How to get the most out of your volunteer experience?
1. Be open an flexible, become a Latino version fo yourself!
You will find yourself in many, previously unimaginable situations. Be open to step out of the way you would have responded in your home country, and be flexible
enough to identify and step into the local mindset. Maybe it takes to loosen up on your expectations regarding hygiene, acceptable levels of noise, privacy, job
performance, and common sense, well-balanced meals and socializing. Be aware of your expectations, and when you will need to adjust them in order to better
connect to the locals – necessary to experience the culture as an insider!!! Be willing to experiment: think of someone from another country/culture coming
to your own home town and being closed to all it has to offer because it is different from what that person is used to. What advice would you give that person???
2. Take responsibility for your language and cultural training
Your local language school is your launching pad for your learning, but your learning will not stop there and you will find infinite ways to enhance your language and cultural training. Before departing – read about country & culture, history, politics, economic and social environment, religion etc. Talk to people who have participated in a similar program! Introduce yourself to the language, even if it is just familiarizing yourself with daily phrases like “Buenos días”, “Donde está la estación de autobuses?”, “Agua pura, por favor”. Start a journal recording all the information that you have been gathering, your motivations, your expectations, your fears…
Discipline yourself to speak Spanish only even if there are opportunities to lapse back into English or your native language. Keep a small notepad with you to write down new words that you will want to use again, or questions that come up along the way. Find a “cultural informant” who is able to answer your questions about language and culture. Continue with your journal, write observations about your experiences, frustrations, insights, this helps you to keep track of your development towards deeper cross-cultural understanding.
3. Honor your commitment to the organization/project where you will be working
Please take your job seriously even though you will not receive any payment for your work. You are expected to work the full time during your registered program dates. If you do NOT complete your work duties or break any rules set up by the host organization, you will be automatically dismissed without refund. It may well happen that cultural frustration may make you want to throw the towel but highs and lows are an inevitable part of the adjustment process. By learning how to overcome negative feelings, and to develop skills as well as the perspective needed to succeed, is one of the biggest challenges involved in international work experience.
4. Be active in your job and show interest & initiative
Some organizations/projects are experienced with volunteers, others are not; you may not have the guidance that you expected, without objectives and daily tasks
laid out clearly. Almost all organizations/projects only count with limited resources and do not always have a volunteer coordinator or just a person who helps the volunteers settling in. Sometimes you will be confronted with people who simply do not have any experience and do not know what to tell you. Help them out by asking questions, by sharing your own observations with them, and by presenting new ideas. Each situations is slightly different but the general rule is to take initiative. Very often you will be given a few basic duties and it will be up to you to “take the ball and run with it”. Get as much information as available, come up with new ideas but be sensitive to the existing hierarchy and the established ways of how things are processed. Build relationships, address the appropriate person for information – be pro-active rather than passive!!
Part of your job is to investigate how things usually get done, as well as how the organization/project considers how things should get done. Then add your own, unique experiences and ideas in order to create a harmonious concept of how to combine the already in-place efforts with YOUR valuable input. It takes considerable maturity, sensitivity, perseverance and creativity to benefit not only yourself but the others. A positive work attitude, respect for co-workers and the host culture, plus a genuine desire to help will be your success tools.
Remember – “every little bit helps”, you cannot expect to change the world in just a few weeks or months; the humanitarian that expects to make immediate drastic changes in the economic or social system will be setting himself up for disappointment and frustration. Instead you should be proud of yourself and your sincere efforts to try and make this world a better place.