EIL Explore 2019 - The experiences of Aoife, Lorraine and Gemma

EIL Explore 2019 - The experiences of Aoife, Lorraine and Gemma

EIL Explore 2019 - The experiences of Aoife, Lorraine and Gemma

EIL Intercultural Learning is an Irish organisation which provides intercultural learning opportunities through numerous programmes abroad.

In today's post we will hear about the volunteering experience of the NUI Galway students Aoife, Lorraine and  Gemma and we will find out more about their amazing eight weeks abroad.

Aoife Hughes

  • Course: BSc in Environmental Science
  • Location: organic farm in Quito, Ecuador

Summary of her daily routine:

I would wake up at 6.30am, have breakfast with my family, catch a bus at 7.15am to get to my project and then work there from 8am-4pm approximately every day. On the farm, I did typical farm-related tasks such as weeding, watering, harvesting fruits and veggies like tomatoes, lemons and everything in between. I would also occasionally make lemonade and pastas from the plants on the  farm. I also cleaned the animals pens on the farm and helped with other general tasks such as selling products at a market stall.

What previous volunteering experience do you have?

Previously I’ve been very involved in clubs in the college and have helped out on the committees of both the karate club and botanty society. I was also a patrol leader in scouts for years. I also am currently a climate ambassador with an Taisce and try and raise awareness about the importance of climate awareness.

What preparation did you do before your trip?

Before my trip I revised my Spanish from secondary school, listened to Spanish music and watched my favourite films in Spanish. I also did the more generic prep such as getting vaccinations, travel adaptors for my plugs and buying a ton of sun cream. After that, I just packed the essential things I needed into my backpack and off I went!

What projects were you a part of?

I was part of an organic farming project in the north of Quito.

What cultural differences have you noticed while on your trip?

The language was a big difference in Ecuador. Everyone there speaks Spanish or one of the indigenous languages. The music in Ecuador is very different from what you hear in Ireland. It’s vibrant, upbeat and completely in Spanish. In Ecuador, they eat a great deal of carbohydrates, with rice, bread and potatoes all appearing in the same meal. In Ecuador there was a great deal of emphasis put on family, and the importance of it shaped their culture.

What words of advice would you give to somebody who is going to volunteer abroad?

Outside of the big cities or tourist sites, English speakers are hard to find so don’t expect others to know your language when you are in their country. Be open to learning new things and meeting new people. The people I met in Ecuador were so lovely and kind, so go out and discover that for yourself. Time is relative sometimes and so are directions. You may find yourself early by turning up on time, but that’s just part of the experience, so just be patient and enjoy the fact that you’re in an amazing place! People are people no matter where you go. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere new. There are amazing people in every country, living lives that aren’t that different from yours, once you look a little closer.

Lorraine Flaherty

  • Course: Zoology
  • Location: La Ventanilla, Oaxaca, Mexico

What preparation did you do before your trip? 

I firstly submitted the application form, I chose the project based on my interests and skills. There was then a Welcome Day in Dublin and dialogues between the EIL and the volunteers. The preparation and the support, provided by the mentor and the organisation before leaving, really helped! Practical tips especially!

What made them choose Oaxaca for yourself?

I love animals and I do Zoology in college, so we talked about that and they agreed to Mexico. I wanted Mexico originally and they agreed that Mexico was one of the best for me.

What did the project involve there?

I was told I was going to work with turtles, but I wasn’t! I was working with crocodiles, which is actually way better! There was a research there at the time. We were very lucky: for example, we got to weight the crocodiles and measure them, while at night time we would take the canoe and we would shine the lights to find their eyes and capture them and it was amazing!

Did you speak Spanish beforehand? Not a word.

Did you find a language barrier?

Yes, a little bit. I used lots of action, with my hand, and that really worked, they totally understood. The girl I was with, she took the language amazing and she helped me translate and understand and that was great.

Before you left, did you have any idea of what you were going to do on the ground?

I only worked with the turtles once. We were told we were going to work in the kitchen but we weren’t at all. We were doing manual work, helping with feeding the animals, we were doing gardening and then when the guys involved with the research came, we got to work with them. It wasn’t completely different, but it was amazing.

What was your daily schedule like?

We lived in a little village on the beach, in the tourist area. We got up at seven for some breakfast and a shower and then we had to get a little canoe boat to go over to the island (that was surrounded by crocodiles!), but it would only take three minutes to get across. We would get over there and help the guys and that would take about an hour and after that everybody would sit down to get coffee and chat. After that we would help to keep clean the island area for the tourist arrival, we would talk to tourists and have lots of breaks because of the heat. Also, we would spend time with the kids of the area, they loved us and gather around us learning English. We would have an intercambio: they were helping me with my Spanish and I was helping them with their English. They were really patient and more helpful than the adults! And then we would learn how to make tortillas and help out with that. There was a spider-monkey I fell in love with, so every day I had to make time to go talk to this monkey, so that was part of my daily schedule!  

Did you live with a family?

