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What Our Participants Should Know

We try very hard to make things go as smooth as possible for you abroad and many participants have had a fantastic experience and left great testimonials for us. However, it would be foolish for anyone to guarantee that you wouldn’t encounter any problems or possibly want to make adjustments to the program after arrival. Whenever there is a problem, it is important to stay positive and take appropriate actions in a respectful manner so that the problem can be solved effectively without causing anyone extra stress or tainting your experience.

In order to avoid disappointments, please do not start your journey with unreasonable expectations. To help you develop realistic expectations for this experience of a lifetime, please note the following friendly reminders:

(1) Expectations for Developing Countries

Please be aware that the country you are going to may be very different from your home country. The differences may be reflected in the culture, work environment, work ethics, living condition, economic status, and other areas. To get the most of this experience, it is important to stay positive and keep an open mind. It is a requirement for international volunteers and interns to be adaptable, non-judgmental, and have a strong interest to live in a different culture.

It is not easy to travel thousands of miles from one’s comfort zone, but try to appreciate the cultural adventure and enjoy an escape from the ordinary. It is recommended for you to appreciate the differences as much as possible. Please note that you may experience power outages, bumpy dirt roads, squat toilet, and many other conditions not commonly found in developed nations. If you need to have certain things (such as a bedroom with internet), be sure to let us know clearly in advance so that we can recommend some locations or try to customize the program for you.

It is the participant’s responsibility to follow the host country’s laws and to follow the partner organization’s code of conduct. Many people go abroad for the opportunity to escape from their daily bubble, so you certainly should not expect to have the same things as you do at home. Otherwise, it may hinder your ability to help the local people and to learn from them. One important thing to remember is that their way of living is just as correct as ours.

In developing nations, resources can be limited and the living conditions can be basic. This is a part of the learning process. Our programs are designed to let the participants experience the local lifestyle and see the world through another culture’s eyes, not a typical hotel tourist experience. “The traveler sees what he sees; the tourist sees what he has come to see.” There is a need for participants to be flexible and understanding abroad. This is especially important for these going to Africa.

(2) Host Family or Guest House

Accommodation and meals are provided by local host families or guest houses. It is not the host family’s obligation to provide other personal necessities, such as shampoo. Many host families do provide more personal necessities and some host families even do your laundry for you, but please note that it is NOT an obligation. Even though many host families treat foreigners as VIP guests and do whatever they can for you, it is important to treat them as your equal with respect and to be thankful. Many participants develop life-long friendships with their host families.

Please note that some projects may provide lunch at the work place, so some host families may assume that you don’t need lunch unless you ask. If your project does not provide lunch, be sure to bring a lunch box to the host family and ask them clearly for packed lunch.

It is our policy that host families do not borrow or ask for money from our volunteers. Any required payment to the host family is handled by the local coordinator. The local coordinators do security checks and inform the host families about our policies, but in very rare cases a host family may be new and still unfamiliar with the system. In such rare cases, the host family may ask the volunteer for compensation by mistake. We deeply apologize in such cases and please kindly understand that it must be a mistake. There is no need to get worried or angry. You only need to tell the host family to talk to the local coordinator directly for financial compensations. You may also raise a complaint with our local coordinators so that they may have a chance to better train this particular host family for future volunteers.

(3) Be Careful Whenever Money is Involved

Please note that this point is mainly a concern in Africa or in some tourism zones in other continents.

Many local people are extremely friendly and heart warming people, so we are not trying to scare you away from anyone. However, sometimes a single bad experience can taint the good memories, so we want to prepare you for the worst and it is safer to be cautious when money transaction is involved abroad.

In developing countries, many people live on less than $1 a day and are very desperate for money. Some local people may perceive foreigners as very wealthy, so some may try to borrow money or may take your generosity for granted. We advise our participants to always be careful whenever there is a business transaction (such as dealing with a tour guide or taxi driver) or whenever money is involved (such as lending money). Do not easily lend money to random people. While dealing with a tour guide or taxi driver, try to ask trustworthy people for reliable price information and sometimes you may need to negotiate to get a fair deal. Also, many participants get marriage proposals (especially for girls). When you make friends abroad, it is good to know that they like you for your heart, not for your money. This is just a friendly reminder.

(4) Work Places

Please note that this point is mainly a concern in Nepal and African destinations.

