International Study Visit to UK

Hamdi Hato
10 min readAug 21, 2019

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An experience to remember

De Vere Selsdon Estate

British Council active citizens youth leadership training has been one of the most sustainable and impact driven leadership training I have ever been through. This training has opened doors of many opportunities and the International Study Visit has been one of the best of all. I got selected to visit UK as one of the active citizens from around the world to take part in International Study Visit. It was a compact training from 12th February 2017 to 19th February 2017. It has been one of the best couples of days of my life. During this time,every day I learned something which is new, learned something which has changed my perception and gathered some memories which are worth keeping safe forever.

It was my 3rd international participation and 1st in Europe. Since my childhood I heard a lot about UK, the British people, the British culture and so on. It was a thrilling experience to be there. UK welcomed me with a rainy cold winter night. The weather was cold and gloomy but my excitement didn’t let my mood go with the weather. Rather I was very energized and motivated.

After reaching the Selsdon Park Hotel I received by Edward, one of our facilitators. We had a very traditional English dinner and went to our rooms. It was late night so we didn’t get the chance to meet other participants. I went to my room. The hotel is very old and has a very traditional British touch to its architecture. It was a perfect winter night at an old English Hotel.

Selsdon Park Hotel loby

The next morning I woke up, had a quick breakfast and went to Edward Heath room of the hotel and there were all the fellow active citizens present. I was amazed. There were people from around the world. We all looked different, had different ethnicities, religions, manners etc. But our identity was same. We were active citizens. There were people from UK, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, China, Brazil, Uganda, Poland, and Ukraine and so on. After brief introduction among us, the sessions got started. After some fun sessions with our facilitators, we started feeling closer, more connected and started coming out of our comfort zone. We all got to interact with each other, talk to each other and got connected on Facebook. The very first morning gave me the vibe that, this is going to be an amazing experience.

The ISV is designed in a way that, it gives a person a clear feel of connectivity, closeness and makes a person more respectful towards other cultures. After the global marketplace, we came to know about each other’s culture, got to try traditional food and felt more connected. It felt like the world is really borderless and every table was a different country in itself.

During country market place
Sharing culture and food

During the ISV we were taken to London from Croydon. It was a fine shiny noon when we were taken to London. There we got off the bus and went to one of the MP’s office to share ideas there.

In the Palace of Westminster
London Days

Then we were taken to visit the Palace of Westminster. It was an honor for us young people to be there in the prestigious place, the epicenter of UK. The architecture and history of the building is awe inspiring.

Then we went to British Council London to take part in a networking session. There we met many active citizens who are mostly from London. I got the chance to talk too many active citizens, came to know about their projects and the challenges they are facing. I found many similarities between the problems we are facing in my community and the problems they are facing in their community. It gave me the feel that we are no different.

We all have similar problems. Similar concerns and we all should work for each other. Then getting back to the hotel we had more sessions and we were divided into teams to go for a community visit. I was selected for Rotherham Learning in Selsdon was paused for some days and the next day we started for Rotherham.

Rotherham harbor

After reaching Rotherham we took a cab to the hotel. The cab driver was a Somali guy and from him I came to know that Rotherham has a diverse community and has the reputation of peaceful coexistence. I already started loving Rotherham. Then we went to the Grand Hotel. I had some quick lunch and started for the community visit. Our host organization was “Voluntary Action Rotherham”.

There we came to know more about the city, the active citizen’s community there and then we had a discussion with the local active citizens and community leaders. I came to know more about the diversity of UK and the projects going on in Rotherham.

It was 14th February and after the meeting we couldn’t wait for a dinner with our team.We got to a local Restaurant “Fish and Chips” and had our Valentine’s Day special dinner.The environment was fine. We had some more conversation over the dinner and came to know more about the projects there. We planned for the next day and called it a day.

Dinner with the team

Then we visited the community café inside it. The wonder woman who runs this café hosted us and shared the story of her café over a cup of hot chocolate and a freshly baked cupcake. Came to know how such cafes provide cheaper food for the people in need and have become a meeting point for the community.

Then we went to Sweet Mart. It is run by a Ugandan family. The members came here from Uganda during the war and have been living here ever since. The mart had a huge variety of products. I was amazed to see a shelf full of Palestinian vegetables.We met the owner and he shared his story. It was amazing how a refugee family now run a successful business. The community in this part of Rotherham is close, connected and is like one big family.

