Having lived in four countries, and having had the opportunity to volunteer and give back in six different countries, there’s a lot I’ve learnt over the years.
I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to travel solo, with other travelers, with friends, family and for voluntary projects.
Travelling has its ups and downs, and each photo and adventure has its own story. Every time I reflect back to my travel and volunteering experiences, I can’t help but think of the small and big things wisdom has graced me with over the years.
So, first things first:
A key ingredient I think all volunteers need. Travelling and volunteering has taught me to grow in patience. Sometimes it’s easy to forget in the midst of excitement that you are diving into a new culture and country, where things may not be practised the same as back home. This is when patience steps in. Trains, coaches, boats and planes may get delayed, projects planned may run slower than anticipated when you’re volunteering aboard, and your perfectly planned itinerary may change last minute. You may not be able to visit and tick off as many landmarks and sights that you originally put on your list, but preparing your mindset to be patient within your adventure can make a huge difference. Not only will you not be negatively affected as much when things do not go according to plan, but you’ll find beauty in the simplest of things when they go right.
Appreciation and Gratitude
Having made friends from all corners of the world has meant that I have been able to hear their stories of their culture, childhood and what growing up for them was like. Amongst the wonderful capturing stories, there have been a few heart-breaking ones. Moments like this encourage me to reflect on my own life. This has built a great sense of appreciation for the small things that I sometimes take for granted; having parents, a safe neighbourhood to have lived and grown up in, health-care, an education, good friends and so much more.
I have since started taking photos with me or on my phone of the special moments and people in my life, so that when and if I have a chance to share about myself with someone whilst travelling, I can look back at the photos as reference to express to them what I am thankful for also.
Knowledge beyond the textbooks
Remember all those history classes you were taught at school about other cultures, their practises, diversity, how to embrace an ethnic group other than your own, and the beauty of being open minded?
If you were taught all them things at school, then great! I need to know what school you went to, as my first high school certainty didn’t give me a taste of this at all. It wasn’t until I moved high school age 15, and later at university that my hunger to learn about the world began to get fed.
I willing chased opportunities to attend projects, placements and talks that would broaden my understanding of the world around us.
Sitting and engaging in conversation with the locals when I travel is one of my favourite things to do. A genuine, rich and authentic conversation about real life, and real situations has opened my eyes and mind in so many ways possible. It has also highlighted to me not to believe everything I see or read in the media. It’s so important to do your background research, and speak to someone or get to know individuals from a specific country or continent before making your own judgement or stereotyping.
For some reason I feel more myself, more alive and more confident when I travel and volunteer. I get to discover sides of myself, develop areas of myself and simply take time out for myself.
A common question I am asked when aboard is, ‘where are you from?’, as I always travel with my British passport, I feel compelled to say British, but then I think on the times when I am asked in the UK, ‘where are you originally from, where are your parents from?’, which is when I sometimes get stuck. I’ve realised the locals aboard couldn’t care less whether I give them a detailed answer of my heritage or not, but most of the time ask out of interest and kindness and later share with me what region or tribe they may be from.
A fellow Thai man once said to me that him and I were the ‘same-same’, when I was out there volunteering with IVHQ. We had exactly the same skin tone, and he was excited to call me his sister! A girl I was with at the time that I met at my hostel thought this was a tad offensive and creepy, but I explained to her how nice it felt to be welcomed and accepted by a stranger.
I have been called sister, mother, cousin and friend by some people around the world who I have known for a small amount of time. It has made me realise that my identity isn’t associated with my passports, my degree, the language I speak, what I know, my job title and so forth. My identity to me is how I’ve treated another fellow human being, what they will remember me by… it is what I think of myself, the confidence I have, it is my experiences and it is what I have learnt from the people I have met.
Love and Joy in Its Truest Form
There was a time in my life when I placed a lot of my happiness in material gains, and people’s approval. The more things I had, the more content I would feel. Somehow it was a sense of achievement to buy that bag I really wanted, that I knew would be out of style by next year, or that I would grow bored with within a couple of months.
I began to develop a pattern. I would complain I didn’t have money to travel and see the world, whilst spending my money on useless items just to end up being discontent with it all. I had enough of this lifestyle, and slowly started making changes. I wanted to start giving back to society and others to be at the top of my agenda. I wanted to reconnect with my child-like self that would be content from the simplest things, and show more gratitude towards life. The less I focused on myself and all my diva needs, the happier I became. I learnt how to save wisely and spend wisely, and most of all to not place my happiest in what I own, and what I could show off with, but rather what I could offer the world, and to ways to appreciate and love everyday life in its truest and simplest form.