VIA meets you halfway to make your experience great

Ratings
Overall
8
Impact: 8
Support: 9
Fun: 10
Value: 8
Safety: 10
Review

VIA is an honest, self-aware, and responsible organization that you can trust to do as much as any organization can to provide you with a good experience abroad. They prepared my long-term Indonesia volunteer group with readings, lectures, and discussion on Indonesian history, culture, and language, and also discussed realistic expectations for what impact you can expect your volunteering to have on the local community and yourself. Better language classes and professional preparation (learning to teach English, in my case) would have been helpful, but perhaps they’ve improved these by now. If you’re proactive and don’t rely on VIA to spoon-feed you everything, you can prepare yourself well.

I was placed in a safe community, Yogyakarta, in a school that truly wanted a volunteer (as opposed to a school that had a volunteer foisted on it by the terms of a grant or something). Everyone was extremely friendly, welcoming, and accepting of my different culture and religion. My liaison at the school, my VIA in-country field representative, and my U.S.-based VIA program officer were all very responsive to any questions or concerns I had. Also, these VIA staff made a point of asking for our experiences and opinions at our VIA Indonesia mid-year retreat, in order to keep our remaining time in Indonesia positive and to improve the program for future years.

The VIA website features previous volunteers’ recommendations that you stay for a second year, as this is when the experience becomes more rewarding. I only stayed for one year, by the end of which I was both ready to come home and regretful that I was leaving, especially because I wished I could have taught another year to use all the lessons I’d learned during my year there. The experience was at times difficult, boring, frustrating, and lonely, but I also learned a lot, found close friends, got to learn another language, had lots of fun, got to explore one of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating countries, and had a thousand experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t gone. Overall, it was a fulfilling experience. I’m not sure what difference I made to my students; I hope I helped some of them become less confused about English and inspired more of them to continue to pursue learning English (and learning in general) as a gateway to a wider world. By the way, if you’re going to teach at a K-12 school, you might consider bringing some children’s picture books in English to donate.

A note on Javanese food from a vegetarian perspective: expect peanut sauce, palm sugar, tofu, really delicious tempeh, white rice, coconut milk, some greens and other veggies, and fried everything. I LOVE Javanese food, but I did miss other kinds. They don’t have beans other than soy, mung, and kidney beans, so if I went back, I would bring dried beans! Or get them on a visa run to Malaysia.

Go VIA!

Would you recommend this program?
Yes, I would