Volunteer Capital Centre (VCC)

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top 5 tips how to make friends while volunteering abroad

“God and angels don't get paid even though theirs is some of the most important work around. Ditto for volunteers.” ~Cherishe Archer. Some of the fears for volunteers when they are going abroad are whether they will be able to make friends. Some fear they may be too different and understanding others will be a problem. Hence making friends could be a problem. This fear is common among teenagers, young adults, boomers and expats who are abroad. Most of them are self conscious especially the shy ones find it difficult to socialize with others. Children are lucky in that they can meet anyone of their age and they will be able to get along immediately. It’s very common for kids from different places playing together like they have known each other all their lives. Like kids, older people can make friends quickly and easily if they approach the people abroad the same way. Here are tips to make friends while volunteering abroad:

Smile and laugh

Many people find it easier to socialize with people who smile easily and laugh more. Smiling makes the volunteers to be more approachable and fun to be with. The volunteer as well as the local people both want to friends and they are not sure how to go about it. Laughing at jokes and smiling breaks the ice and tension in the conversations. Laughing shows that the volunteer has a sense of humor and is easy to get along with. Humor goes a long way to make long lasting friendships and it’s the quality most people look for. The local people will appreciate the volunteer laughing at their jokes and boosts their self esteem.

Small talk

As the volunteer and the local people don’t know each other and they also don’t know the things that they have in common. One of the ways to get to know each other is through small talk. Small talk could include talking about where they are from, where they are going and what they are doing there. Eventually through the conversation they will find common ground and find topics in which all of them can talk in length about. Small talk is a polite way to meet and know potential friends. Even though they might be a communication barrier, the local people will appreciate the effort made by the volunteer.

Popular areas

People won’t come knocking at the volunteers’ doors to make friends. The volunteer will have to come out of their comfort zones and going to meet new people. One of the great places to meet people will be in popular areas, bars, restaurants, sports and special events. In these places there will be a large number of local people who share a common interest. Being in such areas it will be easier to make friend there. For example currently the cricket world cup is going on in India, if a volunteer want to make more Indian friends they would go watch a match at a restaurant and they are bound to meet many people there. Apart from popular areas, the volunteers can go to local parties to meet people.

Local language

Local people take a fancy to foreigners who are able to speak their local language. The volunteer could be in an English speaking country, but there could also people who are speak the local dialects. Volunteers, who make the effort to learn local words, are better placed to learn the language. This interest would also make the local people want to learn the volunteers’ language. By doing this it will be easier for them to form long term friendships.

Express interest

When meeting new people the volunteer should express interest to what the other person is talking about. During the conversations they should ask questions and try to understand what the other person is on about. The volunteer should be genuinely interested what is being said otherwise it would be offending the person they are talking to.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dealing with culture shock while volunteering abroad

“Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life.” - Carrie Chapman Catt. Culture shock is defined as pronounced reaction to the psychological disorientation most people experience when they move for an extended period of time into a culture different from their own. Many volunteers who are abroad for an extended period of time succumb to culture shock. Some volunteers are affected by culture shock after a period of days, some weeks and others after a few months. Culture shock is experienced differently depending on the individual. Culture shock is not caused by a single factor but a culmination of many factors. These factors could be how the local people organize, speak, perceive, value things different from the volunteer. It is also caused by being cut off to what the volunteer is used to. When volunteers move to a new country they experience these four phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery phase. Culture shock is normally felt in the negotiation and adjustment phase. Symptoms of culture shock are: excessive concern, irritability, withdrawal, homesickness, stereotyping and many others. Here are tips to overcome culture shock:


Before the volunteer leaves home and during the first few weeks they are in the host country s/he should try and find out as much about the country as they can. They should look at guide books, read literature about the country and research on the internet. Alternatively the volunteer could speak to someone (past volunteer) who was from the country s/he is going to. The past volunteer will be better placed to advice him or her on how to handle themselves while they are abroad and also how to deal with culture shock. Getting proper knowledge will help to set the volunteers’ expectation, not too high or too low.


If the volunteer could travel with a friend it would help overcoming culture shock. The friend who is accompanying the volunteer helps them to relate and understand what s/he is going through. The friend will be able provide emotional support and help the volunteer to get through the slump. If the volunteer has traveled alone, s/he could look for other foreigners in the country and learn how they overcame culture shock. The volunteer should be careful to avoid foreigners who keeping talking about how life is at their home country. When the volunteers finds more friends their social network will be bigger and s/he will feel less isolated and would help them adjust to the new environment.

Keeping in touch

During these times when the volunteer is really being affected by culture shock, they could communicate with family and friends who are back at home. They should try and keep in touch with their friends so as not to feel isolated anymore. With the advent of technology they can call home, use Skype, facebook twitter and many other mediums to reconnect with loved ones at home. Although the volunteer shouldn’t talk too much or be too dependent on family and friends from home as this will make readjustment much harder for them in the new environment.

