I chose to volunteer through IVHQ (who connected us with V2 Volunteers in Jamaica) after a long-time friend of mine recommended the program to me. I chose to visit Jamaica because I have always been fascinated by the culture and lifestyle there, and I felt that it was a country that could really benefit from volunteering.
Alumni Spotlight: Scott Finkelstein
Scott Finkelstein is a 21-year-old Finance and Computer Science student at the University at Buffalo. His free time is primarily spent reading, writing music, traveling, and volunteering. His travel goals are to visit every continent and to see the seven wonders of the world.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
V2 Volunteers assisted us with transportation from the airport to our accommodation and transportation to major activities we wanted to do (such as visit the Blue Hole or the Bioluminescent Lagoon). They provided housing for the volunteers as part of the program fee, as well as optional (paid) meal plans and laundry services throughout the week.
Outside of transportation to major activities and to/from the airport, however, you have to organize daily transportation to your volunteer location on your own. This is primarily done through the form of taking taxis to your location (which are cheap and relatively accessible, since many taxis frequently pass by road in front of the volunteer house). Also, if you aren't going to sign up for the meal package, you will have to organize your own meals every day.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
One piece of advice I would give to someone on the program is to step outside of your comfort zone! You will experience only a fraction of what Jamaica has to offer if you are afraid to walk the streets of Oracabessa and Ocho Rios and interact with the locals. The locals of Jamaica that my group and I met while we were there truly treated us like family, and they are what made our trip such a special experience to all of us.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
All in all, the program isn't too intensive at all. On an average week, you will be volunteering from Monday-Friday, with Saturdays and Sundays off to do what you want.
The start and end time of each volunteer program are different, but on average most of the programs will have you waking up around 7-8 AM and you will be back at the house by 2 PM. With this program, there is no curfew, so once you are done volunteering, you can feel free to do whatever you want. For us, that consisted of going out to local bars and restaurants, going to beaches, and visiting attractions like the blue hole or bioluminescent lagoon.
There is no shortage of activities to entertain yourself with, so take advantage of the fact that there is no curfew with this program!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Seeing as this was my first time traveling to another country, my biggest fear going into this trip was making the adjustments to another country's culture. I was worried about the changes I might have to make to my day-to-day life, my interactions with others, and the food I would be eating, etc. However, after my first full day in the country, I began to embrace these changes and differences, because I saw them as the elements of the experience that truly made it unique and special. There's something very liberating, therapeutic, and occasionally humbling about conforming yourself to the customs, habits, and lifestyles of another culture.
What can an individual do to make the most out of their experience in the country?
In my opinion, the most important part of being in Jamaica is interacting with and speaking to the locals. The motto of Jamaica is "Out of Many, One People", and from my experience there, those are words that they truly live by. People that you've never met or seen before will strike up conversations with you at bars, and within 10 minutes, they're treating you like you're a member of their own family. Everyone I met in Jamaica had an incredible story to share and a heart of gold, and it'd be a shame for anyone visiting to miss out on such an experience.