Some local NGOs and work places in developing nations are very poorly funded. As a result, these organizations may be disorganized, lack a good structure, and may not be effective in finding tasks for the participants. In such situations, it is part of the volunteer’s job to try to provide a good structure by suggesting ideas and finding tasks.

In addition, some work places may ask the participants for donations. They have the right to ask, but keep in mind that our participants are not obligated to give donations to any organizations abroad. If you are not able to donate and don’t really know how to say no, the following are some typical responses:

  • “Sorry, I don’t have any extra money at the moment, but I may be able to do some fund-raising activities once I get back to my home country. If time allows, I will try to help.”
  • “Sorry, I am a student. I am here to help by contributing my time and effort, but I don’t have any income to donate at the moment. I can try to help out when I start earning income.”

Sometimes, the work place may be desperate for funding, but the participants do not need to feel guilty about not giving donation. If you want to give donation, sometimes it is a good idea to donate food or other necessities instead of money. There are lots of corruptions in many developing nations, so sometimes donating money may not be the best thing to do as it is hard to know how the money will be used.

(5) Culture Shock

You may experience culture shock without even realizing it. You may run into disputes with the host family or with the work place. Please be aware that problems are often caused by misunderstanding and cultural/language barriers. If you feel comfortable, you can first raise your concern with them directly in a respectful manner. If you need help or you don’t feel comfortable resolving the issue with them directly, let us know and we will help.

For example, some local schools may practice beating kids for punishment, which is probably not allowed at your home country. As an international volunteer or intern, you want to make a positive difference, but sometimes you need to understand that certain things can’t be changed overnight. You need to respect the host community’s development stage, which may be many years behind your home country.

(6) Language Barriers

This is especially important for these going to China, Mexico, and Ecuador.

Language barriers are very minimal in some countries, such as Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Nepal. In these countries, many people speak English in daily life and you do not need to worry much about not speaking the local language, but there could still be misunderstandings or miscommunications caused by language barriers, especially when they speak broken English or when you speak English as a second language.

Our local coordinators usually speak decent English, so orientations and local support are usually done in English. However, language barriers are very pronounced for certain countries, such as China, Mexico, and Ecuador. Most people in these countries do not speak good English at all. In China, students and new graduates have learned lots of English at school, but do not have enough opportunities to practice. Older people usually have worse English than younger ones.

How much language barriers will effect your experience also depends on your personality. For example, some volunteers arrived to Latin America with very little Spanish but with an amazing personality and they connect to the family and coworkers right away and end up having a great time. Sometimes we get volunteers that have a high Spanish level and a lot of experience, but they are too shy to talk or expect everybody to adapt to them so they never connect to the coworkers and in the end have a bad time.

To minimize the negative effect of language barrier, it is recommended to:

  • have a smile, which is universal language and shows your friendliness
  • be open to communications, asking questions, and making suggestions to show that you are interested in learning and interested in helping
  • speak slower and be patient
  • If they have trouble understanding you, try to use different words, especially easier words to explain what you are trying to say
    • For example, if they don’t understand the word “zebra”, you can explain that it is “a horse with black and white stripes”.
  • It may help to write certain words down, this is especially true in China since many students have better written English than spoken English.

(7) The Local Hotline for Support

If you are experiencing any difficulty abroad, such as cultural shock or other problems, you may call the hotline for local support. Please note that:

  • To be respectful to the local coordinator, you should not call in the middle of the night unless it is an absolute emergency.
  • The local hotline is meant to be working for 24 hours, but the signal may get lost sometimes especially when traveling to rural locations. If your call goes unanswered, you should send a text message or leave a voice message with your phone number. The local coordinator will call back as soon as he/she sees your message.

If you are not happy with the local coordinator’s services, you may start a complaint process with us directly by email. We are always here to listen and to help.

(8) Arrival Welcome

Our flexible programs allow participants to start the program any week of the year, but certain days of the week may not be available for arrival welcome. Thus, please always confirm the arrival time and meeting location with us before you confirm your flight.

If your arrival time is delayed due to a delayed flight or missed flight, you need to call the local coordinator and also email us as soon as you can in order to save the coordinator’s traveling time and transportation costs. If you are not able to inform us on time, the local coordinator’s transportation costs and traveling time can be wasted and you may be held responsible for the incurred transportation costs which may range from US$10 to $50 depending on the distance.