Alumni Spotlight: Kieren Topp

I'm studying civil and environmental engineering in Brisbane, Australia. My three favourite things to do in this world are: exploring, researching, and all things environmental - including hosting a green-living YouTube channel called Natural Thought.

Meet Kieren!

Why did you pick this program?

Kieren: I chose to volunteer overseas because I had always looked up to people who did so with an envy of wanting to do the same, but I never thought I would be able to do it myself. I had lived a very sheltered life, moving through the ranks of small child to school boy to high school boy and now university boy. My plans were to get a job, get a family, work, then die - but only because I hadn't experienced the world. Hearing about my options for overseas volunteering suddenly opened a door to this whole new world and gave me a new point of view on life.

I decided to travel with ISV because I had never traveled overseas before. This program, like many others, organise everything for you so all you have to do is pay them your money and enjoy the trip! (If you are more money conscious, you can organise such trips yourself, but if you are happy with paying for convenience, sign up to a third-party volunteer organisation such as ISV).

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

Kieren: My favourite story to share is not about the countless high-adrenalin activities I participated in such as white-water rafting down rapids as crazy as class five or zip-lining through tropical jungles. No, my favourite story (and what impacted me the most) happened while I was volunteering at a scientific research station in an isolated beach community called Ostional.

I was living with a host family in their home with a couple of other volunteers. This one-on-one living with the locals enhanced the experience dramatically! There were three children in the household (aged 10, 8, and 2) who were so lovely to play with. They would teach us Spanish words and play games with us in the backyard. Even though there was a language barrier, we could have so much fun together!

Ostional Beach

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Kieren: We are all the same! Although some people have more money than others or have different physical characteristics or are raised to different ideologies, we are all essentially the same!

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Kieren: After a day of Spanish classes, some of us at the school decided to walk to the other side of town to play soccer at a local park. It was your typical Hollywood American set-up with a concrete soccer-field-slash-basketball-court and high, chicken-wire fencing all the way around. A children's playground was tucked away in the corner with a tree and a small patch of grass.

When we arrived there, some locals were already playing soccer and invited us to join them (this took us a while to figure out): gringos verses locals. The pack leader was very vocal and played relatively aggressively, which kept me conscious and wary of my passport and cash strung around my neck. It was a great game ending in a draw of 1-1 and only stopped because we lost both soccer balls over a high fence with a long drop on the other side. This experience was enhanced by the fact we didn't know what they were saying or shouting during the game.

Pacuare River

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions or future path?

Kieren: I have always had a passion for research and digging down to the bottom of things so it was fulfilling to experience the behind-the-scenes of a scientific study in progress, and be a part of that. I have been considering changing my course from environmental engineering into environmental science and this volunteer project gave me valuable experience in the field which will allow me to make a more informed decision.