Why did you decide to volunteer with VFP in France?
Elissa: I've always loved France. I have been there a number of times, and even lived in Paris for two years while in college. I've been to many different corners of the country, and last summer I wanted to do something different. I started looking into volunteer programs so I could spent time in France while giving something back to the country I loved. I investigated several different organizations and settled on VFP for several reasons. I liked their mission and the variety of projects and locations available. As a nonprofit, VFP's fees were very reasonable and their staff was very helpful in answering all of my (many) questions.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Elissa: During my project in France, the thirteen of us were staying in a campground outside of the town of Laval. Each morning the group would have a self-service breakfast in the clubhouse and get ready for the day. We took a van to our job site, where we worked to preserve a peat bog. Our work involved cutting down all the existing grasses and plants, then creating pathways for the water, as well as bridges over the streams. We opted to work a slightly longer morning, taking a snack break, and then head back to the campground for lunch. We all took turns preparing lunch and dinner for the group, cooking meals that were representative of our home country, since we all came from different places. Our afternoons were free, some days we just relaxed at camp, other days we went on organized trips into town or to explore the local area. On weekends we also took trips, going canoeing and to visit a lake one weekend. Another weekend we met up with a different work camp nearby, hosting them one night, then camping with them at Mont-St-Michel and visiting their worksite. While the work itself could be difficult, we had ample time off, and lots of fun time! As much as the purpose of the experience was to work, I mostly remember my time there as great fun with some wonderful people whom I still keep in touch with.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Elissa: Aside from impressing people on my resume, this experience has made me think more about the impact that my travel has on the world and the places I visit. I've done a lot of reading in my research and see that there is "good" tourism and "bad" tourism, especially when it comes to volunteer travel. In the future, I want my summer travel to be more meaningful than just looking at pretty things. I am glad I was able to have such a great experience and I'm looking forward to repeating it!