickly stepped up to help make sure everyone got an equal share of the necessities. UK supermarkets (all of the above) decided to dedicate specific opening hours to vulnerable consumers like the elderly, NHS staff and social care workers all of which found themselves walking into supermarkets full of empty shelves. These hours involve opening early or dedicating the first hour of trading to those specific people. Many supermarkets have removed multi-buy promotions as well as introducing shopping limits of 3 items on every product line! I know what you’re thinking. Does this include toilet roll? And the answer is YES!

 

 

 

 

 

Sainsbury’s have announced that consumers over the age of 70 and those with a disability will be prioritised regarding their online delivery slots. While 120 Marks & Spencer franchises are committed to no delivery fees.

All of the above are great measures but you might be wondering what these retail giants are doing around social distancing? Well, Sainsburys and Aldi are encouraging people to avoid using cash and to make use of contactless card payments and Apple Pay as well as asking everyone to remain at least 2 meters apart. Tesco have made use of floor markings within their store and in car parks to ensure we can stay separate from each other. They have also installed protected screens at checkouts to help protect customers and staff.

Our UK supermarkets are doing all they can in order to keep us, and our families safe ensuring we all have the essentials we need. For food and other household items to remain in good supply we must respect these measures and help supermarkets to deal with such a crisis. Afterall they are doing all of this for us!

4. ASOS encouraging us to stay at home & Reebok keeping us stay healthy while we’re here

ASOS has encouraged us to stay at home by providing a list of activities we can do to keep ourselves entertained. ASOS have really paid attention to their target audience by focusing on activities that are all likely to appeal to millennials which they’ve done this using some gentle humour. 

Getting our 60 minutes of exercise each day is hard enough never mind when we’re faced with a pandemic like Covid-19. Fear not, because Reebok has got us covered when we’re trying to stay physically and mentally healthy. Working out may be difficult when we’re stuck inside however, Reebok has decided to create customised workouts we can easily do at home with the equipment we have. This has taken personalisation is the next level if you ask me. Check out their tweet below.

 

 

 

5. Some iconic logos staying relevant and encouraging social distancing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These logos are some of the world’s most powerful and influential brands, all of which have redesigned their logos to better communicate the current message of social distancing. All of the logo readjustments are positive images highlighting how everyone around the world must play their part to help fight against the pandemic. All of these images are communicating the same message, but it feels a little more light-hearted and authentic in comparison to the traditional media. I feel this is a great way to create a global sense of unity and to reinforce that a global effort is needed to practice all the relevant measures to combat Covid-19.

All of the brands mentioned above are examples of positive brand communication and each have shown us how they are using their power to help us during a global crisis. The next few days, weeks and months are going to be difficult, but everyone has to be willing to do their bit and each of these brands show how they’re doing theirs. They are making good of a bad situation and I believe that these are the ones that will benefit the most once this pandemic comes to an end.

Alice Byrne is a second year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found at – Linkedin: Alice Byrne and Twitter: @alice_byrne

#CancelCulture: Should brands be able to bounce back from a PR scandal?

Cancel culture is a term that was virtually unheard of just years ago but now is a prominent feature of the digital age. So what exactly is cancel culture? It can be described as an environment that facilitates a form of public shaming, usually occurring on the Internet, where a person or an organisation is denounced for perceived misconduct. Every week, seemingly a new person or organisation is ‘cancelled’, from celebrities whose transgressions have come to light (think Kevin Spacey) to brands who have alienated or offended their customers (remember that controversial Pepsi ad?).

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The rise of social media has changed how brands interact with their publics forever, consumers can now share their positive and negative experiences in real-time at the click of a button. It is now common practice for companies to engage with influencer marketing in order to build up an increased presence online or to increase sales. Conversely, it can be difficult territory to navigate as a negative review or comment from one of these influencers can cause shockwaves for a brand. The crisis communications and reputation management aspects of public relations are therefore of increasing importance and brands need to have a firm strategy in place to rebuild trust with their customers. When a crisis hits and a brand is unwilling to acknowledge or apologise for their fault, it raises the question if brands can or should be able to resurge after a PR disaster.