Reverse Culture shock

This normally happens when the volunteer moves back home after spending a long period of time in another country. The volunteer will feel the same emotions (isolation, irritation loneliness) when they get back home. They would be so used to the living conditions in the host country and when they are at home they will feel like strangers. To deal with reverse culture shock the volunteer should: reestablish relationships with their friends; share their experiences about life abroad; try to readjust to the new living conditions; recognize that the volunteer is a new person and has changed; the volunteer should allow him/ herself time to readjust; and should try and get involved with the place as early as possible.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Volunteer abroad alcohol and drugs

“The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers.” ~Terri Guillemets. Every year there are thousands of travelers who get arrested because of using and trafficking drugs and alcohol. Most of them are told of the promise of riches after trafficking drugs from one country to another or one region to the other. The travelers are lied to that there is little risk involved and the plan is full proof but in reality more than half of them get arrested. Apart from trafficking, using drugs could also land the volunteers in prison. Every country has strict laws against consumption of drugs and alcohol, and when found with the drugs, the volunteer will be severely punished. The volunteers will be taken to prison and their chances of getting out are very slim. When the travelers are presented in court they are hugely disadvantaged because the trial is in the local language, the judges are already prejudiced against them and getting a good defense is very hard. Many convicted travelers describe their experience as horrific and strongly advice against travelers who want to use or traffic drugs. Here are some drugs to avoid:


Cocaine powder, freebase and crack are all forms of cocaine. They are stimulants with powerful, but short-lived, effects. The stimulants temporarily speed up the processes of your mind and body. ‘Freebase’ cocaine and ‘crack’ cocaine, can be smoked, and so can reach the brain very rapidly in high dosage. Cocaine increases breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. It may produce eating and sleeping disorders and violent and erratic behavior. It can also cause respiratory problems, convulsions and cardiac or respiratory arrest. Cocaine is illegal in every country. Cocaine is not easy to come by but it is common in Latin America. In the USA, crack cocaine is the only drug for which there is a federal mandatory minimum, if found guilty one could spend 5 years in prison. The penalties include; life imprisonment, death sentences and a couple of years in jail depending on the amount of cocaine that they are found with.


Heroin is an opiate drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin. Heroin can be injected, snorted/sniffed, or smoked—routes of administration that rapidly deliver the drug to the brain. All three methods of administering heroin can lead to addiction and other severe health problems. Users feel a surge of euphoria and then alternate between wakeful and drowsy states for several hours. Heroin also makes physical pain disappear. The negative effects of heroine are Nausea, vomiting and severe itching are common reactions. Users can’t think clearly and experience mood swings. Large doses can reduce breathing so much that users slip into a coma and may die. Heroine is illegal in most countries and when caught in possession it could lead to life imprisonment or a death sentence.


It is also called marijuana, hashish, hash, pot, herb, weed, grass. Cannabis is a drug that comes from Indian hemp plants such as Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. The active chemical in cannabis is THC. Users feel relaxed, free and open; they may become talkative or withdrawn and experience food cravings. Users experience problems with memory, thinking and problem solving, loss of coordination and increased heart rate. Some users feel severe anxiety. People smoke marijuana around the world. In some countries, like Switzerland and the Netherlands, it is legal to buy. In other places it has all but been decriminalized. In Texas possession of even a small amount of marijuana can get you up to 6 months in jail. In Malaysia getting caught with 200 grams of marijuana merits a mandatory death sentence.


It is a socially acceptable drug. Alcohol is a depressant which slows down the body’s responses. Effects of alcohol depend on a number of factors, including a person’s size, weight, age, and sex, as well as the amount of food and alcohol consumed. Alcohol will often exaggerate whatever mood you're in when you start drinking. Alcohol is a relaxant so, in moderation, it can reduce feelings of anxiety and inhibitions, making you feel more sociable. Long-term effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol, especially when combined with poor nutrition, can lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver. In addition, mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol consumption is legal in most countries except from Middle East countries. In America it is illegal for people under the age of 21 while in other countries it is 18 and younger.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Volunteer abroad: Finding a cause

There are many issues that affect the world today. Some of these issues are easily solved while others might take more time to solve. Solving issues that affect the world is one of the major factors in the reason why volunteers go abroad. While there are volunteers who have seen the plight of many through television and the internet and know which issues they want to address. There are some who have been personally affected by an issue and want to help others with the same problems. There are various ways of supporting a cause, volunteering, financial support and working. The best option to make the biggest change is through volunteering. After they have picked a cause and want to support it, the next step is to pick an organization which is credible. The organization doesn’t have to be large or years of experience but one which is passionate and determined to meet its goals. Also the goals and mission of the organization should be in tandem with the volunteers’. There are some volunteers who don’t know which cause to support or which issue to pick. Supporting a cause is one of being part of something that is bigger than volunteer. Here are a couple of causes a volunteer who is abroad can try to address