No, we lived in the Eco tourism cabin. It was interesting and it was very basic condition (no water in the toilets, for example), but it was fine. We had a crab invasion! I was able to adjust to my fear of insects! The area was lovely, with a beach very close to us. We used to go there every evening, there was a hut serving coconuts and we had chats with other Mexican volunteers. We had weekends off and so we could spend time exploring the villages nearby.

Would you learn lots of Mexican culture that way?

Yes, definitely. We would use google translate to communicate with the other Mexican volunteers and they would explain a lot to us. We would tell them about Ireland and they would about Mexico. It was really good!

What do you bring back?

I bring back an even bigger appetite for volunteering. No matter what it is, I absolutely want to. I loved it and I want to keep doing it. I also brought back to Ireland more appreciation for another culture. It was so different there, but I respect their culture and it was amazing to hear and understand their stories. The environment is so well looked after, they did not have plastic. For example, all their straws are made from wood, so I brought back home a bunch of them, for me and my family, and will not use plastic straws anymore. Their animals are also well looked after, they love their animals and I do too, I want to bring a bit of that back home as well.

What words of advice would you give to somebody who is going to volunteer abroad?

Don’t have fear, just do it! When you go with fear you go with a close mind. When you go without fear and without judging what you see, you see everything more clearly and without preconception.

Go out of your comfort zone! My friend helped me to push myself out of the comfort zone and I’m very grateful she did. I‘ve done things I’ve never expected to do and there are going to be with me forever, in my memories, and I’d love for someone else to experience that. Just go for it!

Gemma Lynch

  • Course: Biomedical engineering
  • Location: Hanoi, Vietnam 

Where did you live?

I was not living with a family, but in a volunteer house with other volunteers from all over the world. It was a 25 minutes walk from the school where I was teaching. It was tough because you had to do that twice a day, with the heat of 36 degrees. But it gave me the chance to be with people from different cultures and I loved being in contact with them. Vietnam is so polluted, that’s one of the challenges I found. It’s tough to deal with, I had to walk to school with a mask every day, because if I didn’t I would get a sore throat. You can see the smog everywhere.

Summary of her daily routine:

I was teaching from 16 to 18 hours every week. We taught twice a day for four days a week, for 2-3 hours, depending. The week was pretty full on with the fact that you get up, you go to school, you come back, and you eat dinner, then you plan your lessons for the next day. You might go for coffee or might chill in the common room afterwards. We got few breaks during the day, but it was usually too hot to do anything. The weekends were more adventurous, there was always some travelling to do! That’s the thing about the volunteer house, there is always someone that wants to go travelling.

What previous volunteering experience do you have?

I was part of the Donegal youth council. I was part of a teaching program in Donegal and I had previous experiences working with children. These experiences open up many opportunities, like meeting like-minded people. The previous volunteering experiences prepared me to this volunteering situation and opportunity.

What preparation did you do before your trip?

I got my injections first of all, but I didn’t bring any cream for bugs or such things. The EIL workshop it was really good for the preparation before leaving, we were parted into groups and we could ask whatever we wanted and talk about what to expect. For example, you can’t ask for Vietnamese dollars in Ireland, you have to wait until you get there, so being prepared for the money change and go there with US dollars, instead of Euros that they might not accept, small things like that. Also my mentor was fantastic, the fact that she came from NUI Galway made her more accessible and I could talk to her face to face and I asked her few more questions. All of that was very helpful.

We would also look up things about their customs as well: Vietnamese people like to show that they are very calm and that they have patience all the time. They might think badly of you if you come over and start acting the other way. We researched about what’s good and bad manners, for example: you can’t wear shoes in people houses, it’s really rude, same as pointing. Saying “oi” it’s really rude. That made me realise the cultural differences from the start. 

What projects were you a part of?

There were two types of schools: a normal, regular type of school; and the school where I was teaching, basically in a community hall space. We had basic materials like books and crayons, but no projector or anything like that. There was a total of 15-20 children, with two teachers in the classroom, and the range of age was between 7 to 18 years old. I was mainly with the children.

So we were teaching in the community hall, for lectures set up by the university. I had four classes and I taught them twice a week. The age range was between 7-12 years old for my class. They came from low-income families, that’s why it was in the community hall and it was a cheaper set-up. We were lucky because we were actually supplied with work-books for the children, so we had a guide for each week. I learned a lot myself on how to teach to those children in a different country and environment and the challenges that come from it. You have to adapt and use your common sense. Having previous volunteering experiences definitely help, especially with teaching, because going over there and not knowing how to handle children make things harder. Especially in a country where English is not their first language.

What words of advice would you give to somebody who is going to volunteer abroad?

Definitely apply! You need a strong volunteer background, it could be anything, but definitely apply! It’s something different, especially the experience in Vietnam, where you are able to immerse yourself in the culture and see the people properly. Just have an open mind! Be prepared for the differences, between the city and the countryside. Be mindful of the pollution problems that you might find there as well as you would find at your own home. And have fun!

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