When influencer marketing goes wrong: DOTE and their representation crisis

One brand that tried to utilise the power of influencer marketing had a huge PR scandal during the Summer. DOTE is a shopping app that primarily focuses on the Generation Z audience. To target this section of the demographic, DOTE created a community of influencers from Youtube and Instagram that were referred to as ‘dote girls’. These dote girls were sent on sponsored brand trips to promote their clothing and the lifestyle that DOTE was trying to sell. Two of these trips, one to Fiji and the other to Coachella, had huge fall-out and resulted in a PR disaster. It emerged that during these trips that the influencers of colour were treated differently from the other dote girls. Specifically, on the Coachella trip, DOTE segregated the group and placed the white Youtubers in the more luxurious section of the house whereas the people of colour had to sleep on couches at the opposite end of the accommodation. They were also not photographed as much as the other girls and didn’t feature as heavily on DOTE’s social media pages.

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What ensued from this was dozens of videos where the girls outlined their negative experience which resulted in thousands upon thousands of comments condemning the brand for their possible racism. How did DOTE rectify the situation and try to rebuild their credibility as a brand? They began to delete photographs on their social media that featured predominately white people and began to feature more people of colour in their posts with the statement ‘this is what dote looks like.’ Many people picked up on this and it further alienated their audiences with YouTubers like Tiffany Ferg commenting on how fabricated the brand now appeared. DOTE  released a statement apologising for their mistake and continue to be more representative of all girls, however, they have lost invaluable partnerships and will be hard-pressed to find an influencer who would now promote them on their channel. Could DOTE as a brand have done anything differently?

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Steps to take in a social media crisis

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(Source)

Social media is now arguably the most important factor in crisis communications. In this smart-phone era, it is highly likely that a PR disaster will appear as a result of a blunder on social media or at the very least will be discussed in-depth online.  As the above infographic outlines, it is vital for brands to continually monitor the tone of discussion online. Only in this way can they be prepared when a social media storm hits. It is also important for companies not to be overly defensive and instead take criticism on board so that consumers can genuinely feel that their feedback may be able to make a difference.

As the DOTE scandal illustrates, one badly handled PR crisis can tarnish a brand’s reputation exponentially. What once was a thriving social-media focused company with a plethora of followers has greatly plummeted, this may be as a result of ignoring comments focusing on their representation issues in the past.  However, DOTE’s efforts to improve their representation along with their apology, although appearing fake right now,  may genuinely produce positive results as they move forward from this crisis.

Sarah Sweeney is a final year student BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-sweeney-ab6635143/  and Instagram @sarahsween3y

How I chose to Study CMPR

Throwing it back to May 2016, when I was awaiting my Nursing application to change to a conditional offer on my UCAS page … which never came. Instead, I was greeted with the lovely sight of all 5 of my nursing applications being rejected following my interview. I knew that nursing was a very hard course to get into and was told to prepare for not getting in on the first year and having to wait till the next year to reapply. However, once I was rejected, I could feel that that was not the path for me at that time in my life. I was not ready for the commitment that a nursing course requires, and decided that maybe sometime later in my life, if I still wanted, I could always go back and do a nursing degree, but now was not the time.

So when results day came (which was on my birthday I must add), and I seen that I got the results I would have need for the nursing course, it was a bitter sweet moment. 

However, I had just recently discovered that a girl from my town had a blog, which I started to read and realised that she was blogging about the course she was doing at university in Liverpool, which was a PR related course. I was so fascinated with her blogs and began to get very interested in the topics she was talking about. So this was my first introduction to the world of PR, and I was heavily interested in it. I began to look up similar courses in universities at home as I did not want to go away for uni, and I found the Communication Management and Public Relations course at Ulster University. However, I hadn’t applied for this course within my first 5 choices, so I was stuck on what to do now. 

