Ditch Those Destination Jitters!February 04, 2013
You have arrived at your volunteer destination. Your heart is beating 100 miles an hour. You're double-checking that you haven’t left anything behind on the bus, train or car. Maybe your hands are sweaty. Those butterflies in your stomach must be doing somersaults in double time. Don’t worry!
These symptoms that you are experiencing actually have a label: excitement!
Remember: You are here to learn as well as help.
1. Your volunteering experience will be far richer if you forge relationships with the people you are around - and this applies whether the program lasts for one week or 20 weeks. Fellow volunteers, locals and your hosts are all part of your temporary community now.
2. Head to a local football game or another community activity to see what people car
e about in their culture. Can you play a musical instrument? If it's small enough, like an ocarina or recorder, take it with you. Joining in music, singing and dancing is a sure-fire way to break down barriers.
3. Immerse yourself in the local language; a few words will get you a long way. It’s showing an adopted community you care about learning about and integrating with their culture, as opposed to simply visiting and tourist-gawking as you walk by. There is no guarantee that you will become fluent in the language but the most effective way to learn is to speak it in day-to-day life. It’s much more rewarding than classroom based learning.
4. Never, ever, be afraid to ask questions about things you don’t understand. After all, knowledge is power!
5. If you feel 'awkward' about asking questions or seeking help and advice, always ask with a smile, a laugh or make a joke about your lack of memory/limitations.
6. Keep an open mind and reserve judgement of different cultural practices. You might have to bite your tongue sometimes.
7. It’s likely that many of your own cultural assumptions - from books or stories in the media or simply that you've heard - will be challenged. We're back to that learning and growing aspect; be willing to accept other ways of doing things.
9. Be flexible; this is one of the most important characteristics of a volunteer. Broaden your horizons and you will be maximizing your experience.
10. And the most important tip? Have fun! Remember, when you're open and excited to experience new cultures, food and ideas, that energy is as apparent and contagious as the smile you’ll be sharing at the same time.
Do you have any additional tips you would like to share?
Photo credits. Boys playing soccer: André Benedix, Creative Commons, Flickr. Girl: Foxtongue, Creative Commons, Flickr.