Volunteering Abroad Lessons: Where I Went Wrong Traveling In Asia

I've always been fascinated by Asia, and never been disappointed on every visit to the continent. Like all travelers that have had the opportunity to visit or volunteer in Asia, I have had my fair share of stories and learnt a few lessons.

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Volunteering Abroad In South Africa As Told By Alyssa Ramos

California's Alyssa Ramos joined IVHQ this year and while volunteering abroad in South Africa, Alyssa blogged about her experience as a first-time volunteer teacher (and surf instructor on the IVHQ Surf Outreach project). The following are excerpts from Alyssa's blog to offer a unique look into the life of an IVHQer in Cape Town...

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Life After Volunteering Abroad

It's always a pleasure hearing from our IVHQ volunteers and learning how their lives have changed after volunteering abroad.

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A Look Into Your Volunteer Experience in Ghana

Ghana, Africa is fast becoming one of the world's most popular volunteer destinations as travelers search for a volunteer experience abroad, and it’s easy to see why...

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How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Traveling

Think reducing your carbon footprint when traveling can't be fun? It could be more fun than you think!

To help our volunteers be more carbon conscious travelers, we've pulled together this list of simple tips for reducing your carbon footprint when traveling...

 

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Volunteering In Cambodia - Catching The Cambodia Bug

IVHQ staff regularly travel to visit our volunteer overseas programs to meet with local staff and volunteers, visit volunteer placements and ensure our programs are operating to a high standard. I recently visited our volunteer overseas program in Cambodia, and found I walked away having caught the Cambodia bug…

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Questions All Volunteers Want Answered When They Volunteer Abroad

The team at IVHQ literally answers thousands of questions every week around how to volunteer abroad - whether it be via email or telephone, we encourage IVHQ volunteers to throw all their questions our way, to ensure they're well prepared for the journey ahead!

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World Festivals Worth Traveling For

With volunteer abroad programs in over 25 countries around the world, IVHQ volunteers find themselves in the midst of many of the world's most loved festivals!

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Flying Tips - Your Guide To The Perfect Flight

As a volunteer abroad, you share at least one experience with every other volunteer… Air travel.

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10 Facepalm Moments To Avoid In Travel

We all learn from our mistakes, but sometimes it's easier to learn the mistakes of others, so you can spare yourself a facepalm!

To save you from slipping into the facepalm zone, I'm sharing some of the most facepalm-worthy moments I've experienced and witnessed in travel mode...

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Most Instagrammed Volunteer Overseas Destinations

Here at International Volunteer HQ, we love coming to work each day, knowing we're helping people of all ages and nationalities travel the world affordably, while making contributions to developing communities.

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Volunteer Abroad Reviews For Parents By Parents

Do you have (or are you) a parent looking for feedback from parents of past IVHQ volunteers...?

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5 Volunteers Who Will Inspire You To Volunteer Abroad

We love hearing and sharing stories of international volunteers achieving amazing things on IVHQ volunteer abroad programs, so much so that International Volunteer HQ is currently accepting nominations for the 2014 IVHQ

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Behind the Scenes with Volunteers in South America

Summing up her visits to our Ecuador and Colombia volunteer abroad programs, IVHQ’s Lydia takes us behind the scenes…

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10 Conservation Volunteer Opportunities

To celebrate June 5th AKA World Environment Day, we're sharing 10 Conservation Volunteer Opportunities offered through International Volunteer HQ!

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10 Reasons Volunteers Choose Cambodia

With IVHQ's growing list of volunteer program destinations, the decision of where to go can become difficult! To help, we've listed 10 reasons why IVHQers choose to volunteer in Cambodia!

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What Should iPack?

When you volunteer overseas, what technology should come with you?

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Tips For Being A Valuable Volunteer

Everyone who volunteers abroad with IVHQ wants to make a difference and do some good. That goal is equal parts admirable and inspiring, and I’m constantly amazed by the passion and authentic drive that our volunteers have to make a positive contribution to a community. But it’s not easy.

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10 Reasons Volunteers Love Tanzania

Tanzania is rich in culture and a favorite volunteer abroad destination for IVHQ Volunteers. While this list could've had 101 reasons, we've narrowed it down to the Top 10 thanks to suggestions from IVHQ volunteers in Tanzania.

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10 Signs You're The Perfect IVHQ Volunteer

Do you fit the bill?

