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Participant Stories

Volunteering and Traveling Abroad Reality Check

Posted by Alexandra LeGrant | Tue, Mar 22, 2011
Most of us can be guilty of it.

Coming up with a fantasy in our head spawned from the excitement of embarking on a new worldly adventure, nurturing magnificent thoughts of exciting experiences and perfect encounters. We envision our host family to be everything we wished for from the best of our own families.  Whatever awkwardness is experienced in first meeting them is all very quickly overshadowed by their excellent cooking, perfect location, or their proficiency in our native language. We envision a happy, healthy family, a comfortable bed in a private room with a high level of cleanliness, we don’t think about missing our friends and family and we certainly don’t envision ourselves getting sick. In a perfect world, all those things would come true, but in reality our runaway imaginations can get the best of us and even set us up for a miserable experience abroad.
If you want to have the time of your life, don’t let your fairytale imagination set you up for failure by creating unrealistic expectations.  Perhaps this is the first time you are even traveling outside your home country, or maybe this isn’t your first rodeo, either way expecting too much out of the gates or going into your project with the notion that you can change the world in four weeks will ruin your experience all together.

Think of this as a friendly reality check before you embark on your journey with GeoVisions.

Hope your host family doesn't look like this.First, realize that meeting your host family for the first time might be a less than perfect experience.  Your new family may also be a little stressed anticipating your arrival, having prepared your room, cleaning up their home, trying to get their children to be on their best behavior, etc. Not to mention the stressors of cultural differences and taking in a near complete stranger into their home. Just remember, it is not all about you in this scenario, and it could take a week or so before you and your host family really start to hit it off. Just be patient, don’t be selfish and remember the reasons why you are there in the first place.

No one thinks about getting sick (physically or emotionally) when they are preparing for a trip abroad, and thoughts of the possibility are usually masked by excitement.  I’ve never heard anyone say ‘oh yes, I love it when I feel like I could just roll over and die’ but it is good to be prepared for the possibility of coming down with something. Being in a new country with new food, cooking styles, bacteria and so on can all make for a nasty storm in your digestive system.  Usually, this will pass once your body becomes accustomed to it’s new diet and regimen, but to be on the safe side make sure you have comprehensive medical and accidental insurance. With GeoVisions, this comes standard in your program fee, so it is one less thing you have to worry about if something really terrible happens. He must feel terrible!

Culture shock and homesickness can also be likely to affect you, especially if this is your first time abroad. Don’t worry, this is normal for a lot of people and will also pass in time once you start to feel more comfortable in your surroundings. The best way to get over culture shock and homesickness is to explore your new environment, not hide from it. Get out there and meet new people, have your host family show you a few of their favorite local spots and don’t spend hours on Skype with your family. Having them in the forefront of your mind will only make you miss them more and your comfortable safety zone back home.  Explore, explore, explore! That is what you are there for. Just a little 'finger' food.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don’t expect to change the world through your volunteering experience. You want to head into your project full of enthusiasm and excitement, and the idea that what you are there to do is helping and contributing in some way, but you don’t want to have the unrealistic expectation that you can completely save an orphanage or an entire coastal beach’s endangered wildlife in a matter of weeks or even months. Feel confident that your presence and assistance is greatly appreciated even if you envision it as minimal. It is true that every helping hand makes a difference, even if you can’t see that difference right away. Know why GeoVisions uses the word “sustainable”?  Ongoing.  Get the connection?

Change takes time, and remember; "Travel guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion - of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly. For seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring; while feeling without seeing can be blind." ~PICO IYER

Written by Alexandra LeGrant

Alexandra is the Community Manager at GeoVisions Foundation. She handles all of the Social Media and Alumni relations. Alex loves to travel and meet with our participants.

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