Mandi Schmitt

Mandi Schmitt

Past Go Overseas Team Member
Berkeley

Member for

4 years 5 months

Mandi has studied, volunteered, interned, and lived abroad in all sorts of fascinating places, including Rome, London, India, Costa Rica, and Tanzania. She started writing for Go Overseas as a Columnist before coming on full time as the PR & Special Projects Director. Keep up with her on @Mandi_Overseas and Google+.

University
University of Maryland
Travel Experience
0-5 Countries
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Reviews
Mandi Schmitt
Mandi
7/10

I didn't know until after my volunteer trip how common it is for elephants to be mistreated for the sake of tourists. Luckily, I am confident that elephants I worked with were happy and healthy. We rode them to a lake each day to let them bathe and drink. Then, we rode them to the fields where they were allowed to graze and eat for as long as they wanted. I never saw them hurt or nervous. It was really incredible interacting with these gentle giants.

I also spent time at a nursery with 40+ toddlers. This was a bit less organized, and I didn't feel like I was helping much, merely maintaining order. I wouldn't participate with the kids again.

The staff was great and conducted tours of Bangkok. They were all friendly and helped the volunteers adapt to the new culture. I was very sick when I went to volunteer, and one of the staff came to the hospital with me and stayed the entire time, translating and comforting me. I really enjoyed getting to know them.

How can this program be improved?
Though I loved working with the elephants and playing with cute Thai children, I felt this organization was more about giving the volunteers an experience rather than truly contributing to a sustainable project. This was in part my fault, because I only had two weeks to commit. There were other volunteers staying for longer and doing different projects (like working at a medical clinic and doing construction) who did feel like they were contributing in a more meaningful way. For the kids program, I would change the minimum length of the project to at least a month so that volunteers could have a chance to become more involved.
Yes, I recommend this program
Mandi Schmitt
Mandi
8/10

Although I volunteered through VFP three years ago, I distinctly remember being surprised at how helpful the staff was, how quickly they responded to my questions via email, and how much information they provided before I left. My interactions with the staff were beneficial and friendly and obviously left a great impression on me, seeing as how I remember it three years later.

Their partner in India, FSL, was also helpful during orientation week, and very welcoming to the country. I and the other six volunteers were in constant communication with staff about our living situation, projects, and other travel information. There were definitely some kinks that needed to be worked out, but things happen much slower in India, and I fully believe the staff was dedicated to making us as comfortable as possible. For example, we were told we'd have a volunteer house to live in upon arrival to our project site. It kept getting pushed back, leaving us volunteers in a shabby hotel for around 6 weeks. Ultimately, though, the staff pulled through and placed us in a wonderful house which hopefully is still in use today.

Though I have no doubt the staff did the best they could, unfortunately there was a breakdown between FSL and the Nisarga Foundation, the specific project I was placed in, for which I taught English to ethnic tribal children. There was not a structured method of conducting classes, and I was often left just playing with the kids. It was frustrating, because I felt I didn't really contribute due to lack of supplies, minimal communication with teachers, and no set goals to accomplish. I am not sure of FSL still sends volunteers to work with the Nisarga Foundation, and if so there has been ample time for improvement, but my experience with them was less than satisfactory.

That being said, I have plenty of friends who loved their placements which were provided by FSL. And I still highly valued my time in India - I learned a lot about the country and myself. I would absolutely recommend using VFP, and would use them myself in the future.

How can this program be improved?
It helps to be very aware of who you are indirectly partnering with. FSL is a trustworthy partner, but in 2011 Nisarga Foundation was not developed or structured enough to have volunteers.
Yes, I recommend this program

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