In September 2016 I first came to the UK to finish my Bachelor’s degree at Newcastle University. With classes that met only twice a week, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. At first I tried finding a job but after receiving my fair share of rejections I turned to volunteering instead. It did not take me long to decide that no matter where I would end up, there would have to be books involved.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved books. Librarians seemed surprised anytime I checked out a pile of books that reached so high I could hardly see when I held them. Though the volume has decreased a little since then, I still try to read at least a few pages every day. And if a book captures my attention I have absolutely no trouble staying up past 3 AM ‘just to finish this chapter’.
And so my search began. Since I didn’t know anyone in Newcastle, I asked my good friend Google. I learnt of a variety of volunteer projects in the area, but not many of them were concerned with books. Until I stumbled upon Borderline Books, that is. One problem: it was all the way in Gateshead (and if I knew anything at that point, it was that you’re supposed to hate everything south of the river). I was almost ready to give up and go into one of the many charity shops – they, too, have books, after all – when I saw a mention of a related project. Something called the Multilingual Library. And, lo and behold, it was in Newcastle!
Not only am I a book enthusiast, I am also a bit of a polyglot (Dutch, English, German, French and Russian to be precise, but I also know Latin and Ancient Greek). A place where I would be able to combine the two simply seemed too good to be true. But it had an address and a Facebook page, so I figured it must be legit. And that is how I found myself sending a message asking if there were any volunteer positions available.
The reply came two hours later, consisted of a mixture of both Dutch and English, and asked me to come by the next day, just to have a look around the place. I did, and ended up staying almost five hours. From that moment onwards, I came in twice a week. After only a few weeks I started opening and closing by myself, and even security personnel seemed to know who I was.
While I liked the work I did at the library (processing and cataloguing books, helping people, hosting events), it was my fellow volunteers who truly made my experience great. I made friends from all over the world and got to hear their stories as well as share mine. With some I shared the experience of being abroad and getting used to British culture, others helped me navigate that same culture by telling me the ins and outs. And if I ever did feel homesick, there would often be someone to speak Dutch with me.
In total I spent eight months at the library (October 2016 – May 2017) and I already know that I am going to miss Newcastle. I’ll try to be back whenever I can, but until then: tot ziens!
Thanks SO much for all the work you put in A - we miss you already and look forward to your visits in future (with stroopwaffels!) - Hartelijk dank en veel plezier in Nederland.