AIDS is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human (HIV). This condition progressively reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and leaves individuals susceptible to opportunistic infections and tumors. AIDS is pandemic, as of 2009 33.3 million people in the world are living with it, 2.7 million new infections each year, and with 1.8 million deaths every year. 76% of the deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS originated from the evolved virus SIV, which mutated from the ape virus. The main cause of HIV/AIDS infection is through sexual transmission, others are: sharing common needles, being born from an infected mother. AIDS can be prevented through abstinence, limiting the number of sex partners, using condoms, not sharing needles. If the volunteer chooses to help address this cause, they will be involved in guiding and counseling of HIV/AIDS victims, encourage awareness and try to improve the lives of the infected.


They form a large percent of the vulnerable groups. Children are the future and should be protected from a lot of things. They are easily abused due to their inability to defend themselves. Children in various parts of the world are used badly and are taught wrong values. For example children in Palestine are taught to hate Jews and to promote Jihad almost from birth. Another issue that affects children is poverty, it is said that 25,000 kids die each day due to poverty. Poverty means inadequate access to water and proper nutrition. The children suffer from dietary problems and due to their weak immune system, a large number of them die. There are also 25 million child refuges around the world. They are refugees because of wars, natural disasters and crime. As refugees they are subjected to abuse in the form of rape, slavery and child labor. Other issues that affect children are child pornography, trafficking and slavery; child labor; and military use of children.


Women are largely affected as children are. There are a whole host of issues that affect women and can be addressed with the right attitude. It is said women’s rights are an indicator to the global well being. If a man is empowered, he can improve his life or status but if a woman is empowered, they change the whole community. In this day and age women are still being sold as slaves and are trafficked all over the world. Most of the trafficked women come from third world countries and are sent to developed nations. Apart from international crimes, women are also subjected to domestic violence and in some communities in parts of the world their rights are considered to be less than those of men.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A day in the life of an international volunteer

Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls. ~David Thomas. There is no typical day in the life of a volunteer who is abroad but there are some similarities. Many volunteers have different schedules or itineraries when they are working abroad. The schedules normally depend on the volunteer program that they are in. The program determines when they wake up, have meals and when they go to sleep. In some programs the volunteers is limited to a number of activities while in others the programs are open. Wildlife conservation programs are more rigid, in that the volunteer is confirmed to the conservation area for the work period. Hence the activities are limited. Open programs are where there a host of things to do and thus the volunteer is more flexible to choose as many activities that they want to do. In flexible programs they can choose how many days of the week they can work and how many hours per week they can put in. some volunteers prefer to be really exerted in the program and be really busy, while others want to put in little effort in their work. Here is a typical work schedule of a volunteer who is abroad;


Depending on the program the volunteer has a specific time to wake up. Most programs require the volunteer to wake up before 7:00 am. They are meant to have showered and dressed as breakfast is served at that time. Breakfast varies on the location that the volunteer is in, for example in Kenya breakfast consists of milky tea, bread, mandazi (dough like bread) and chapatti. At around 8:00 am the volunteers leave for the program and normally spend half an hour or hour to get there. In some programs the volunteer will be either is driven to the project of they are going to use public transport to reach their destination. As public traffic could be an issue, the volunteer should plan their day accordingly. For the volunteers who live next to the project they normally start their day later. Most programs normally start from 9:00 am and before it starts, the volunteers are given roles, and assigned tasks to complete by the day’s end. By around 11:00 am there is normally a tea break, where the volunteers are given an opportunity to get some refreshments.


During this time the volunteer goes to get lunch. They could go to a restaurant to buy lunch or it is provided by the program. In India a typical lunch could be Aloo gobi Masalai made up of cauliflower, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, red chili and turmeric powder. The afternoon sessions are normally the shortest, they last for one to two hours. Most of the light work is done during these times. Recaps of the set agenda are done to see what has been accomplished and what needs to be redone. Also to see what will set up the next day’s agenda. In very rare occasions will the volunteers be asked to stay up late to do finish assignments.


From a hard days work, the volunteer will be tired and would require some rest. During this time the volunteer is left alone to come up with something to do. Most volunteers take this time socialize with other volunteers or the family with which they are staying with. Meals are normally served by 8:00 pm. Dinner in China could be almond chicken made up of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, rice wine, garlic cloves, eggs, and almond.


In some programs, the weekend starts from Friday, to Sunday. Most programs don’t have a prescribed schedule for the weekends. They give the volunteers to organize their own plans for the weekends. Most volunteer use this time to go for excursions, trips, and safaris.