After we had some good time with the owner we left for our lunch.We went Rotherham United FC’s home ground New York Stadium. Community development officers of RUFC took us in a tour and showed us the whole stadium. They also introduced us about their community development program like kids health awareness campaigns, a nutrition program for the elders, football training programs for the kids, and some leisure activities for the elderly people.

New York Stadium

Then we went to visit a social action project named “Tasebee”. By this project local educated people try to help Asian women in the UK who are isolated from society because they don’t know the language and culture of the UK. So, by this project they are helping the women to learn English. The women also are taking the training of crafting and marble works so, they could be financially solvent. They also prevent isolation of elder people from the society. The power of the united community was once again visible in front of my eyes.

Older people of the community practicing traditional handcrafts

Then we went to the Town Hall again to meet with the Mayor. The Mayor was very patience when we asked about different questions related to community development of Rotherham. We also asked her to tell about how she runs the councilor meeting at Rotherham. She answered every single question of us. Then, the assistant of the mayor took us in a tour at Town hall. He showed us every part of the Town hall and described its history. Then the Mayor invited us to drink tea. We talked with her informally at that session. She wished the best of luck for our Social Action Projects.

Inside Town Hall
Celebrate of 10th anniversary

We went to have the traditional British afternoon tea in Rotherham city center. Then we went back to our hotel for some rest. We went then to an Indian Restaurant for the dinner party arranged by VAR. We’ve met so many influential people who are working very hard for their society as a sample.

Traditional afternoon tea

It is really nice how the city works to preserve their culture, nature and architecture. In Fact these are the most important parts of a place. These are the things which make a place, a place.

Rotherham sightseeing

After that we went for a dinner meeting with some more local active citizens. Came to know about different projects. Every hour game me some new knowledge, some new ideas.

Dinner meeting

The next day we went to VAR, VAR Social Prescription initiative. By this project, they consulted with the general practitioners to prescribe social prescription programs to elder people who suffer from isolation, mental disorders, and many kinds of diseases caused by these kinds of problems. These problems are easily cured by their involvement in social activities, which help them to be happy. That’s how VAR is helping the people of Rotherham to cure their diseases without taking any medicines.

Outside the VAR center

After lunch, our trip to this amazing city of graffiti came to an end.

We left for Croydon. Every night was special as it was the time when we all got closer, went out for walks, had interesting conversations and got closer. We realized despite so many differences we all are similar. We all are energetic young minds and children of planet Earth. We are not different from each other.

Night outs

Days went by very well. We shared our community visit experience, came to know about different communities of the UK. Sharing experience Then we again went to London for seeing other sides of the city. The city of London has always amazed us with something new. Every visit was equally interesting.

Days went by quite well and the last day came. That morning we all were feeling like losing a family. Within a short time, we all became very connected like one big family. We went through some last training sessions, shared our experiences and started packing our bags for starting to our homes.

Last day last moments

This morning wasn’t as fun as all other mornings. We knew that the friends we made, we won’t be meeting any time soon. We will be getting back to our own community with more responsibilities and deeper knowledge. The real-life challenge is going to start soon. Shaking off the sadness we decided to enjoy every minute of our last few hours. And us crazy people being crazy for the last time We had our last chitchats over coffee and it was time to say bye.

Token of achievement

Taking back all the memories I came back to Palestine. This visit gave me new friends, new learnings, new knowledge, and some memories to cherish throughout my life. After that, I have been staying in touch with my ISV friends. We have been taking often. In fact, I have included some of my ISV friends in my upcoming project. I have got much supports from my ISV friends from time to time. I have supported them in their need. From academic work to facing an important interview, I have tried my best to help my friends whenever they asked for. We often chat, we often have calls and I want to see all of them again.

Memories on the wall British Council annual report

The learning and networks from ISV have helped me beyond my imagination. ISV and Active Citizens’ family has been and will always be close to my heart.

I want to thank the Palestinian British council staff Mr. Saad Halawani, and Ma`an development center represented by Sami Khader and Ghada Qaddoumi for giving me their enormous support and opportunity.

From Palestine, with love ❤.

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Hamdi Hato

Hamdi Hato is a Civil and Environmental Engineer (FE)with expertise in LEED, AutoCAD, Microsoft Excel, fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and English.