Why You Should Volunteer Abroad
I was scared to death.
I had never left the country before, let alone barely the state of Wisconsin. When I signed up to volunteer in Jamaica during my sophomore year of college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that I wanted to start traveling, and going with a group where everything was planned for me was a great place to start.
Excited and nervous, I packed my bags and hopped on a plane for Negril with the rest of my crew for my spring break. We were called “ASB,” for Alternative Spring Break. I had no idea the imprint Jamaica would leave on me, how much I would learn, or how I would benefit from helping others.
The Impact Your Volunteer Work Makes is Priceless.
The plan was to lay the foundation of a school manually in Negril. It seemed like a daunting task. They didn’t have the machinery that we did, so everything was by hand. We spent three days working on an intermediate school in the hot sun, making concrete with soil, gravel, and mix. We dug out trenches and picked rocks to lay the concrete. A portion of our group painted the school. It was hard work and the hours got long, but it was fun. My group was exceptionally blessed to be taken care of by the Jamaican people. While we were working, locals brought us fresh papaya. This was so delicious because the only food I had packed was junky snacks; and dinner wasn’t until the end of the day. Fresh fruit was like a Godsend at the time. Especially fresh Jamaican fruit.
Manually making concrete
The second half of our trip was spent refurnishing a run-down school. We sorted through the ruins, cleaned up broken glass, wiped down the walls with bleach, and made a safer learning environment. In addition, we re-painted the school and rid all of the garbage and toxic materials amongst the ruins.
The absolute best part of the trip was seeing the difference we were making in the lives of the Jamaican children. At the schools, children were constantly pulling on us, wanting us to hold them, wanting to play with our hair, anything. They loved the attention, and it felt good to know that we were helping them receive a better education. We were able to bring some things from back home that we wanted to donate. When we left the first school, we all took off our shoes and donated our shoes for the cause. Sadly, many Jamaican people don’t wear shoes and their feet end up infected.
A Volunteer Trip Abroad is Not All volunteering…You Can Have Fun Too!
Learning about a different culture is an absolutely amazing experience, and to be in a place so different from home is eye-opening. At the end of each volunteering day, we did a bunch of cool stuff. Our first few nights, our stay was right on the beach. Literally, on the sand. I had only ever seen the ocean once before this trip and that was in Florida. Let me tell you, Florida waters are completely different looking than Jamaican waters. I was mesmerized by the beautiful aqua depth. Along the beach were little “shops” where Jamaican locals heavily preyed on us to bargain from. That was an experience in itself.
This was our resort on the second half of the trip in Treasure Cove
Although the purpose of the trip was to dedicate service, it didn’t stop us from having fun. I went zip lining, snorkeling, went on a glass boat ride, and even went to a reggae dance club.
You Get to Soak Up a Different Culture.
As for never getting out much, I was in culture shock. And I loved it. Being in Jamaica and seeing how the locals lived made me really appreciate the things that we take for granted; such as shoes and glass-free streets. I reflected over the course of this week how good we have it in the United States, which furthered my passion for wanting to help others.
Jerk chicken and rice!
I loved trying the new food—jerk chicken is absolutely amazing! So was Jamaican Red Stripe beer…I may or may not have smuggled some in my carry-on…..
It’s a Great Resume Builder.
This opportunity has made my resume look awesome. To say that I worked with children abroad and helped build a new school definitely has scored points over the past few years. Because of this experience, I was given a competitive edge against other interviewees and able to land a few jobs and grad school interviews. Employers want to see that you are cultured, respect diversity, and are willing to give back to others.
How You Can Get Started
I highly encourage you to get involved with a service trip abroad. If you are currently in college, check out what your university or college has to offer. As I mentioned before, my trip was offered during spring break through my Study Abroad office. Perhaps your church is offering a mission trip through the ministry. Take advantage of these programs! They are already planned so you don’t have to stress about figuring out accommodations and such.
If you don’t have these resources, there are an abundance of programs online that offer these opportunities. Check them out.
Tips When Abroad
You can never take too many pictures. I think that the people on my trip thought I was crazy for documenting practically very moment, but as I look through these pictures now, it’s hard to remember everything exactly as the years go by. Take advantage of the beauty around you.
In addition, journal. I’m SO happy I did this. When I first starting writing this post, I couldn’t recall a lot of memories vividly. I found my old journal and read through it and almost started crying.
Go out of your comfort zone. I wasn’t gungho about the reggae dance club, because if you read my author bio in this blog, I am a horrible dancer. Oh well. A couple Red Stripes in and I was good to go!
This trip was already almost 4 years ago. I am smiling as I reflect back on it. It was like a tropical getaway from a dream . . . but at the same time, I got to help those in need. I am so happy that I chose to spend my money on this trip abroad. The Jamaican people thought that we were changing their lives, but really, they were changing ours. My advice: Just do it. Pay the money, get sponsored, fundraise, do anything you can to afford a volunteer aboard trip. It is a once-in-a-life time experience that you will never forget as long as you live.