Antics of a Soon-To-Be Peer Mentor

Unless something goes horribly wrong in the next… 5 days, I’m halfway to becoming a peer mentor. I completed 2 of the 4 hours of training today and it was so so bloody fabulous; I’m still smiling from it.

If you don’t know what a peer mentor is, take a look at this post and if you’re still confused, then let me know and I can explain it better. I was looking forward to today’s training so much – not knowing what to expect, of course. That was good, because how it turned out was so much better than I could have hoped for.

Oak – a friend of mine who’s also got sight issues – is also doing peer mentoring, so I walked up to the place where it was with him, another one of our friends and the friend I made on Wednesday, who recently moved to this country. That part’s boring: we took our seats, got some water to stay hydrated, and waited around for some latecomers to turn up.

The man who led our training was called John. I don’t know why, but I thought it would just be him talking at us, that it would be dull but I’d suffer through it. Oh, how wrong I was!

John is one of the most engaging “instructors” I know. He first organised us into groups – both years 10 and 12 were there, meaning that I knew barely anyone in the room. I’m very glad that no one I knew was in my group: there were 5 of us, 3 from year 10 and 2 (including me) from year 12.

At first, it was kind of awkward. We had to say what WE thought made a good listener, all of the qualities. I contributed, heart in my mouth, but they took my ideas and wrote them down. Slowly, the other people in the “circle” spoke up, letting ideas flow from us. We all wanted to be there, and we showed that with our words and our voices – we had moments of laughter, especially later on, but we weren’t acting like it was all stupid. I didn’t know them, only knowing the existence of the other girl from my year, and not knowing anyone’s name until I overheard it, or asked like I did with the boy on my right. I spoke confidently, but with a quiet voice; the part of me I wanted to show was out there, so that the unknown people in my group could see it.

John didn’t speak to us like we were idiots. He talked to us as if we were adults, laying out plainly what was expected of us, but in a way that didn’t make it seem like a lecture. After the feedback about being a good listener – fit with a painfully awkward moment where he misunderstood what the girl in my year was trzing to explain and I had to clarify, speaking into the silence of 30 people – he asked us to get into birth date order.

Mine was ridiculously easy, being the last day of the year, so I laughed, stood up and stayed exactly where I was. People organised themselves around me, asking me when my birthday was and exclaiming in surprise: the only person who got more attention for it was the boy who was born on Christmas Eve. He and I exchanged a few laughs, standing next to each other; I think he was in year 10. The point of that exercise was to improve communication with people we didn’t know, and it made me even more confident, letting me smile and not feel so on-edge.

Organised into different groups again, we lined up – though I had no idea what was going on. After John took about five minutes to organise us, making everyone laugh, we played a game of what I can only call glorrified Chinese whispers (Why IS it called that, anyway?). I’ve never laughed so hard: Oak was standing to my left, and to my right was the sister of a girl in my French class. She was lovely, and whilst the game was going on, we giggled and chatted about mentoring, life and our terrible memories. It was almost surreal to be talking to someone, her treating me with NO caution and just sobbing whilst cackling.

Put it this way – when it got to the end, the phrase transformed into “How many boarmongers were boarmongers were born?” and I have never been unable to speak for such a long period of time whilst I clutch my stomach. Don’t even ask me what the original phrase was, because I was laughing too hard to hear it. After we all calmed down, we returned to our original groups, and John tasked us to write what makes a good mentor. Not surprisingly, a lot of the things were similar to the first thing we had to do – as they were read out, I asked myself: am I any of these?

Whilst all of that was going on, I started talking to the guy in year 10 to the right of me – we’ll call him Steve, for the hell of it. He reminded me of a male version of Wren and Swan combined, and here’s some of the snatches of conversation we managed to have in between John talking.

“Woah, this paper’s weird.”
“Yeah, it’s kinda like cardboard and a bit like paper.”
“So a cross?”
“Carper. Or Pard.”

He also said that he had a crush on a guy for 2 years, then found out his name was also Steve. We flailed around for a while when I overheard him say “…And I’ll stab you!” out of context, and before we moved into our final pairs, John’s talking was sometimes punctuated by bursts of laughter. I still linstened to everything John said, though, because it was important.

After that, I worked with another girl for 5 minutes (she had to go to a concert and so she left early). She’s what you might call popular, but I found out today she was lovely – we commented on our awful posture, she laughed at things I said and it was amazing. After she had to go, John worked with me and asked me what qualities I thought I possessed that would make me a good mentor.

“Um, I think I’m a good listener, understanding… Empathetic? I’m able to deal with difficult situations and…”
“You know what I think you are, Elm?”
“Ahh… What?”
“I think you have something that’s so important – kindness. You’re resiliant, too, from what I can tell.”
“Oh god thank you, John!”

I’ve never been so touched at something an adult said. It’s one thing for your friends to compliment you, but for someone who doesn’t know you at all to do that? It kind of shows me that expressing my “true” self is working.

Next, we practiced some listening skills (I worked with the other boy in year 10 who’s good at computer programming, my friend who I made on Wednesday and then Oak.) Trying to draw round the former two’s hands was hilarious, because I got pen everywhere. YES, that can happen, as I discovered.

