I embarked on my first volunteer abroad trip when I was 14 and since then, I am a firm believer that it is one of the best ways to travel. Now, 4 volunteer trips 38 countries and several years later, I am fortunate enough to be working for a volunteer abroad organization that allows me to encourage other people to take the first step and travel.
It may sound cliché, but I started volunteering to “be the change you want to see in the world”, what I didn’t know then, is that the “change” starts with you. Opening yourself up to a new culture, stepping out of your comfort zone, knowing no one; these things, even if they are extremely uncomfortable at first, all open yourself up to new experiences that will make a lasting impact on your life. Many times the reason you thought you were volunteering, end up being completely different from what happens once you are on the ground.
Learning about a new culture.
When I traveled to Kenya, I was excited to meet the local people. Taste the different foods. Get lost in conversation about our countries differences and similarities. What I failed to consider was the 28 other volunteers that I was living with, who came from all over the globe. There were multiple languages spoken in our little dorm room, we took turns hosting dinner nights, with Indian, Mexican and other Traditional comfort foods from our home countries. We had different ideas about being on-time, or how to best complete tasks. We all had different international experiences, or none at all.
Learning to work together for a common goal.
We all had our different checklists of sights to see and adventures to go on whilst we were volunteers. Sometimes it took some time and practice to get our group of eager volunteers to work together to accomplish our overall goal. But I realized that by learning about other people and they way they work, I was learning a tremendous amount about myself.
Most of the volunteers that I worked with Kenya were placed at an orphanage. This was less an orphanage, and more of a series of shacks that provided shelter for street kids to sleep in, and occasionally had volunteers who blindly entertained them a few weeks out of each month. There was no structure, no plan and no adults who led the cause. Although my fellow volunteers and I had different plans about how to do something worth while whilst we were volunteering, we did find a way to work together. We agreed that doing something sustainable would be the best course, and we all worked on separate projects that would eventually establish a small bakery at the orphanage that the children could operate as a source of extra income.
Finding hidden skills.
I have always loved children, which is why a volunteer program working with children was a no brainer for me. My background, and college degree, is in Marketing and graphic design. What I didn’t expect was that this was a skill that would be of use in Kenya. Within the first week I had gotten myself pulled into conversations about marketing strategies, logo design, sponsorships- who knew I had so much to offer! In just 4 short weeks I helped kick start a dozen different projects with the communities I was working in, with the volunteer organization itself, and even other NGO’s working in the area. It was so rewarding to be a part of so many different projects, not to mention it was a great addition to my Resume!
For all the reasons above, when you volunteer abroad, enables you to expand your view of the world, allows you an opportunity to work with a broad range of people and most importantly introduces you to a new version of yourself, you may have not even knew exsisted.