Alumni Spotlight: Laura Egolf


Laura is an undergraduate university student from Canada who decided to take a year off from her Biology degree to learn Spanish. She has been spending the past eight months in Argentina, taking language classes and learning about the country’s culture.

Why did you choose this program?

Something really important to me when looking at a volunteer program is the level of emphasis on sustainability. Thankfully, most programs are starting to steer in this direction, but there are still a large amount that only operates based on volunteers, creating opportunity for dependence and unhealthy relationships between locals and the program, which should definitely be avoided.

IVHQ is a program that operates year-round, with volunteers acting only as additional help to permanent projects that are managed and run by local people. This was something that was really important to me, and definitely influenced my decision. Also, IVHQ has a pretty good cost-value ratio, which was definitely important to me as well!

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

Once you submit your country, location, and desired project, IVHQ sets up a volunteer profile for you. This basically includes information about the country you are going to and project details, and requires you to supply your travel details, travel insurance, and background check.

You are in charge of figuring most things out, but the IVHQ staff is more than happy to help and answer questions, so it isn't too bad. They pick you up from the bus station or airport upon arrival, and provide you with breakfast and dinner the whole time you're there, which is really nice as well!

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

My biggest piece of advice would be to just go. But after that, I would say be prepared to feel uncomfortable.

The culture will be different; the language is different; you will suddenly be the odd one out. However, this is one of the biggest chances to learn about yourself and grow as a person.

I wouldn't have given up my time abroad for anything.

In the project I was in, it was really important to have a good basis of the language. However, there were also other volunteers with very minimal Spanish who were really enjoying their time as well, so there are opportunities for whatever level you are at.

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

I was part of the Healthcare project in Cordoba, Argentina. So each morning, we would be provided with breakfast, and then walk to one of the local clinics. As somebody with no medical knowledge, we were pretty much just shadowing, but still definitely got to play an active role. We were taking patient's information, and doing whatever is possible to make the nurses’ job's easier.

When I was there, we just stayed for the morning since the afternoons are pretty slow, but they are definitely open to having you stay longer if you want to. In the afternoons, most volunteers cook lunch and spend their time relaxing – reading, exercising, going in the pool. In the evenings, Jose cooks us an awesome meal, and then people hang out, often playing card games.

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

I think my biggest fear was the language barrier. I decided to come to Argentina because I wanted to improve my Spanish, but knew that making friends and settling into a routine would be harder due to the lack of a common language.

This is definitely something that I've had to work on over my time here, but I found that people are more often than not pretty patient with you, and want to help you with learning the language. I don't have my views necessarily changed, but I realized that this is simply part of the experience. More often than not, it can help forge new relationships.

What was your favorite aspect of your experience?

I really enjoyed getting to know the different volunteers and people at the project. We had some volunteers at the house from Austria, Australia, Italy, and of course the USA. Having all those different cultures come together with a common cause, summered in Argentine culture, was a really unique experience. Making connections with people is always the highlight of any trip, in my experience.