Alumni Spotlight: Chee Chuan Sia


Being Malaysian, Cheech is accustomed to the mix of cultures, as it was part of his multicultural upbringing. Three years of studying abroad in Australia further developed his wanderlust and left him with a desire to travel during his final year of studies. His most recent adventure was an IVHQ volunteer trip to Bali, which was sparked by a recommendation from a friend who previously traveled with the organization via another program.

Why did you choose this program?

Firstly, I chose this program due to recommendations from friends who had participated in one of the IVHQ programs in Vietnam. They told me that registration was a breeze, cost was reasonable, and that the coordinated activities were pretty good. After doing my own homework, I agreed with them and took a leap of faith to proceed.

Then, I had to consider which program I wanted. I chose wildlife because I have been working with people for various causes like teaching, student support and first aid. Being involved in wildlife conservation would give me a different perspective as to how things are conducted.

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

My university has a grant, the UQ Advantage Grant, which provides successful applicants with a grant of up to AU$1000 to use toward an overseas program.

I was grateful to be granted $750 to help subsidize my travel costs. The things that I had to organize on my own were the booking of plane tickets, registering for the program, and buying my travel insurance.

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

I would say to give a substantial amount of time, say 1 month before, to planning since there are a lot of things involved: plane tickets, currency exchange, travel adapters, travel immunizations, and so on.

Also, have an open mind and heart to accepting the culture there, and always be ready to pick up new knowledge!

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

The orientation portion mainly involve three meals a day, coupled with local tours or cultural classes, before leaving the night for us volunteers to freely decide on what we want to do.

Local tours involve walking around the Balinese neighborhoods, paddy fields and streets. Cultural classes, on the other hand, involve Bahasa learning, cooking classes, and making of prayer paraphernalia.

Once the turtle conservation portion begins, we usually rotate tasks between the morning and the afternoons. The rotation involves turtle enclosure cleaning, turtle feeding, application of turtle medicine, beach cleaning, and so many more!

During the evenings, we are again free to do whatever we want, though we always have bonfires on a weekly basis and usually hang out at this small bar called Penida Colada to chat and chill around.

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?

I reckon my biggest fear was about not being able to mingle well with the other volunteers, as I am more of an introverted person who is comfortable with myself.

To overcome this, I had some mental preparation beforehand to embrace whatever that comes around, as well as get to know as many people as possible. After all, travelling is about interacting with the people and places around. It is not just about being there and taking shots with a camera.

While I was there, I always had daily reflections on how I could improve my interactions with the other volunteers the next day, as well as how I could improve on the daily tasks that we had.

Do you have any additional advice for participants traveling to Bali?

One thing to keep in mind with any tourist site is the high possibility of being overcharged for the items there. You can either do your homework online to discover the typical prices of stuff, or you can always ask the friendly staff there for guidance.

Also, if you plan to visit any of the Gili Islands during your weekend break, make sure you settle your return boat trip a day earlier. We settled ours on the day itself and thus missed our boat.

Last, but not least, when you travel around, be brave and crazy enough to get to know the people around you, be it locals, or other internationals visiting the same country as you.

I mingled with some French and Dutch volunteers, who in the end became my travel mates for the weekends! And if rough times like snatch thefts, missing your boat, and injuries do happen, rest assured that these are usually short-lived.

Embrace these setbacks and calmly think of what your next steps should be. Remember that you have other volunteers as well as program coordinators to consult.