Preparing mentally and having the right attitude

Expect the unexpected, and uncertainty. Expect not to know everything you feel you need to know. Expect disorganization and inefficiency. Expect things to be inconvenient.

In other words… don’t expect it to be like home, or even the college!

Do not use alcohol until you are sure of how it is viewed in that culture. Do not even think about doing drugs. It is one thing to think it might be cool to smoke a joint under a coconut tree. It’s another thing entirely to discover the guy who sold it to you is an undercover policeman.

Try to find out as much as you can about the country, the region, the organization you are going to. Contact current and recent volunteers. Contact the organization itself. Read books. Surf the net. Be informed.

Ask questions. Ask more questions. Ask questions that even seem silly to you. The more you know in advance, the better you’ll feel.

Be aware not all of your questions may be answered, especially if you are going somewhere as the first volunteer.

Once at the organization, if there are insurmountable problems, contact the Volunteer Programme Coordinator for assistance.

What is the right attitude to have as a volunteer going out to your posting?

First of all, volunteering is not about “saving the world”. As a volunteer fresh out of school, you will be learning about yourself, the organization, the people they work with, the culture and the highs and lows of the volunteer experience. You will not make a massive difference to hundreds of lives.

On the other hand, by giving freely of your time, energy, enthusiasm and support, you will enable the organization with whom you are volunteering to function that little bit better, to get that little bit more work done, to reach that person they weren’t able to reach before. In this sense, small truly is beautiful.

The vast majority of organizations we are linked to are small, local organizations.They are often partly staffed by local volunteers, or people whose annual pay may be less than you paid for your airfare. You need to be humble, open to change in yourself, willing to do as you are told, not just what you think is the best thing for you to do. After all, these organizations, the people working for them and the people they work with will be there long after you have left.

Some organizations have quite strict codes of conduct, rules of staff behaviour. Obey them. Just because you are used to a more liberal way of behaving, don’t think you can behave in the same way there. You can easily upset and offend people. As the saying goes, When in Rome do as the Romans do!

There will be times when you feel quite useless and want to leave. You will feel frustrated. Lost. Nothing more than a privileged temporary onlooker. Don’t worry. All of these are natural feelings. They are usually short-lived. Stay positive. Talk to people about how you feel. They recognise it is not easy for you being so far away from home, from family and friends. Be patient. They have jobs of work to do. Taking care of you may be quite near the bottom of their list!

 

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The Tibetan Children’s Village, India