Alumni Spotlight: Emily Wyszynski


Why did you decide to volunteer with Kaya Volunteer in Ecuador?

I had saved up some money and wanted to travel somewhere new in the world, but I wanted to do something more meaningful than paying to stay at a resort, etc. I thought it would be great to experience a country by working with the people who live there and by making a physical (as well as monetary) contribution to their projects.

I researched quite a few companies that offered volunteering opportunities abroad, and I felt that Kaya provided a legitimate and well-organized connection to the projects that I was interested in. Their website was clear and easy to navigate, and they were always quick to answer my emails and enquiries.

As this was my first time volunteering, but also my first time on a big trip abroad by myself, I (along with my family) had several worries before I travelled. Kaya was very helpful and addressed all of my questions/worries and provided valuable advice on travelling in general, going abroad and going it alone.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

In the mornings, you would help prepare the food for the animals and then proceed to clean the cages and provide the animals with fresh food and water. After lunch, your duties could include constructing new structures or fixing existing structures for the inside of the animal cages or helping to fix things (cages, steps, etc.) around the Centre. Some animals were also fed later in the afternoon. Every other week, the volunteers and staff would go to teach a lesson about various environmental issues to the children at the local school. This involved some brainstorming for lesson ideas by the volunteers and preparation of teaching material (drawings, posters etc.).

How has this experience impacted your future?

First of all, I feel very lucky and fortunate to have had this experience. I am also so glad that I took the opportunity to do something like this. I learned so much about myself and about other cultures (through the Ecuadorian people and friends/volunteers from other countries). I feel awakened after this experience and that my adventures have just begun. I want to continue exploring and learning about new places in the world. I have started to learn new languages, as I can see how important and valuable it is to an experience and to improve yourself as an individual.

My experience definitely changed me. It made me more flexible as a person. When you travel and volunteer abroad, you don’t have as much control over your surroundings or what happens, so it teaches you to let go a little and just let things happen. This has made me more calm in many situations since I’ve returned home. One thing I didn’t expect with this experience was to think differently about my career path. I participated in this project to work with animals, but what I didn’t expect was to enjoy the teaching aspect of the project as much as I did. It made me realize that I love interacting with people about things that I’m passionate about. I am now looking to transition myself into taking my knowledge of animals and the environment and using it to get people excited about getting involved and caring about the living world outside of themselves.

Being away from home (in my case, on my own) and having these experiences allows you to spend some quality time reflecting on what you really enjoy in life and what you want to do for yourself to be happy.