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I Feel I Care More Now

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I am currently studying a DPhil in psychology at Oxford Uni. My life is going to College for food, going to an office or Department to do my research, and coming home to sleep and to live a life. So I’ve never thought about, like, involvement in the community - like an outside community. There are older gentlemen or old ladies I meet in the supermarket, but we just smile when we pass by each other, I wouldn't talk with them, and I never felt I was connected to them in anyway. Basically, most of my friends are from work, College or from my background - they are international students.

I’m from China, so I knew from the start how serious the virus was. When there were only one or two cases I started to tell my friends, “maybe we need to be careful about this”. I started to prepare hand-sanitizer for people, I was worried. But in the beginning people thought I was just overreacting, they thought, “Oh why are you doing this? It's so strange. You are paranoid or something,”. So at one point I was thinking, maybe I should just take care of myself - I should just make sure I’m safe. Then I saw the poster on Facebook for Oxford Together. I hadn't heard of the organisation but I was interested in being involved in something which would help and connect people so we could cope with the virus in the right way. 

I applied and somebody got back to me and said, “you are assigned a role as a Phone Link volunteer.” Our role is to call the same person every day. We make sure they are ok, ask about their needs – like shopping, collecting prescriptions or specific things we might not know about - and just try to have a lovely conversation. After each call you fill in a form. There are two types – one for summarising the call, kind of like a journal, and another form for specific needs – like if a person needs some special medical care or something practical. This form will be shared with both the Pod Leader and the Oxford Together Hub, and also the Council. 

Each phone link team has different ‘Pods’ - a Pod is like a group with a few volunteers and a leader, a bit like Kindergarten when you are children with one teacher. Sarah is our Pod Leader. We use a Whatsapp group to contact each other, where we can share stories confidentially. Sarah looks at that Whatsapp group, maybe every day- I don't know the frequency - but she’ll ask questions. I think it's helpful because people share what kind of things they talk about, so you don't have to worry if you don't have a topic to discuss that day. They didn't treat us like, “Because you said you would volunteer then your role is to help other people- you shouldn't care for yourself”, or something. They always ask me, “How do you feel about your volunteering?”. So I feel the Pod is a bit like a family.

I was assigned a gentleman who I call everyday. I think I have longer conversation with him than I have with my own parents, who I definitely don’t call that often. Even though we have a huge age gap, we have gradually become friends. In the beginning I had concerns - like I didn't want him to feel I was offering ‘help’ because I worried it was condescending, and I really wanted him to feel I enjoyed the calls. I think we try to support each other and comfort each other, and at the end of every conversation it is quite positive, like we have hope for tomorrow. We both share a lot of emotions every day. And it’s not like ‘I made a difference, I changed him’ – I think maybe he also changed me. It's like a mutual change -I can't say which one is cause and effect.

My second client, her health condition is much worse. She has children and grandchildren, but they live far from Oxford, so they can't come and take care of her. I feel there’s a cultural difference, like in China the older generation is always taken care of by the younger generation, but here people are quite independent. It's so hard for them to do what they did before, like going to a concert. The lady I call, she told me Thursday would be her birthday. She said, “it would be lovely if you could call me to say, ‘Happy Birthday.” Sarah arranged a card and flowers to be delivered to her. This made me feel, “Yeah a lot of things can be done, even very personalised things”.

I feel the two people I’m calling are very nice. They didn't judge me based on my accent or my cultural background, and they didn't ever ask, “Oh where are you from?”. They have shared very private things with me - their feelings - so this makes me feel I’m being trusted. I feel it would be hard just one day to say, “Oh, from tomorrow I will stop calling you.”

Before this I was just focusing on my own research and didn't care too much for other things. So if you mentioned to me ‘Oxford’, I would only think about the University. Now I feel Oxford is much bigger. Now I feel Oxford has so many people, not just the Students and the Professors, it has such an interesting, fun, and long history.

This experience has changed me. I think compassion is very important in cultivating positive emotions and an important part of compassion is to cultivate your kinder, nicer feelings towards your loved ones, your family members and friends, to the strangers you meet, to human beings as a whole.  I feel I care more now; I care for people. I feel people around me. I feel like everybody living on the earth is related to me somehow. 

The guy I’m calling said to me, “maybe after lockdown, people won't want to get back to their normal life” in a positive way, because people feel more connected now. People keep telling me “Oxford is getting better”.

I really feel a small thing in your life, like just making a phone call, if a lot of people are doing it, it can make a big difference.  

Editor: Renata  Allen


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