Why Volunteering Overseas Has Changed My Life

Discovering Who I Am in the Midst of Volunteering

Fresh out of high school, young, adventurous, and ready to take on the world. My rather audacious dreams of just hopping on a plane and saying goodbye to reality and every ounce of familiarity were all coming oh so real. You see, when I first had made the commitment to spend my first year out of high school volunteering overseas, I truly had no idea—I had no idea how much of an impact this would drastically have on my life. I had no idea that there would be such a presence of joy, self-discovery, and empowerment. I was clueless about the impact that would come as a side effect of volunteering. This is the radical story of how I truly discovered who I am, by the act of serving others. 

I remember the day that started the 46 hours of continuous travel, the hope that this day in particular brought. I boarded my flight with the giddiness of what a 5-year-old would have on Christmas Eve. The excitement of the unknown was overtaking any anxious fears that I may have had. I was ready, with all my belongings strategically rolled to the tiniest form possible and carefully placed in my hiking backpack. Double checking my packing multiple times, knowing that this is what I had to live with, to wear, to survive and perhaps that hiking backpack was my only sense of belonging at the time. I gripped on to the thick woven straps and confidently walked into the international departures ready to see what this trip had in store for me and ready to see if the hype around international volunteering was all that I heard it was. 

It was more; the hype, all the times as a kid that I had dreamt of traveling, dreamt about helping others in less fortunate countries. It was more real than my wildest dreams, it was better than I could have ever imagined, it was everything that I had ever hoped for, it was where I would be personally changed forever. 

As I stepped off the last flight to the designated country, an overwhelming 98 percent humidity welcomed me into the tropical far off land. The palm trees swayed in the wind and the sunshine was brighter than ever. The last haul to the final village was a three-hour bus ride to the remote location of where I would call come home for the next several weeks and perhaps even months. 

I had signed up to be a volunteer English teacher at a little local primary school in the village. Little was a huge understatement! As I walked into my first day teaching, as I stood there with rolls of sweat dripping down my sun-kissed skin, three hundred pairs of unfamiliar chocolate coloured eyes are staring at me. Let’s just repeat that once more, THREE HUNDRED CHILDREN, in one tiny wooden shack of a classroom. What have I gotten myself into? My brain was racing to anxious conclusions. Everything seemed impossible. Hundreds of children who speak a different language looking at me for the hope that one day they can find a job, have a career, lessen their chance of catching a disease in this poverty-torn country. I was their hope that maybe they could learn English, maybe they could have a higher chance of a better quality of life. I stood there in shock. Until this happened, a little girl sitting in the back of the class slowly walked up to the front of the class where I was standing and just looked at me in awe. She then proceeded to place her little precious hands on my rather ivory coloured skin toned cheeks and stared into my blue eyes. It then suddenly hit me that this village was so remote that I may have been the first person with pale skin and blue eyes that this girl had ever seen. That was the first time that I can honestly say that I had ever felt love and compassion for a complete stranger. As the days went on, I fell more and more in love with these beautiful children. I got more and more excited when they would come running to me in excitement wanting to share the new English world that they had just mastered saying. These children were my everything. They showed me how to love unconditionally. The way that they had nothing but offered me the best they had. My living conditions were a dirt floor but I know it was the best they had to offer. I know these families that I got to live with alongside these children I got to love. I know they will have an everlasting impact on my life. 

When North American society says that I can only obtain happiness through consumerism—I will remember the joy of the children, bursting with happiness even though all odds were against them. 

When I am told that I have to measure up to a certain standard of beauty—I will look at the beauty that the women obtained through loving themselves, through deeply loving their natural selves and pursuing a heart and soul that is beautiful. 

When I feel lost on this crazy adventure of life—I will always remember to go back to the roots of what I learnt while volunteering. 

I will go back, to learn, discover, empower. 

I have found myself, 

My passions, my dreams, my desires. 

I have found myself and discovered who I am;  in the midst of loving others and volunteering overseas. 

Why Volunteering Overseas Has Changed My Life

Travel, volunteering, lifestyle 

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