IOI has stood out to me because of the unique volunteer opportunities and exceptional locations. The biggest thing that drove me to IOI is their mission behind working with small communities and their focus on education, conservation and community development. I like that IOI is multifaceted and runs study abroad programs, outreach projects and then incorporates volunteer opportunities into those projects.
Jamie lives in Colorado and is the Program Director of an outdoor education facility in the Rocky Mountains. She graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies and minors in Spanish and Anthropology from Eckerd College. She recently completed her MA in Environmental Studies with a focus on Environmental Education through Prescott College.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
I organized my own air travel, but IOI had everything else organized. They provided a great pre-trip departure document that helped me feel prepared and confident in my travels. It can be daunting thinking about arranging car rides in a foreign place, getting to the airport, and dealing with airline delays in another language. I was taken to the airport by Enrique when it was time to fly to Gerona, he stayed with me until we knew the plane was on time, and then I received the same phenomenal service when I was arriving and departing from Gerona. It made my travels so much easier knowing that I was always going to have someone waiting for me on the other end of a plane ride.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
IOI’s pre-trip departure packet had me so prepared for this trip that I would recommend reading through any pre-trip information you are given. There was nothing I wish I had known ahead of time because I really feel like IOI prepared me for every scenario – i.e. the fact that WiFi is not common in Cuba and the process to go about buying an internet card etc. Their responses to my last minute questions were so quickly responded to and I always felt well supported before and during my trip.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
An average day consisted of a morning dive (volunteering). We would complete fish counts, conduct trash pick-ups, hunt lion fish or clean the PVC where the corals were growing. Afternoons were free time and self-driven. There’s great snorkeling and exploring around Cocodrilo. The community is amazing and full of great people to get it know. I was in Cocodrilo for 3 weeks and I was never bored.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was the language barrier and traveling alone. Being forced to overcome my fears because that was my reality. Everyone was always willing to help in any situation and everyone was very patient with me.
My fears actually became the most empowering part of my trip.
It was really empowering to have traveled in Cuba for a month by myself solely on the Spanish I know.
What was your favorite part about being on a small island in Cuba?
Growing up in Miami, I have always wanted to travel to Cuba but I’m not very attracted to visiting big cities, so heading to Cocodrilo was absolutely perfect for me. Getting back to my roots as a diver and being in a small town where you can really get to know people and spend quality time with them was one of the best parts of this volunteer adventure.