VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY CHALLENGE 21 SUNDAY 19TH JUNE 2022
By: Katie Gibson and Darija Jovanovic
EIL Intercultural Learning is an Irish organisation which provides intercultural learning opportunities through numerous programmes abroad. Five NUI Galway students were successful in their applications and completed volunteering placements across the world. We caught up with Danielle and Sinead to hear about their experiences and found out more about their amazing time abroad.
Course: Biomedical Science
Location: Mexico City, Oaxaca City and South Oaxaca State.
Course: Masters in International Human Rights Law
Location: Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand
Sinead: “I suppose initially I was exposed to volunteering when I started studying here in NUI, I got involved with the ALIVE programme when I did some volunteering in first year and second year with Galway Autism Partnership. When the opportunity to do some volunteering abroad came up and it was fully funded it probably wouldn’t have been something I would have been able to afford on my own. So, I applied for it, and I knew the programme I was applying for involved learning a language, so I was definitely interested in that.’’
Danielle: “Last year, when I was doing sociology and politics I picked modules like developmental change, public activism advocacy and in second semester I did a volunteering module. So, I was always quite interested in it and I was volunteering at the time with Ability West in Galway.
Danielle: “I came across EIL by accident, I was looking at the student website for nuig and I was just looking through it and came across EIL by accident”
Danielle: “So, I applied and then got short listed, then did a small interview at the alive office and finally went to an interview in Dublin and got it from there. It’s a great organisation with great opportunities.”
Sinead: ‘’Well traditionally they do look for candidates that do have some volunteering experience, just to prove that you would be interested in the programme and have some experience going out there. I mean, volunteering work abroad can be quite difficult in a sense. When I was in Mexico I was working in an animal conservation project in the morning and then I was teaching maths in the afternoon. So, we working in thirty-six-degree heat, and then we lived in very basic facilities. We had outdoor showers and we lived in cabins for five weeks. Primarily I suppose they’re looking for someone who’s open to change and is not expecting to be staying in five-star accommodation. ‘’
Sinead: ‘’Yeah, flights, travel insurance, accommodation, and they paid for travel vaccines. We had to do pre-departure weekend in May which is compulsory. So that took place over two days and we stayed in a hostel in Newgrange, and then when you come back you do another orientation weekend as well. You have full support when you’re abroad. You have a local organisation supporting you. If you haven’t done a lot of travelling or you’re not very open to different cultures it can be a culture shock, so they actually have psychologists on standby as well if you need to talk to someone while you’re out there. ‘’
What did you do on a daily basis?
Sinead: ‘’Ok so I suppose, I did numerous different projects ranging from animal conservation to community art projects. I was involved in an animal conservation project in what you would call the equivalent of Fota Wildlife Park. So now they collect injured animals from all around the state of Oaxaca.
While we were there they had a spider monkey that had got too big for his cage. So along with 8 other Mexican volunteers we built a new hut for him and that took about two weeks. We finished at two o’ clock. We would start very early in the morning because of the heat... The kids were on holidays from school. I studied maths previously in DIT before I came to NUIG, so I was teaching maths to the younger children. ‘’
Danielle: “The project I did was with a organisation in Chiang Mai called Art Relief International. We did different art projects with all different underserved groups in chiang mai. We did about seven to eight workshops a week with different groups. We worked five days a week, Tuesday was an office day and every other day we did workshops. For example, on Mondays we did a workshop with single mothers and their children, we were teaching them crafts that they could bring to the market and sell.
What did you do outside of volunteering?
Sinead: “There was a small village up the road from us called Mazunte. It’s very popular with American tourists and for surfing. Weekends we would go and visit there. There was a music festival on one weekend as well, and we did some scuba diving and snorkelling as well while we were there.”
Danielle: “The first weekend we got there we went to doi suthep which is a mountain above chiang mai. We did something different every weekend like we went to a place called Pai which is also up the mountains.”
What were the best things about the experience?
Sinead: “One I suppose would be learning a new language. I had done Spanish for my Junior Cert. It was great to take it up again. I’ve decided to keep it on so I’m still learning it at the moment. Also, being exposed to a different culture.”
What were the worst things about your volunteering experience?
Danielle: “I don’t think there was, I just eased in to the culture it was very different, but I think because we were in a city as well there was similarities to home, it wasn’t like we were out in the middle of nowhere. We had to write blogs every day that were going online (art-relief.blogspot.com) so I was still connected I never felt too culture shocked.”
What advice would you give to someone interested in doing EIL?
Sinead: ‘’There’s many projects available in loads of different countries, so you can nominate an area you’re interested in. So maybe go on to their website and research. You should do a lot of research before you go, or before you put in your application and choose something that’s suitable to your degree. Make sure you research the country thoroughly before you go, just from a cultural point of view because what might be ok over here might not be acceptable in the country you’re going to. Also, make sure you get travel vaccines. ‘’
Danielle: “Just go for it, don’t be afraid. once you get there you make friends immediately like everyone’s there for the same reason. They want to make a difference, they love volunteering. Everyone is so open and welcoming especially all the organisations. You won’t regret it at all.”
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