I had the results necessary to get in to this course, so on results day I thought I would have a look at the ‘clearing’ option on UCAS. But unfortunately for me, this course was not on clearing. But I wasn’t giving up that fast! I rang the course director and basically begged for a place. 

I had to wait a few days to find out if I was going to be offered a place on the course…these days were the longest, most stressful days ever. But finally I got the notification offering me a place on the course, to which I confirmed. 

I am now in final year and I can definitely say that I made the right choice for my career. I am so happy that I picked this course, I have been so interested in the topics I have been studying over the years and can see how this career path will be suited to me. 

 

Siobhan McKerr is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: Twitter – @Siobhan_mckerr, LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/siobhan-mckerr and Instagram: @Siobhan_mckerr.

Great brands demonstrating social distancing

As governments around the world promote staying at home to curb the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak, brands are stepping up to help. 

With consumers staying at home, brands now have a unique opportunity to craft creative digital campaigns to showcase their products as well as their social responsibility. By spending all this time indoors, it is no surprise that creativity is booming around the world, with strong messages of hope, unity and forward- thinking gracing our social media timelines. 

Cleverly, Slovenia-based creative director Jure Tovrljan reimagined some of the world’s most iconic logos for the new age of social distancing. Tovrljan redesigned 12 logos from brands like Nike, Starbucks and The Olympics. Some updates were as simple as a play on words: LinkedIn becomes ‘LockedIn’, Nike’s famous ‘Just do it’ becomes ‘Just don’t do it’.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst these designs are just thought experiments, some brands have made actual changes to their logos to express official recommendations surrounding Covid-19.

Fast food chains have taken their own twist on this emerging trend. McDonalds has separated the Golden Arches that make up its iconic ‘M’, whilst similarly KFC adapts its logo with a strong tagline to reinforce its message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile Coca-Cola widened the space between the letters in its iconic script with ‘Staying apart is the best way to stay united’ situated below it, promoting the stay at home order. Whilst it hasn’t touched its famous ‘Just do it’ tagline, Nike have also made an attempt to adapt the public obligation to stay at home as a personal challenge with their new ad campaign below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not forgetting the disruption automakers have faced to production from the outbreak, Audi and Volkswagen have also joined in temporarily redefining their logo:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, we ourselves at Allstate have applied our own light-hearted approach to this trend to visually engage with our audience and remind them daily of the recommendation we face:

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, whilst not all brands are adapting logos they are being mindful about the way they communicate.

ASOS was recently scrutinised for selling chainmail face masks during this outbreak. Since then, they made the decision to the withdraw the product, and have been more mindful about the way it is speaking about the pandemic on social media. Positively, ASOS is using gentle humor to encourage social distancing, speaking about it in a tone that appeals to its target audience of millennials:

 

 

 

 

It is clear to see that in these challenging times brands are destined to stay current whilst promoting social good. Do you think these are successful?

Stephanie Daly is a third year Bsc Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University currently on placement year at Allstate. She can be found at: LinkedIn – Stephanie Daly.

Day in the Life of a Camp Counsellor

Right, imagine getting the opportunity to work in America for three months (paid might I add) as a sports counsellor and then get the opportunity to travel America after. This was a done deal for me, I would’ve been sold after reading that alone. In this blog, I’m going to talk you through what a typical day in the life of a Camp Counsellor is like. If you get the opportunity to do this in your lifetime, jump at it and grab it with both hands.