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18 Places You Need To Visit While You're Young

The best part about this list is you can visit all of these places during your weekends while volunteering overseas with IVHQ!

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10 Photos That Will Make You Want To Volunteer In Asia

International Volunteer HQ encourages those who volunteer overseas to immerse themselves in the culture of their destination and spend their #IVHQweekends capturing stunning sights from around the world! Here's a collection of volunteer photos in Asia, which we guarantee will have you reaching for your passport!

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East Africa Volunteer Program Swap

With the establishment of our new partnership in Uganda, IVHQ sponsored a volunteer program swap in East Africa. The aim of the swap was to provide the opportunity for our TanzaniaKenya and Uganda teams to collaborate, share ideas and experiences, and discuss best practices around hosting IVHQ volunteers in East Africa.

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5 Things You Never Knew You Could Do With IVHQ

We're all about transparency here at IVHQ, whether we're talking volunteer program fees or new program opportunities... But here are 5 things many of you never knew you could do with IVHQ!

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10 Photos That Will Make You Want To Volunteer In Latin America

If you're having trouble trying to narrow down your list of continents to volunteer overseas in, these 10 photos should help convince you to become a volunteer in Latin America!

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Volunteer Stories: Mikael Aberra Gobeze

Mikael Aberra Gobeze, who volunteered with IVHQ in Brazil in 2012, directed the documentary IASESPE: Fight For A Favela, which raised $11,000 to support a community center within the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

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Top Fundraising Tips to Volunteer Overseas

International Volunteer HQ is known for offering the most affordable volunteer overseas programs around, but we all know that flights, visas, travel insurance, and vaccinations can be costly!

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Volunteer Inspiration of the Day

How does a mother-daughter volunteer trip to Kenya result in the establishment of a project to be served by future IVHQ volunteers, enabling developmentally disabled adults of the Kibera slum to enter the workforce?

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15 Things Every Volunteer In Bali Should Do

Arriving as a volunteer in Bali, your bucket list will be full of ‘must do’ activities for your volunteer abroad program and your #IVHQweekends!

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Volunteering Abroad Lessons: Where I Went Wrong Traveling In Asia

I've always been fascinated by Asia, and never been disappointed on every visit to the continent. Like all travelers that have had the opportunity to visit or volunteer in Asia, I have had my fair share of stories and learnt a few lessons. The majority of the stories are great yarns that I love sharing with people who would like to listen and a few, well, let's just say that you need to volunteer and travel in Asia to find it out for yourself.

I get excited when I see the vast volunteer opportunities that IVHQ offers in Asia, and even more excited when I see new volunteer opportunities (including the recent additions of volunteering in the volunteering in Philippines, and Laos). Vang Vieng in Laos is still one of my favourite travel destinations ever (from the 40+ countries that I have traveled to) and I am thrilled to be able to say that IVHQ can now offer volunteers the same experience I had with the new opening of this new program in Laos.

As my friends know, I love to talk, so please take a seat, sit back and learn where I went wrong when traveling in Asia (so you don't make the same mistakes when volunteering abroad)!

Chapter One: The Hangover 2 Is NOT A Documentary

Traveling with friends can lead to the best travel moments that can be shared later on in life. I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Asia with three of my best friends a few years ago. During our time, we experienced shared accommodation (yes, my friends do snore), motor bike excursions, street food eating and general good banter. 

Our group was like the ‘wolf pack’ where we did everything together. 

Until someone got lost.

That person was me.

In my defence, I wasn't lost and I knew where I was, however I was having too much fun to realize that where I was meant to be was a more important location – the airport. 

Traveling and volunteering in Asia is fun. It's as simple as that. On our volunteer programs, you will meet lots of top quality volunteers from around the world that you will be calling friends in a matter of days. During your IVHQ weekends, you'll have the same experience as me and my friends and have the opportunity to go out and explore the offerings of Asia together. No matter where you go in Asia, there are so many activities waiting for you and your new volunteer friends to try. 

PS – just don’t leave anyone behind!

 

Chapter Two: Snowboards Don’t Belong in Bangkok

For those who don't know, Khao San Road is a very busy street in Bangkok that's buzzing with electrifying activity 24 hours a day. The tastiest Pad Thai cooked in front of your eyes, every show on earth offered, with every gizmo being sold that you've never even heard of and will never find a use for! It's a great place to visit, especially for volunteers who are on their way to our Thailand volunteer program or have a spare weekend (it's just a cheap and quick 1 1/2 hour flight away)

Everything belongs in Bangkok; except snowboards.

