It’s difficult to prepare for the unexpected, but we’ve all given it a go. You’ve scoured the Internet, spoken to foreign relatives who went to Indonesia in 1962, and know what you’ve been prepared for is sweltering heat and rekindling your free spirit. But there are some things that you’re not expecting. Whilst some of these you’ll never be open minded or learned enough for, there are some aspects that we can equip you to face. So here’s my Ultimate Guide to Volunteering in Bali with IVHQ - everything you don’t expect but now can.
You work approximately 2 to 3 hours a day in the classroom (Monday to Friday). Kindergarten volunteers work roughly from 8am to 10am, while English teachers and Healthcare volunteers work approximately 2pm to 4:30pm. Just remember that this doesn’t include the one hour preparation time for your classes, transport time and hours do differ depending on your school. There are designated communal areas for you to do your photocopying and printing facilities, making it a great place to prepare lessons and share ideas. As a volunteer teacher in Bali, you’ll teach everything from basic counting to brushing your teeth. The schools aren’t fully equipped, so I encourage you to bring stationary for the kids (Top Tip: Colouring goes down a storm!). Also, the kids already know your standard ‘Duck Duck Goose’ and ‘Tag’ games – some come prepared with some more of your own!)
Living and Accomodation
You’re living in Penestanan, which is just outside of Ubud. It’s a quaint village filled with locals who’ll you’ll come to know and love. It’s full of ceremonies and a wealth of vibrant culture. All the volunteers live spaced out on one long street. You stay in quarters belonging to a local family and there will usually be between 6 to 12 other volunteers in the house. Accommodation is basic - bunk beads, a fan, simple closet, fridge, fresh water, a stove and the bathrooms are fully functional. The rooms are kept tidy for you and in the best condition manageable, but it’s no five star resort. Expect to get very hot and crave an air conditioning unit! Just remember that it’s all part of the experience, and sometimes minimalism is exactly the detox you need.
Eating and Meals
Three meals are provided to you each day on a ‘as much as you can eat’ basis. You’ll never go hungry! Bare in mind that you’re in Indonesia, so whist there’s lots of variety; rice, noodles and dragon fruit is plentiful. The quality is good and the chefs are charming and all food allergies are well catered for. There are also a lot of restaurants and cafes in walking distance so you’re always able to mix it up (this includes every vegan restaurant ever!)
Take a short stroll up a hill, down some steps and across a bridge and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Ubud. Here motorbikes, ice cream parlors and the tourist market will surround you. You could spend days wandering around Ubud and exploring the back streets. It gets its charm from hidden gems – cafes tucked away and exclusive coconut caterers. Venture deeper and you’ll even find a laid back indie cinema, a street filled with sterling silver vendors, health shops, night clubs and plenty of ATMs. In and around Penestanan there are two main café’s – Café Vespa and Kopi Desa. These are where the locals hang out and both convert into relaxed bars at night (the Kopi Desa shows a film each week – a great substitute for Netflix!)
Traveling Around Bali
Most people travel on weekends as almost everything is within 6 hours drive. You’ll find tourism stands which will help you organize transport to where you want to go, and most include tour guides, hiking, adventures etc. You’ll also meet other volunteers to travel with and you’ll soon fall in love with every place you visit!
Things to keep in mind
Money and ATMs: Not to say this happens to everyone, but every now and then I heard stories of swallowed credit cards and not being able to draw money. Don’t panic, as it’s always possible to sort out! Top Tip: Bring a back up credit card and only draw money from ATMs that have a security guard or that are firmly secured in the wall.
Weather: It’s hot. Some nights you’re going to think you can’t breathe from the heat and many days will be spent lying on tile floors trying to cool down! You’ll find your air-conditioning spots and you’ll adjust to constantly being sweaty! If the locals can cope with it – you can too!
Wifi: It’s found in most places so you won’t need to stop posting to your Instagram account! Wifi is provided in the volunteer housing, but it can often be slow and some are low on hot spots. Climbing onto a roof to Skype your parents could be considered an adventure though!
Clothing: At the schools you’ll be required to dress respectfully and cover your knees and shoulders. Bring t-shirts and light pants and skirts – although these can be bought easily at the local market. If you’re not working, your normal summer clothes are fine. But just remember that the tighter your clothes – the more uncomfortable you’ll be. Leave your plunging necklines and small shorts at home, they’re not needed here!
Free time: When you’re not working you have complete freedom. Roam the city, escape the heat, read some Hemingway or do some yoga. At night you’ll go out, grab a drink, maybe watch a film or eat too much fruit!
Sickness: Bali belly isn’t rare, but isn’t as bad as it sounds. Be careful with what you eat off the street and don’t be surprised if you have a wobbly stomach one day. There is a clinic near by and very sympathetic local staff to help you out. Top Tip: bring some nausea, diarrhea and stomach cramp medication. Just in case.
Necessary to bring:
- Sun tan lotion
- Mosquito repellent
- A towel
- Snack food
- Clothes that cover your knees and shoulders.
- An open mind
- A sense of humour
Not necessary to bring:
- Make up
- Wild expectations
Think about buying/brining:
- Supplies for the schools – stationary, games, toys
- Health care supplies for local school including tooth brushes, soap and sunscreen lotion
- Supplies for your house – maybe contribute something to make the next volunteers stay in your house just as pleasurable. Hangers, your books and DVDs for example.
- A light weight rain jacket or umbrella.
The local IVHQ staff work tirelessly to improve volunteer life and add value to your experience with them. Appreciate the coordinators, the cooks and the family you stay with. And one last thing – you’re beginning this journey for yourself. You’re going to Bali to have an adventure, to change your outlook on life, to find your kindred spirit, to let go, to have fun and to give back. Let these things happen. Don’t be bogged down by the small stuff and always be ready for a curve ball. The best important thing I learned as a volunteer in Bali? Everything is temporary. Let it be.