I've done a lot of volunteer work in Central America, but VolunQuest is one that has trained me to be the best global citizen. We live and work directly with the community of a small island in the Mexican Caribbean. Part of living abroad is branching out and becoming independent. VolunQuest allows you to grow as a teacher, a co-worker and an individual.
Life on a 5 mile long, ½ mile wide island called Isla Mujeres is more fulfilling than anything I've experienced before. It is about a 30 minute ferry ride from Cancun, México and is everything that an island should be; tranquilo (relaxed), gorgeous, great weather, white sand beaches, sea turtles and even the coolest ever whale sharks. But, my take on island life is a bit more detailed than what your normal Joe Shmoe would come up with. I come from a itty bitty all women’s university that only has about 600 students, 100 faculty and about 50 horses. I am used to small communities and I have learned throughout my 4 years of college to notice every detail and make use of everything a small, close knit community has to offer.
Most people think of the tourism that Isla Mujeres has to offer, the beautiful beaches, tasty margaritas and an exotic paradise to escape your reality at home. To me, Isla Mujeres is an island FILLED with incredible Mayan history, interesting people, delicious food, the best music and a relaxed way of life. But most of all, the anthropology geek in me loves this island for it’s unique culture. I came here to indulge myself into a new way of life, to give into making a difference in the community and to the community making a difference in me. Living on a tiny island isn’t all beaches, bikinis and margaritas. I believe in the work hard, play hard motto here on the island. Yes, we do have access to the beaches and pools, drinks and fun times, however we work hard every day of the week and after hours.
Not only am I speaking on the volunteer teachers behalf, but mainly for the locals. Our neighbors, our student’s parents and even some of the students are the ones working in the hotels, the beach clubs, and the bars that tourists enjoy. The locals are the ones who work to make this island the exotic escape that it is to the tourists. Living the island life is more than an extended vacation at the beach. To me, it is about living like a local, learning their way of life and how to work hard for the better of the whole community.
Living like a local is about guessing what animal made the mystery poop on your porch. It’s about not needing to set an alarm because the Zeta Gas truck comes through the neighborhood around 7AM every morning. It’s about living with 3 strangers, hoping our internet will work for movie night and trying to figure out how to do laundry by hand. It’s about language barriers, Spanish and British! Haha. Living like a local is NEVER being on time because who knows what is slowing you down, your golf cart with a flat tire or an iguana crossing the road. It’s about getting to know your neighbors, like the tamale lady who also sells fruit at the market in the AM. It’s about learning how to make-it-work. Living like a local is a quest. It’s the quest of volunteering abroad, the quest of a new life and a new culture. It’s about making your community a better place, one wave and a “Buenos días” at a time.
Teaching abroad isn't just an inside the classroom job. It isn't just moving to another country to have fun. It isn't just "teaching English". It's changing lives. It's being a role model to these students. It's being that building block for them to be something more in their futures. It's being a new friend. VolunQuest benefits over 2,000 students on this tiny island. I have 400 students, I see them everywhere. The smile on their face when they run up and tackle me with a hug is the greatest appreciation you can receive.
Every time I travel somewhere, the saying always proves true, “time flies when you’re having fun.” A friend on facebook recently commented on a picture of mine saying, “You look so happy in every picture you post!” And I truly am. Living in Mexico has exceeded any expectation I had. I highly recommend this experience to anyone who loves children, Central America, the beach, tacos, adventures and changing lives <3