5 things I wish I knew before volunteering abroad


Tamara Saade
Staff Writer

Dear pre-Madagascar me,

You arrived at the Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport with tear-filled eyes, a head full of memories, legs covered with mosquito bites and a heavy heart.
But let’s go back to that same airport a month ago.
With your luggage in one hand and your passport in the other, you wandered through the gate thinking whether or not the eight t-shirts, three pair of pants and two pajamas you bought will be enough for four full weeks on a desert island.
First things first: Travel light and save some space for all the souvenirs you’re going to buy. Always do some general investigative research first, especially when travelling to countries where people live with different values.
Second: Don’t depend on the weather forecast you saw online, and learn as much as you can about the country’s culture and traditions.
Understand the taboos and customs, and how locals deal with tourists. Some banal actions may be interpreted as insults and, trust me, the last thing you want is to insult a driver on an 18-hour bus ride in the middle of Madagascar.
Third: Leave the thinking for every-day life and be spontaneous.
Buy that bracelet because you may not find it in the market the next day. Go swim in the waterfalls knowing that you’d be risking some sort of illness. After travelling all the way across the globe, there’s not one excuse that can stop you from venturing and discovering.
Fourth: Patience is your best friend.
People who have already volunteered abroad talk about the fun memories and incredible experiences that they’ve lived, but no one ever talks about the fear that comes before that.
Leaving home is never easy, so give you yourself some time to settle in and get used to the environment, then let the volunteering magic operate.
Fifth: As cliché is it sounds, you have to learn to enjoy every moment of it.
You’ll meet amazing people, and live through some unforgettable moments, whether good or bad. You’ll come back all bruised-up and tired, but it’ll all be worth it, as every experience helps shape your personality in some way.
Expect to spend the flight back home in tears because if you thought leaving your family and friends would be hard, think twice. Leaving your volunteering family will be harder.

Sincerely yours,
post-Madagascar me

Leave a Reply