Alumni Spotlight: Benjamin Ying

Benjamin Ying is a 3rd year Civil Engineering student at University College London. He enjoys playing football, going to the movies, traveling, and as much sleep as an engineering student can get! He is hoping to go on more volunteering trips in the near future.

Volunteering in South Africa

Why did you choose this program?

I was intending to do some form of volunteering during my time in university. Representatives from ISV came into my class one morning and invited us to an info session later in the week. I kept the leaflet and went to the meeting to find out a bit more about this organization. The opportunity to travel to Africa (a new continent!) and to be able to help out in the community there was extremely enticing and I felt it would be something very worthwhile. After getting the green light from my parents, I signed up and never looked back.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

ISV was extremely well organized and very helpful in all aspects of the trip. All accommodation and most meals while we were there were included in the price of the program. There were many emails and newsletters over the term to help us to prepare and learn more about the program, country and organization. When the time came, there was a clear email with instructions on flight bookings (done through a private organization). Closer to the trip we were given a good briefing document with a whole list of stuff to pack.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

If you go to South Africa in the summer for the US or the UK be warned, IT IS ACTUALLY COLD. Having spent the last two winters in the UK I underestimated how cold it would actually be at night in Africa. It was around 5 degrees C (41 F) at night and ranged from about 18-27 during the day (64-80 F). It might not seem that cold but the temperature difference between day and night really makes you feel the chill. A good jacket will definitely make it more comfortable. Calling the bank before traveling is also essential. Several people on my trip who didn't had problems withdrawing cash.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

For the 2 weeks of project, you spend the weekdays working in the mornings and some afternoons on your assigned project. In my case this was the refurbishment of a primary school in Cintsa, East London. There are a some afternoons where you work (until about 3). On other afternoons, there are activities planned. Examples were football (soccer) with the local kids, hiking, cultural exposure talks, volleyball or just relaxing with your amazing teammates. There were additional optional activities over the weekends. We went on a scenic adventure to do some cliff jumping and see the beautiful Morgan Cliffs.

The 2 weeks of tour are just packed full of fun activities. Definitely worthwhile! There are a few days spent on a bus commuting to a different location. Examples of the activities we did were caving, cliff jumping (known as kloofing), diving, snorkeling, surfing lessons, safari runs at Kruger National Park, elephant encounters and so much more!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was the potential lack of cleanliness in the various facilities we would use and getting sick as a result of that. I ensured that all my vaccinations were up to date before leaving for Africa in preparation. Upon arriving, this turned out not to be an issue. This is mostly down to ISV ensuring that everything is as safe as possible and their care of us. Also I realized that I was expecting the worst and it turned out that Africa was very different to what I imagined it to be