Here I am walking down Khao San Road at 2am in the morning trying to find my accommodation with a snowboard under my arm. Under all the weight of my snowboard and mixed with the high temperature and humidity, I was sweating like I had just run a marathon. To say it simply, I did not look like I was in the right place and looked rather silly. This was much to the delight of the patrons of Khao San Road, as I managed to provide good entertainment for everyone on the street that night.

Traveling is about being prepared. I am not just talking about being prepared with what you've physically packed but also about your mental preparation. It is important to understand the environment that you will be volunteering in and having the necessary mental preparation to encounter anything unexpected and take this in your stride. The local staff at IVHQ will help you with both mental and physical preparation. Please feel free to pick up the phone and talk to us. Just like me, the IVHQ team love to chat and offer their knowledge as we're all well traveled and have a wealth of information about traveling we want to share. 

Don’t get caught out like me with a snowboard in Bangkok.

 

Chapter Three: This Train Is A Long Train Running

After three months of wanderlust around China, ticking off many items on my bucket list, I thought I was able to navigate my way through the Chinese language and arrange my own transport. I had seen the Great Wall of China (an absolute must do!) with a tour company, stood facing the terracotta warriors with my own tourist army (tick this one off when volunteering in China with IVHQ!), and I was ready to tackle the challenge of traveling to the stunning beauty of Yangshuo by myself. I looked at a map of China and thought ‘hey, that doesn’t look too far away, let’s get going’. 

16 hours later...........

20 hours later..........

Finally, 25 hours later........ I had arrived in....... Guilin!

Stepping off a train after a whole day of traveling is not a pleasant feeling, especially when it is not your end destination. I had no idea where in China I was and realized I could have literally been anywhere at that moment. Luckily for me, my limited Chinese had managed to get me on the right train, and I was only a 2 hour bus trip from my last stop in Yangshuo.

What I learnt from this story is that information is key and a little bit of research can help. Our volunteer abroad programs are situated in some of the beautiful and engaging environments in the world and simply asking fellow travelers about their experiences can give you all the guidance you need. Helpful hints, such as who to book through, which activities are worth experiencing and (what would have helped me) how far away a destination is. Remember if someone offers to help out, take it!

Our local staff are super friendly and are more than happy to assist you with any bookings or tours you will be wanting to do on any of our volunteer programs. 

 

Chapter Four: Where Is My Monkey Repellent?

Have you ever experienced Monkeys up close? Real close?

If you've had the opportunity to be surrounded in monkeys that are running free and wild, you will understand where the saying ‘cheeky monkey’ comes from. They are incredible to watch, prancing around, swinging through the trees and their pure cheekiness. 

I was lucky enough to have first-hand experience of monkey behaviour when visiting our Bali volunteer program in August. I have never seen so many monkeys in my life when I visited the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. They were everywhere, in the trees, on the ground and even climbing up on people. Their cheekiness provided lots of entertainment, especially when they were running up to people and snatching fruit that was strategically placed in peoples pockets. 

I was laughing... Until it happened to me.

A little monkey took my phone...

 

I love this little story and it still provides me a lot of amusement. My advice here is always see the positive aspect in everything on your travels. Life, like volunteering abroad, is not always plain sailing, however if you can always see the best in all situations you're always going to have a fantastic time and grow as a person. 

Above all else, just enjoy your experience as a volunteer in Asia... And don't make the same mistakes I did!

Want more? Check out our blog '10 Photos That Will Make You Want To Volunteer in Asia' for more inspiration!

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Volunteering Abroad In South Africa As Told By Alyssa Ramos

California's Alyssa Ramos joined IVHQ this year and while volunteering abroad in South Africa, Alyssa blogged about her experience as a first-time volunteer teacher (and surf instructor on the IVHQ Surf Outreach project). The following are excerpts from Alyssa's blog to offer a unique look into the life of an IVHQer in Cape Town...

“Karl’s here!” Someone yelled from the girls’ room. At once everyone started running around like the house was on fire, throwing dishes in the sink, grabbing bags, and running outside. We piled in his van with some other volunteers he had already picked up from the other volunteer houses, and set off for the first school were our orientation was. I was a little shocked, but extremely happy about the raging music video mixes he had playing on a screen at the front of his van.