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Let me give you a little rundown of what it was all about. So, I was a camp counsellor at Long Lake Camp for the Arts in upstate New York. Long lake is a specialist camp with all the traditional camp activities. I looked up different photos online of what the camp would look like and lists of the activities offered but you really have to see it to believe it. There were theatres, circus areas, a huge lake and the list goes on. Long Lake is a sleep-away camp, which means that campers spend the nights sleeping in cabins. There can be up to about thirteen children in each cabin along with 3 counsellors with only three toilets… so as you can imagine in the mornings, 3 very annoyed counsellors waiting for 13 fifteen year olds to get ready, I’ll say no more. For me every day was different, one day I was paintballing, the next I was doing high ropes, every day in camp is a new experience. Some days are harder than others as you have to remember you are in a foreign country working crazy hours and are probably a little homesick, but it’s so important to remind yourself why you are here, don’t let these little setbacks ruin your experience, fight through them and trust me once your past the week 1 mark, you’ll not want to leave.

Mornings at Camp!

RM6Rise and shine. The first task of the day as a Camp Counsellor is to get the kids up and excited for the day ahead! This can be a difficult task as a 7.30am start didn’t seem to excite many of the kids (including myself). The best method of getting everyone up and ready for the day ahead was lights on and music blaring, each day someone different got to choose the music. The fact that the camp I worked at was a performing arts camp there was sooo much talent, like these kids were insane so meal times especially would be full of singing and dancing which brought a real buzz to the place. The breakfast itself was well let’s just say it was very American, the sugar high was real, but I wasn’t complaining.

Activities

After breakfast is a cabin inspection which is a real pain in the a** (if you don’t pass). Then time for the activities to start. At Long Lake, the kids choose their own schedule every day, they literally can do anything they want, it’s our job as counsellors to promote our activities so each morning and afternoon we would hold a camp meeting where the head of each department tried to promote their activity to let each of the campers know what’s going on in that particular day.RM7

The options are bottomless really, if they want to do something, we found a way to do it, which was challenging at times but kept me on my toes.Activity time is time for specialist counsellors such as myself to head in their separate directions to teach the different activities. I was the head of the sports department so a typical day for myself was first of all creating a schedule for the different members within the sports department then from there I would take kids down crazy ATV trails or take them out on the jet skis, really whatever they wanted to do, I was doing it.

Every day I got a period off, which I usually took later in the day to give me a chance to ring home, other times I would get involved in an activity at camp which I was not familiar with the different activities on offer meant that you could learn a new skill or try something different every day! I tried everything camp had to offer, even daring to go on the flying trapeze in the circus, all I can say is fair play to the circus staff, once was enough for me.

Evening Activities

After dinner was a chance to chill out with campers and friends and get ready for our evening activities. Personally, this was my favourite time of the day because it was recognition of another day well done and also most of the time we got s’mores. EveRM8ry evening at long lake a new activity was on offer, our evenings would be spent watching performances, bonfire nights, ice cream socials or camping trips away to our local campsite. They really thought of everything.

Nights at Camp

When evening activities finish, ill not lie I am completely shattered at this point, you’re on the go from 7am-10pm. At long lake counsellors work on a rota in the evenings. One counsellor and a CIT (Counsellor in Training) take care of the kids and settle them for the evening. The other two counsellors can take the evening off. I oversaw the oldest girls, trying to get 35 16-year-old girls to go to bed before 11pm was a complete task in itself, thankfully it was only once a week! What do I miss most about my nights at camp? Simple… the lake. On one of my last nights at camp, the capers asked me if we could go to the lake and stargaze. I’d never seen so many stars in my life, the Adirondack sky truly lit up it was by far one of my highlights of my camp experience.RM9

Yes, the days are long, you may miss home but my experience at camp honestly made me mature in so many different ways, it opened me up to a different career opportunity, it allowed me to experience a different culture and overall it allowed me to have a summer of a lifetime with some of the best people I’ve ever met, I know may sound cliché but it’s the truth.

RM10So, what are you doing this summer?

Rachel Magee is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelmagee98 and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachel-magee-52328016b/

Not the Wurst…

You’ve heard it all before … 21 year old embarks upon the ultimate life-changing, globetrotting extravaganza (A.K.A interrailing). Work, stress and money problems are swiftly buried in the safety of Ireland, while she jets off without a care in the world – what could possibly go wrong? Alas, quite a number of things. There is no need to grab your Handy Andies just yet however, as despite the series of unfortunate events, we managed to weave through our own positivity and have a bloody blast! (Pardon my French).

