Did YOU volunteer abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Yes, I volunteered in Romania for 3 months. I was inspired to volunteer abroad as I hoped to progress a career in international development. At the time, I could not afford to study for a masters so I decided to gain some work experience instead. I chose Romania as a result of watching various documentaries that came out after the fall of communism depicting the terrible conditions of the state orphanages. I remember the harrowing images of feral children running around and was shocked that this was happening in Europe.
From a developmental point of you I was intrigued to see how the conditions had changed since Romania had entered the European Union. I am happy to say that the conditions have improved but Romania still has a long way to go before its social services reach that of its Western European counterparts.
Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?
There are so many parts of a culture tied up in the language from jokes to music to general pub chatter. Without a basic understanding of the language you can miss out on so many funny and beautiful moments.
For me, learning Hungarian was also about respect. Although I am based in Romania, the county where I have settled (Harghita) is inhabited by a majority of Hungarians. Anyone that has tried to learn Hungarian will know it’s not an easy language. Locals understand this and are very appreciative when foreigners try. When I made the effort, the locals made the effort with me and so started my appreciation for this region and its people.
What was your favorite traveling experience?
Back-packing through Mexico and Costa Rica. Prior to this experience I had only traveled in Europe which didn’t take me too far out of my comfort zone and realm of knowledge. Mexico and Costa Rica however exposed me to so many new ideas things that I didn’t even know existed. For instance their somewhat interesting public transport system where buses actually have wing-men to shout when it’s appropriate to over-take. I think when you travel to countries that are completely different to your home country the experience is potentially much deeper and more rich but only if you are open and don’t stay hidden in your 5 star luxury hotel.
What changes would you make to the volunteer abroad industry?
In general, better regulation & more support for both the volunteers and the host organizations. As the volunteer industry grows there is more and more demand for volunteer placements. However in some cases when there is pressure to meet demand, standards drop and nobody is held accountable. In the “West” the phenomenon of volunteering is quite developed. There are polices and processes that protect both the volunteers and host organizations. However in less developed countries the concept of volunteering is either unknown or only starting to develop. In my opinion, before host organizations decide to receive volunteers from different cultures they should undergo training and before volunteer agencies decide to send volunteers to host organizations they should undergo a thorough analysis to see whether said host organization is actually a legitimate organization. I believe that IVHQ is one of few sending organizations that is actually getting it right.