We were taken to what would be my favorite place to be for the remainder of the week – Christian David Moravian Primary School. There wasn’t much to it, just an old building with about five or six classrooms, a couple of detached portable rooms and a grungy-looking dirt play area. I was enrolled in the teaching program, so I was taken to the tutoring room where the volunteers tutor students on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and a special needs person works with children the rest of the time. I’ll admit that I was a little nervous at first, wondering, what if the kids don’t like me? What if I’m bad at teaching? But all of my worries dissipated when the bell rang for interval (recess) the second we walked in, and my arms, hands, and waist were suddenly engulfed in little arms and hands, pulling and pushing me outside. “What’s your name?” They would ask in their adorably tiny voices. “I’m Alyssa, what’s your name?” I would reply slowly, watching their wide eyes fill with wonder and excitement. “Ah-liss-Ah”, they would repeat, sounding out my name before resuming the hugging and handholding. There was so much love that I could hardly contain myself from smiling and laughing as they jumped, tugged, hugged and pulled. Many of them had American names like Susan, John, and Ashley, while others had to teach me how to say and spell their names so I could pronounce them correctly like Sinsile and Khotah.

They all spoke English as well as Afrikaans, and I could tell what grade they were in by how good their English was. They were like most elementary school kids with their curious questions, and the way they played and fought, except for one very big difference. They didn’t have most of the things that other kids do. There were no balls or toys for them to play with, and there was no playground, although they seemed perfectly content running around on the dusty dirt. When the bell rang again all of the kids scattered to their classrooms, but not without taking my hands, legs, and waist first and pulling me along with them saying, “Come to class with us!” and “Can you bring me to class?” But we were stationed in the tutor room to teach the students whose teacher was out sick.

We helped them with worksheets and math and spelling games, which I never would have imagined I’d be teaching to a second grader, but seeing them not only pay attention but actually trying and then looking to me for help and approval was beyond incredible. I wanted to add and subtract little pictures of ships and bananas all day! I should have been exhausted from playing with, carrying, and being swung from all day, but their surplus of energy transferred to me in the form of inspiration, making me eager to come back to school the next morning.

Tuesday morning in Muizenberg, was even colder than Monday since the icy rain drizzle was still lingering from the downpour the night before. They really weren’t joking when they said bring things to layer. I put on a pair of leggings, skinny jeans, fuzzy socks, my new gangsta boots, a knitted head warming thing, a tank top, a long sleeved shirt, zip-up hoodie, and a loose black wool sweater – both for warmth and because I learned the day before that if the kids can see the outline of your phone in your pocket, they will beg you to take pictures, and they are pretty much impossible to say no to.

We went to the first grade classroom first where the tiniest humans I’ve ever seen were practicing their ABC’s and spelling. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she eats the wrong mushroom and gets stuck in the house sitting in their mini chairs at their mini tables, but they absolutely love when you sit with them. I gave the three at my table their assignment – a connect the ABC-dots puzzle that made a frog on one side and a cat on the other. I learned so much from those little guys, just by guiding them through the alphabet, and praising them for their coloring skills. I learned that all of them have very different personalities, but one common trait – they all love to feel loved and encouraged.

I also ended up joining in the sports program since one of the volunteers was out sick. Some people didn’t understand the importance of the sports program and PE, but the activities not only keep the kids healthy (and extract some of their energy surplus), but they also learn coordination, how to play on a team, and not to mention it’s really fun for them. “Ok! Everybody get in a circle!” Charles (the PE Coach) ordered. They all scrambled to grab onto my hands first, and when they were each protectively occupied, they grabbed onto each other’s to form a circle. When they were all evenly assembled Charles waited for them to be quiet to start one of their favorite warm-up songs;

“One day, one day!” He chanted. “One day, one day!” They all chanted back in their tiny voices.

“My mama say!”
“My mama say!”
"Sooooozie”
“Sooooozie,” they chirped, accentuating the high pitch at the end after the long ‘o’s.
“Make me some porridge!”
“Make me some porridge!”
“By uuuuuusing!”
“By uuuuuusing!” Again with the adorable noises.
“Your right hand!”
“Your right hand!”

After repeating the song’s instructions, they all starting pretending to stir an invisible pot of porridge with their right hands. This continued on to adding in their left hand, right foot, left foot, head, and bum until finally concluding with “by uuuuuusing, a spoon.” That song is known to spring up out of nowhere at any given time and will have other volunteers chime in out of nowhere as well without fail. We continued to sing and wiggle around to more extremely catchy songs like “Baby Shark”, and “Hi, My Name is Joe”, until they were all warmed up for the first activity – capture the flag. Except the first round was us against them.

