Volunteering abroad is a completely life changing adventure, even if the work your doing is similar to your career. Take Megan, for instance. She’s spent years working with children and people with HIV, but her trip to Jaipur, India had her coming back to the UK like she was fresh off her gap year, with new ideas, perspective and energy. But don’t take our word for it, hear it from Megan herself!
“India was really good! Ultimately, the work you do varies from child to child. For some of the older girls, it was more of longer chats with them about life in general, what they want to do, why they came here, and their future. And then obviously with the younger girls, it’s more play time. It’s just completely different for who you’re talking to and what they need, basically.
When I first got there, I was completely shattered. I was like “what’s going on? What’s the time? I don’t know where I am”! But we got there and they got all the girls together and did a standard introduction with a list of their names, what grade they’re in, and just sort of their basic info. Obviously you don’t remember that all in one go. All of them, though, are so accommodating right from that start bit, they just let you in, offer to get your bags, just straight away they wouldn’t let you do anything because they wanted to help you which was really nice. Which for us, being British we find that quite alarming, but that’s just culture differences.
I think I actually got to bond with each of the girls there and got to know them all one way or another. And the night before my last night, I was actually having dinner with them and I was looking around and I thought “this is going to be quite weird, being at home by myself, and not having you all around. I’m going to miss it”. Especially at dinnertime and that kind of stuff when everyone’s together. For me, two weeks flew by. I had two sight-seeing days which were the two last days off and I kind of wanted to just cancel them and just stay at home and spend more time with the girls.
Day to day was really interesting because they had two festivals while I was there, International Children’s Day, which apparently we have in England but I was never aware of it before I went, and there were two other festivals while we were there. They sort of structured the week around that, so if there was a competition coming up there would be some kids preparing for that or a dance or other stuff, so they were always doing something. But not all of the kids were involved in that, so they had other things like painting or playing.
When I got there I just asked “what do you need me to do?” Obviously you don’t want to be like “yeah I’m doing this” and disrupt their whole routine. Usually I’d wake up and the older kids would be at school, so get breakfast, come down and help the younger kids until about 11 when they went off to school. You’d have an hour and a half or two hours until the older kids came back, then everyone else came back about 5 and it was dinner and the evening activity. In that hour and a half you can go to the office and see if they need anything. I think having the split let you get to know the older and the younger group at the same time, and individually as well because it wasn’t all of them at once. When they’re all there, they all want to speak to you because obviously you’re the novelty, but when it was just that one on one you could actually get to speak to them.
I don’t think you could come away and not have a different outlook. Even coming back, some of my colleagues were like “what has happened? You come back like you’ve had a gap year and you’re really about life”. And I’m like no, it’s fine, these are the really important things in life, this is what you need to focus on. And everyone’s rolling their eyes and I’m like, ok fine, your negativity isn’t affecting me.
It’s cheesy, but you come out feeling like your heart is quite full. I really didn’t want to leave, I was quite happy being there with all the kids and their general attitude towards life. But I think with my work, I work with kids but I also work with people with HIV, so combining that, for me, I think was a really good fit. Overall, it was very heartwarming and I didn’t want to leave them.“