A worrying lack of cash monies on my behalf resulted in my two fellow globe-trotters ‘trotting’ to Barcelona ahead of me – all being well, we would all be reunited in Berlin. Fate appeared to have other plans, however, as the first stumbling block was situated right in the midst of our meeting point.

On the penultimate day of my holiday lead-up, the bank informed me of a sporadic freezing of my account. After several trips to visit them, it seemed this would all be rectified by Sunday morning, the day I arrive in Berlin – happy days! After a relaxing plane journey of reading, and practicing mindfulness, I arrived in the big city ready to begin. It was at this point I received a phone call from my travelling counterparts as they dropped the bombshell – they had missed their flight to Berlin and would not arrive until 12 hours later, around midnight that night. A little alone time and a day to explore wouldn’t have been so daunting had my banks metaphorical pants not been on fire (they were liars you see…funny joke y’all – just laugh). Much like the countless chickens my mother has asked me to remove from the freezer for dinner, my account had not begun to defrost on time and so – there I was penniless, starving, yet somehow… rather calm. I sized up each and every stranger that walked past, wondering if they would believe my sob-story and allow me to transfer them some money while they got it from the ATM for me. Realistically, I wouldn’t even believe me, so after scratching my head for quite some time I remembered the measly fiver I had placed in my bag for eh…emergencies. This allowed me enough to get the train to the city centre, and arrive at the hostel in one piece.

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My compadre made the genius suggestion that I hook her card up to my apple pay, and use that to purchase myself some grub…despite all the criticism technology gets these days, it certainly saved the day on this occasion.

As mentioned earlier, mindfullness is a current interest of mine and so I took the opportunity of dining alone to put in a little more practice. I’d always been admirable of those folk who can happily nip to the cinema alone, or go for coffee alone without scrolling mindlessly through their sparse Instagram feed for the duration. Turns out – it’s not that difficult, and in fact, rather refreshing for the mind.

After I was fed and watered, I retired to the boudoir to catch 40 winks before the ladies arrived. I was awoken to our fourth hostel room mate who was a French Canadian in his 30’s. My first taste of the hostel experience was me trashing him at several games of snap in the hostel bar, whilst he sat absolutely livid – good craic all the same. Just when my undefeated victory had proven permanent, the ladies arrived and we made tracks to hit the Berlin nightlife.

After the first few hiccups, everything was pretty much plain sailing. We explored the streets of Berlin the following day getting ‘vibey’ pictures as seen below:

After Berlin came Prague, after Prague came Budapest and then the beautiful Croatia. Some of the scenes in Croatia, especially Dubrovnik, caused a few of those weird moments were everyone there just goes silent and takes it all in, with no-one taking pictures. A wonderful feeling really.

Prior to our trip, several people had warned us of how boring the train journeys were and well, let’s just say this couldn’t be further wrong. Albeit probably delirious with sleep deprivation, we chatted to more new people and genuinely cried laughing with every train journey we embarked upon – the opposite of boring I reckon.

A few random points about these places would be that Prague is seriously cheap, Budapest smells a little but looks good, and we naturally float in the salty water of Croatia. I’m a fountain of knowledge, obviously.

Each of these places were of course stunning with amazing scenery, but the most memorable parts of each stop were meeting so many new people. I know it’s something everyone says when they have been away, that you absolutely HAVE to experience what they have – but in this case, it is positively true. Now all I have left are pictures, videos, and my basic-girl anklet to remember it all.

Anyway, I must dash, I’m suffering from a terrible sickness – I think they call it the travelling bug?

Sinead Armour is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Instagram – Sinead Armour, LinkedIn – Sinead Armour 

Why volunteering is worthwhile.

