American Michelle Nava recalls her role as a Festival City Volunteer - and reveals how a seemingly simple task during her first ever shift proved far from straightforward, but made a huge difference:
As a newcomer to Scotland, I became a Festival City Volunteer to meet new people, discover Edinburgh more in depth, and diversify my normal routine. What better way than to volunteer and do all three at the same time?
Michelle (right) on a sunny Edinburgh day!
I especially wanted to meet new people since we’re often stuck in habits and deviate very little from the daily routine - I also wanted to learn new skills in the arts and tourism. I liked the idea of being outside, helping others to get around the city, and using my language skills to help visitors feel welcome.
I enjoyed volunteering because I met so many people, both volunteers and tourists alike. I had never participated in a volunteer programme such as this, where you are outside at strategic areas or walking around, helping people with all kinds of questions about the festivals and Edinburgh’s streets. It was a unique way to participate in the festivals by helping them run smoothly. I liked being able to help people by using my Spanish and French skills because as a newcomer myself, I understand how it feels to be in a new place.
It was also enriching to be part of the programme because of the diversity in the volunteers themselves. You learn so much from each other and your world view truly expands as you make new connections. This volunteer opportunity is really special and shows that Scotland makes extra efforts to be welcoming. It makes me feel proud to be from a friendly place.
Michelle with fellow Festival City Volunteers
All my shifts were varied but my first ever really sticks out. Our team was approached by a lady and her young daughter, looking for their accommodation on George IV Bridge and needing help.
The lady, from China, had been dropped off in a taxi near Greyfriars Bobby where she saw us. She seemed nervous and in need of more personalised help than pointing to a map, as she had a large suitcase and a young daughter - who I'd guess was about three or four years old - with her, and was clearly lost.
My team leader asked me to assist her and look for the address in the busy street. We walked up and across George IV Bridge with her suitcase and daughter. She asked me expressly if I could hold her daughter's hand since she was very little and there were so many people on the pavements, and the mother had her mobile in one hand and rolling her large suitcase in the other.
As the street numbers didn't seem, and weren't, in logical order, I decided to ask a shopkeeper about the address and he pointed me in right direction - and I walked with the mother and daughter to the right address.
Michelle (left) out on shift in August
She was very grateful and relieved to have finally found her accomodation, an apartment whose discreet front door you could easily walk past all day if you didn't know it was there.
The experience showed me that sometimes people need more than verbal directions as they may be weary from their travels and may be disoriented and stressed from the sheer amount of people in the streets. Helping a mother and young daughter was really rewarding, and I felt that they trusted me.
As a traveller myself, I appreciate when people have helped me find a way, and I enjoy in turn helping others do the same, so that they have a good stay in Edinburgh.
It's the small things, I think, that make a big difference.
Have you been inspired to join the team? Visit our recruitment portal, voled.in/festival to apply.