They all patiently waited in line for their flags, then tucked them securely into the front of their pants and lined up against the fence. After Charles explained the objective, I crouched down in a ready stance as if I were prepared to catch all of them on the first try. Pfft. I caught none. They’re not just teeny and agile, but they’re wicked fast too! Luckily after some of them got caught they had to switch sides and catch the others who still had a flag. I was too scared I was going to break one of them anyway so would just swoop them up in the air then let them go as they giggled hysterically to the other side of the “safe zone”.

Wednesday was my fourth day in Muizenberg, and the day that the unthinkable happened. I was somehow convinced to go surfing in the freezing cold and rainy weather. I was about as thrilled as a cat doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but how could I possibly say no to surfing in South Africa? I had about five seconds to grab my laptop, GoPro, phone charger, and change of clothes before I was rushed out the door of the Albertyn House and on my way to the local surf shop.

“It’s OK, the wetsuit will keep you warm!” I was promised, as I was being waved into the water. “It’s too cold!” I yelled, avoiding being blasted in the face by another icy wave. I was shivering spastically as I hovered over the board, trying my best to “help” push it with him. “You know, it’s best if you just dive in". But apparently I somehow managed to “catch all of the waves” (meaning I went forward, stood up for 1 second, then fell) that I had attempted surfing…Which was only about four before I was too cold to even swim.

I also had this grand idea to make an awesome GoPro video by shoving my GoPro in the front strap of his wetsuit so he could film me, but that failed miserably. As did all of my “these are going to look so cool” GoPro shots of me on the board that just look like I’m terrified and about to drown.

The IVHQ Surf Program is a free after school program for the kids that go to the schools we volunteer at and the program is largely funded by the surf program volunteers. It gives the local kids with disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to spend their free time in a safe, healthy, productive, and happy way."

For more details on becoming a volunteer in South Africa, visit the International Volunteer HQ website.

Once you start packing for your adventure, be sure to check out Alyssa's South Africa volunteer packing tips!

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Life After Volunteering Abroad

It's always a pleasure hearing from our IVHQ volunteers and learning how their lives have changed after volunteering abroad. Upon launching our volunteer program in the Philippines, we were contacted by two-time IVHQer, Ricardo Espitia, who joined IVHQ in Costa Rica back in 2011 and then again in Ghana in 2013. Ricardo shared with us that his life after volunteering abroad has lead to his current role, working with the Peace Corps in the Philippines.

For IVHQers like Ricardo, volunteering with IVHQ serves as an opportunity to embrace the experience of volunteering abroad for periods ranging for 1 week to 6 months, before considering the 2-year commitment of the Peace Corps. Ricardo shares...

"My experiences with IVHQ align very well with my ambitions to pursue the United States Peace Corps. IVHQ exposed me to the development world and allowed me to affirm that working in a developing country in a development environment is something well within my passion. During my Peace Corps interview, I called frequently and was asked to speak on both of my IVHQ experiences. 

My job description with the Peace Corps is working with children, youth and families as an ambassador of the countries social welfare program. Much of my work is comprised of leading life skills sessions for youth and helping organize and execute camps for youth. 

The Philippines is a beautiful country. Very community based. Filipinos can be shy at first with foreigners but I have been welcomed with open arms. The community works very hard and makes a strong effort to meet the comfort levels of volunteers (at times it can be a little overwhelming just how much attention and support is given).

There is definitely a need here for volunteers both in rural and urban communities. Volunteers wishing to serve here should be super flexible with their work styles, ready to eat a lot of rice, fish, chicken and fruit in addition to being outgoing, willing to sing and dance and make small talk!"

IVHQ's volunteer program in the Philippines is based in the Calinan District of Davao City and provides opportunities for volunteers to work in Teaching, Childcare, Medical, Special Needs, Working with Hill Tribes and Construction and Renovation. If you would love to learn more about the volunteer opportunities available with IVHQ in the Philippines, drop by our volunteer in Philippines page or drop us a line!

How did volunteering abroad change your path? Share about your life after volunteering abroad in the comments below!

Or if you're looking for volunteer opportunities abroad and don't have the specific qualifications or work experience to join the Peace Corps, see our Peace Corps Alternatives post to discover what IVHQ has to offer!​

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