Why volunteering is worthwhile.

I wanted my first blog to document my crazy travel experiences, however I’m boring and don’t go anywhere so it was back to the drawing board. I decided to do something else in my life that I truly enjoyed, so I thought what better than my volunteering experience at Superstar’s café, which can hopefully convince a few others to get involved in something similar. 

                                                              

I’ll be completely honest I didn’t initially join up due to my undying desire to help other people or to feel more fulfilled with my life. Like most people in fifth year, my school was on at me about starting to broaden my CV to improve possible job prospects and make me stand out. Simply to have something to talk about on the impending careers day I started to research activities I could get involved in and soon came across volunteering. However, I knew if this was something I was seriously going to partake in then it had to be something hands on that I would enjoy. I had heard of Superstars café as it was local in my area and thought I would find it more interesting than helping in say a charity shop, as I already had a part time job in retail which I HATED. It was a café which offered job opportunities for people with physical/learning difficulties as well as autism. It also offered a youth club with a range of activities on different nights such as bowling, drama and crafts.

In terms of getting started I was a bit worried in case it involved and interview or experience as interviews still made me nervous and I had next to no previous experience. Thankfully it was just a simple informal conversation over the phone, and I was ready to start immediately the following Tuesday. When Tuesday came around, I remember being so anxious not knowing what to expect. I started off helping with the bowling club at the local leisure centre and thankfully very quickly got into the swing of things. It was mostly about just being social which is something I would say I’m quite good at, I think? I had worried I wouldn’t know what to talk about as I was so ignorant to special needs and what it meant due to lack of experience. I soon realised like the young people of this club where more like me than I first thought and spent hours talking to the girls about music, TV shows and weekend plans. I found soon found it came very natural and more importantly was so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

After a few months only doing one night a week at bowling with young people aged 16-24 with special needs, I decided I wanted to be involved in other activities with different people for even more experience. The members where constantly asking me was I coming to watch their production of ‘the lion king’ and I could finally say yes if I joined the drama club, so I did. My experience at this was probably one of my favourites from my time volunteering here. It was so refreshing sharing the company of people not afraid to put themselves out there and really go for it. Thankfully I was only responsible for helping in practice and didn’t have an actual part, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much. (I’m no where near as fearless as them) It was so rewarding when all the tickets at Burnavon theatre sold out and the production was complete, everyone had worked so hard and it clearly showed. I knew then id go to every show they put on whether I still worked there or not, a promise which I have so far kept might I add. Honestly, I can’t explain how much I would encourage someone to get involved in something like this if possible. It was the most rewarding and memorable experience and proves in my opinion, that volunteering can also be a bit of fun and light-hearted. Of course, there is also the benefit that made me join in the first place which is that it is favourable among employers, but you get so much more from it.

 

 

 

 

 

There is also loads more behind the scene stuff available to do if you didn’t think the more hands on activities where for you. For example, I also offered to help with money collection the odd Saturday morning outside shopping centres and in the town. Another highly anticipated within the club are the seasonal parties. They where always the talk of bowling nights, particularly the Halloween ones as everyone always loved the fancy dress parties the dress. The absolute scramble to find the best costume to win a prize. It was a great chance to meet up with the other volunteers and enjoy a three-course meal. I mean if the prospect of free food doesn’t convince you then I just don’t know.

There’s literally too much stuff to get involved with to list as they’re constantly creating new activities and opportunities. I could guarantee there is something that would appeal to everyone though, no matter your interests. If you’ve just skim read the rest of this blog due to lack of interest or you just don’t feel like reading right now at least take away one main point. Volunteering in any form is one of the most worthwhile experiences you could take part it. Although it can be hard with uni, a job and spending time with friends and family, trust me I know. However, if you ever get the opportunity then I say go for it!