Oak and our other friend (there are too many people) waited with me for my taxi to come and pick me up. When you laugh extremely loudly in an empty school, it echoes eerily. In the cold air, it was nice to shriek at nothing in particular.

Something I found out today was that Willow HAS A BOYFRIEND! They met each other at college and when she told me today, I literally screamed and jumped up and down, getting some pretty weird comments from Oak. Oh well – I’m so incredibly happy for her, because she deserves this; I can tell that she’s over the moon and that makes me smile.

All in all, I’ve had a wonderful day. I really feel like I’m doing something with myself, with my life; this is going to give me something to look forward to. I’m not just existing, not just floating in a sea of work. The other mentors aren’t my friends yet, but we WILL work as a team, and I can already tell that I’m going to be able to trust these people, simply because I CAN show them who I actually am. No laughter to hide it, only laughter to emphasise it. No more faces to hide behind: just me, myself and bloody I.

If you can’t find a reason to live, then you can create one. This isn’t my reason, but it’s part of it. I’m not the perfect person or mentor, but I can learn.

Do you think I’m up for it?

From Elm 🙂

Making Friends and Helping People

Honestly, the post title sums up what I want to do with my life in 5 words. That’d be sad, if it wasn’t REALLY true. Do you want to make lots of money? NAHH, I want to make friends and help people! Wooo! (I’m tired)

Today was a good day, in the end. I thought it would be a bit like yesterday but it was so far from that that it made me smile.

Our school does this thing called a Peer Mentoring program, where older students – years 10 and 12 – help younger students. That can be with anything: school problems, home problems, or any worries they have. I signed up for it, writing out my HONEST feelings in my application form: this was about two weeks ago. I remember sitting there, telling my dad the words he should write, just trying to get the phrasing right. Applying was so important to me as I want to show younger people that they DO have someone to turn to, because the prospect of talking to teachers scared me then so I know it would scare them, too. I want to be someone they can trust, to give them confidence enough to speak up about what’s bothering them. Everyone deserv es to be able to be helped, no matter the scale of the problem or the help: telling people that you WILL listen to them would have done me so much good before.

For some screwed up reason, I got in. I’m slightly confused at the selection process, because one of my best friends didn’t get in when they REALLY should have. They’re wonderful at advice and listening to you, and I’m sad they’re not doing this with me. But I’m really happy and grateful that I got in, because I know this will not only help other people, but it’ll help me: if I make a difference to someone, it gives me the happiness to go and achieve so much more. It’s mostly, though, so I can listen to people when they want, and need, to talk.

At form (20 minutes after lunch – I’m giving too much away about my school life), we had a meeting for the mentors. I sat next to Oak – a friend of mine – and another girl. I haven’t given her a name yet, but she’s someone who joined our sixth form this year and has recently moved to England from another country. She’s lovely, and I think I properly made friends with her today: we’d exchanged words before, laughed together and talked about our lives, but it was before the teacher started speaking that I had the best conversation I’ve had all week. We spoke about how much we were looking forward to Peer Mentoring, happiness, being passionate about subjects, the education system in the country she used to live in and so much more. The conversation flowed easily, and I didn’t feel stupid: I felt like my opinions and thoughts were valid, which was further emphasised by the fact that I’d got into a program where my thoughts will be valid and helpful to at least someone.

After the meeting was finished, I had to go to English. I was kind of nervous, not knowing exactly where to go, and that situation made me another “friend”. A girl in my English class only comes to this school for English – she’s at another Sixth Form for her other subjects. I hadn’t spoken to her at all before, though I knew of her; she overheard me talking about the room and said: “Hey, I’m in your class!” The shock and slight embarrassment on my face was probably hilarious.

We walked together to our lesson, me holding her arm because again, I didn’t know where I was going exactly. That made her recount how she used to link arms with her friends and walk down the street. After that, like with the previous girl, we talked non-stop and easily. Chatting about primary school, making bee puns, her not getting the amazing bee pun I made (“Honestly, you’ve let yourself down, your school down and your country down!”) and laughing hysterically. I have never, and I mean NEVER, been able to talk so freely and comfortably with someone I didn’t know before. It’s mostly because I’m an antisocial caterpillar, but I’m slowly growing the shreds of wings.

Though I’m not separated from my Elm persona, I feel like it’s slowly coming to the fore in real life situations. That’s good: I’m displaying the “real me”. I have always had different aspects to myself which I show to different people, but it boils down to this: at my core, my heart, I’m just a person who wants to help other people. You’ve seen that in my posts, and in the advice I try and give to other people (here’s the part where I realise my advice is TERRIBLE, dinn’t tell anyone!).

I’m not hiding my so-called “inner tree”. The person I really am is someone who wants to be friendly with people, laugh freely – not be POPULAR, but I want to get the confidence to exchange words with people without ducking my head down or wondering if they think I look like a moron or if I speak too strangely. Today taught me that I’m really not as incapable at social interaction as I thought: it brings me so much happiness, so that I want to keep on talking to people. I’m glad I’ve got to the point where I can properly admit that I want to help people, talk to people and show them and myself who I am.

Maybe I won’t be able to do this in the classroom yet, still used to people thinking of me as having a teaching assistant sitting next to me, but I’ll get there. Peer Mentoring is going to make it worth it, so that when I talk to people, I can hold my head up and say: “Yes, you can trust me.”

From Elm 🙂