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Volunteering overseas opens so many doors and teaches you so
much about yourself.
When I was growing up I was lucky enough to holiday all over the
world with my parents. I went on safari in Kenya, visited the Taj
Mahal in India, toured the Grand Canyon in the USA and visited famous
cities across the globe.
My early twenties saw me with a bad case of the travel bug. I
revelled in beach holidays in the Mediterranean; backpacked
Australia's east coast and took whirlwind trips to New York City and Amsterdam.
But the one thing I'd never experienced was actually living and
working in another culture.
Then when I was 25 I took the plunge and signed up for a two month
volunteer program teaching English to primary school students in Costa
Rica. I found myself living with a family of four in a tiny village
with no internet access, a 30-minute bus ride to the nearest café and
no other English speakers for miles about. My high school Spanish and
miming ability was soon put to the test.
Although Costa Rica is one of the friendliest, most peaceful and
beautiful developing countries I've ever visited, I still found the
culture shock overwhelming. I missed my family and friends and never
quite adjusted to the lifestyle or the relative poverty. Everything
was different. I seemed to be required to eat beans at every meal, I
couldn't travel around after dark on my own, everyone seemed to know
everyone else (including who I was) yet I knew no one. And to top it
all off I'd never taught kids before, let alone taught them English in
beginners Spanish. What was I thinking?
It was one of the most testing yet amazing experiences of my life. My
Spanish improved dramatically almost overnight. I gained a greater
appreciation for the issues affecting the Central American region. I
made heaps of friends. I watched turtles hatch eggs. I shared buses
with chickens. I peered into the top of a volcano.
Costa Rica gave me the confidence to move to Australia just six
months later and forge a new life for myself here.
Volunteering overseas opens so many doors and teaches you so much
about yourself. It's an experience I'd recommend to anyone as would
the Sydney TAFE students who travel to India and Samoa volunteering
Jared Costa, who volunteered in India in 2012, said the most valuable
element of his experience was "being to some extent thrown into
the deep end. It was a great learning experience". Fellow
volunteer Haydn Yates said the experience had helped "to trust
myself and my own ideas… definitely do it. On all levels you will
learn an incredible amount."
Admittedly it's not for the faint hearted, but taking that leap of
faith in yourself and your ability to adapt will reward you in so many
ways. So if you like to help people in need, combine that next big
trip with a volunteer program and really immerse yourself in a