Alumni Spotlight: David Kolakowski


Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

David: I participated in “South Africa - Teach Children and Surf in Cape Town” with GoEco and it was the most amazing trip of my life! I stayed at SaltyCrax hostel and worked with SAVE (South Africa Volunteer Experience). In the mornings we would volunteer at the DuNoon township, which was an impoverished area where most children do not have the opportunity to gain a formal education. We would spend 3-4 hours on weekday mornings teaching 3-5 year old children english, doing puzzles, and playing outdoor games on their play ground. Their classroom was a storage container in the corner of the township and the volunteer teaching we were doing was referred to as an Educare. Volunteering at the township was difficult and challenging, but was also one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.

Our afternoons consisted of 2 hours of personal surf time including instruction from an awesome surf instructor who could help at various skill levels. Once we were done with our surf session, 13-15 year old students would arrive and we would spend another 2 hours with them doing exercises and playing games on the beach to warm up. We then jumped in the water and assisted them with their surfing. You did not have to be a professional instructor, but simply needed to stay out in the water with them to ensure they stayed safe, and give them an occasional power boost through the water!

Every week night and weekend we had to ourselves. There was great nightlife within walking distance, so we were still able go out and get back at a reasonable time during the week if we wanted. On the weekends, downtown Cape Town was a short 20 minute cab ride away. Also, you could take bigger multiple day adventure trips, which I and most everyone on the project took advantage of.

Ten years from now, what is the one thing you think you will remember from the trip?

David: 10 years from now when I look back on this trip, the one thing that I will remember most is the amount of personal growth I had over the course of the trip. I made a great deal of friends from all over the world, saw some of the most amazing parts of South Africa, tried countless new activities, and grew so much as a person in 6 short weeks.

By the end of the trip, I was immersed in the culture and felt like I was living my everyday normal life. Sometimes I would forget I was thousands of miles away from home. When you allow yourself to do new things and get out of your comfort zone, the personal benefits are endless!

Also, the volunteer abroad experience is a very safe and reliable way to get this type of experience. A lot of the necessities such as room, board, and people to travel with are provided for you. You do not have to worry about setting these up so you are free to live in the moment and enjoy it!

Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?

David: My worldview has changed as a result of the trip. Before my experience, I did not truly understand the concept of inequality and its presence in the world. Business Insider ranked several countries in the world to determine which was the most unequal. The United States was ranked 39th and South Africa was ranked 2nd. I have been to a handful of the major cities in the United States where I have seen both extremely affluent and impoverished people in the same place.

Inequality exists everywhere, however South Africa was on an entirely different level. After being in South Africa I was not surprised it ranked that highly and was actually surprised it was not the most unequal on the list. Some of the South African townships consisted of people living in sheds made of wood and sheet metal with no electricity. Many of the children I taught came to our Educare in the same clothes everyday because that was all their parents could afford. While several miles away, there were huge mansions on the sloping grounds of Table Mountain overlooking downtown Cape Town and the South Atlantic Ocean. Examples similar to this can be found all over the world, but the frequency and volume of these occurrences is widespread and very apparent in South Africa.

I went into the trip expecting to see these drastic differences, but I did not truly understand what it meant until I was there seeing it in person and interacting with the people living the different lifestyles.

What was the most interesting cultural difference you encountered?

David: The most interesting cultural difference I encountered was the overwhelming passion and sense of pride the South African citizens had for their country despite the difficult times faced during Apartheid. Whether it was a tour guide on an adventure tour, a mother of a student in my class at the township, or one of our volunteer leaders, each person spoke with an attitude that expressed something along the lines of, “I am confident in my South African heritage”.

One of the many times I visited downtown Cape Town, I went on a walking tour of the city. The guide went into great detail on the history of the Cape Town, or “Mother City”, and a lot of the discussion centered around Apartheid. Most of the people I met were able to acknowledge that it happened and use the experience to make them stronger and more unified with other South Africans.

This was very inspiring and made me feel honored and lucky that I was able to travel to such an amazing place simply by looking up the volunteer program online! No country is perfect and there are most likely some issues that still exist, but the energy I felt when hearing the South Africans talk about their country was a very unique cultural experience.

Where would you most like to travel to next?

David: Physical activity and sport are two of my greatest passions. I would like the next trip I take to involve them in some way. I also feel that the volunteer programs I have done, especially this one, have been the best way for me to see the country. You are set up with a group of peers of similar age, your room and board are taken care of, and you have so much free time to go out and explore. Also, the work you will be doing may be difficult and challenging at times, but it will be the most rewarding part of the trip. I can wholeheartedly say that one of the things I miss the most from South Africa are the moments when we arrived at the Educare and our students would run out to us yelling and screaming with excitement ready to play and learn.

That being said, I am interested in doing a sport outreach program in Europe, specifically Austria. I would want to go during a time of the year where I could do some skiing which is one of my favorite outdoor activities. Austria interests me specifically because of its rich history, location with respect to other European countries, and amazing geography and landscape. I have not traveled to Europe yet so it would surely be an amazing trip!