Katie Doyle is a final year Bsc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Instagram-@katiedoyle54 LinkedIn-https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-doyle-9a0551195/ Twitter-https://twitter.com/ktdoyle6

A Worthy CAUSE

It was always my intention to volunteer with a local charity during my final year of university, I wanted to give some of my time to help in any way that I could. I got involved with CAUSE – a mental health charity focusing on providing support for the carers of those people with severe mental illnesses. The work they do is extremely important, and they are the only charity of their kind within Northern Ireland. 2020 is their 25th anniversary and so they wanted a Communications/PR volunteer to help raise awareness about their birthday year and so I quickly put my name forward to help.GD30

After a great first meeting with two members of the CAUSE team I was all set for my new role as a Communications volunteer. Fast forward a few months and I have been able to meet various members of the CAUSE team and they have all been so lovely and welcoming. I work mostly with the wonderful Anne Holland who is the fundraising manager for CAUSE. I was instantly drawn in by her bubbly personality and we get on very well, she is a very positive person and there is a never a dull moment when she’s around.

The first day that I met Anne she persuaded me to sign up for CAUSE’s biggest fundraising event – Strictly Come Dancing. This was one of the most memorable and exciting things I have ever done, I encourage any of you that have the chance to participate in a charity run Strictly to do it! I always fancied myself to be a good dancer but that was exclusively reserved for weekend dance floors, however I quickly learned after attending my first training session that I did not have one ounce of rhythm in me…

Everyone else was twirling, kicking and cartwheeling around me whilst I was like yes! I can do a star-jump! We started training in September with the goal of our big Christmas – themed show night at the end of November. I was like a fish out of water during the early training sessions as without any experience and 3 dances to learn my poor wee legs couldn’t keep up. My lovely partner and I got assigned the Cha-Cha to Snoop Dogg’s version of Winter Wonderland (I know lol) and we had one group dance to All I want for Christmas and one to Fairy-tale of New York. So, no pressure eh?

As the weeks of training went on, I started to grow more confident with the aid of everyone involved in my Strictly experience, they were all so kind and encouraging and they helped me every dance – step of the way.  By the time it came to show night in November at the glitzy Stormont Hotel I was a bundle of nerves and yet still filled with so much excitement and anticipation for the night ahead. I tanned myself up, got the lowest cut shirt probably ever worn on a man, and wiggled into my skinny fit velvet trousers – time to Cha – Cha! Our dance went great, I made a couple of tiny mistakes but sure the audience didn’t realise what I was supposed to be doing anyway! The judges loved the dance and most importantly my navy lace shirt was a hit. Our two group dances which book ended the night also went fantastically and it’s safe to say I was completely Mariah Carey’d out at the end of it all.

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An amazing amount of money was raised for CAUSE which is the main reason we did the show in the first place and without the incomparable Anne Holland at the reigns there would have been no show to perform at.

Apart from my amazing experience with Strictly, I’ve had the best time volunteering for CAUSE. I’ve had the opportunity to see what goes on in the day to day running of a charity and how important promotional materials, communications and PR are for a small local charity.

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Most recently I was given the chance to go to a recruitment fair at the Belfast MET Millfield campus and talk to various students looking for volunteering and placement opportunities. I highly recommended CAUSE to all the students I talked to and even promoted CAUSE’s latest Strictly event – Strictly Jigs and Reels. It was a really fun experience and great to see the amount of young people eager to volunteer.

 

I am currently working on developing some promotional materials for CAUSE’s 25th anniversary, having the opportunity to think creatively outside of an educational setting is really fun and rewarding; especially when it is for such a great charity.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with CAUSE and can’t wait to see what the rest of their Birthday year has in store! I cannot emphasise enough how important volunteering is, especially for small charities. So, I encourage anyone reading this to even consider volunteering, be it for CAUSE or another charity – I know that you won’t regret it!

Gareth Donnelly is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn at http://linkedin.com/in/gareth-donnelly-1a6161196 , Twitter – @GarethDonnelly4 and Instagram – @garethd__