I chose this organization because I wanted to make a difference somewhere; I know how terribly cliched that sounds, but the fact of the matter is that I did not want to simply lie on a beach for weeks on end - I wanted to contribute to a community in a long-lasting, sustainable way. Furthermore, as I am interested in teaching in the future, I thought that this program would be ideal as it would give me the opportunity to practice not only my Spanish but also my didactic abilities, within a classroom environment.
Imogen is a 20-year-old student from the United Kingdom. She is reading Hispanic Studies and she will shortly be entering her 'Third Year' during which she is obliged to spend a total period of eight months in Spanish-speaking countries.
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The program provider assisted me in many ways: in addition to a pre-departure travel pack detailing all of the information concerning the country and region - from the weather to security, health vaccinations to local customs - there were also three pre-departure training modules which were of great use with regards to preparing myself for the journey which lay ahead. What is more, although IVHQ did not arrange my flights, they forwarded the particulars of my trip to 'Humanitarian Flights' who then provided me with a recommended route in addition to a quote.
It was recommendations such as these (together with suggestions of travel insurance providers and assistance when it came to submitting details of my arrival time so that the local team could come and collect me) which put me completely at ease before I head off. I myself had to book the flights and ensure that I carefully read through all the various documents detailing my placement, but that was no hardship!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Quite simply, it would be to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way: from sampling different foods to immersing yourself in the local community through the means of the weekly events held in the centre of Mérida, all will contribute towards ensuring that your experience abroad is enriching and joyful.
Furthermore, this entails traveling and exploring as much as possible: take advantage of your free time to see the many sights on offer in the Yucatan region - Mayan ruins, Cenotes, and all other delights simply abound!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
An average day would be something along these lines:
Awake at 06:30hrs; breakfast at 07:00hrs with the other volunteers; 07:20hrs-08:50hrs commute; 09:00hrs-12:00hrs work; 12:00hrs onwards free to explore for the remainder of the day; 18:30hrs dinner served at the Volunteer House; 20:00hrs prepare for one of the evening activities - from Zumba at the Inn to traditional dances and bars in the centre, there really is something for everyone!
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 prior to my departure was how I would cope so far away from home amongst people whom I had never met - when I sat on the plane that took me from Mexico City to Mérida, I really did question what on earth I had signed myself up for! With regards to overcoming this, I simply forced myself out of my room and down to the communal area in and around the kitchen: within moments of my arrival I was happily chatting with the other volunteers, and needless to say that they were all utter darlings!
Within a day or so, it felt as though we had been friends for many a week: we had been together for 24 hours or so, and we were happily dining together, scrambling up pyramids, rope-swinging into Cenotes and screeching along to Ariana Grande in a tuk-tuk (together with some more authentically Mexican reggae, of course...)!
Any other tips for other prospective travelers?
Listen to people when they tell you that it is hot: it is, it really is. Pack a reusable water bottle - it is your (and the planet's) best friend. And the mosquitoes: they are utter savages; take insect repellent with you.
Don't do an Imogen and think that you don't need it after reading a spurious article claiming that Marmite lovers do not get bitten because the smell deters flies - I can tell you for nothing that that that is a fallacy; a misleading old wives' tale...