In our exciting alumni showcase series, GVI will be sitting down with alumni volunteers who have been selected for one-on-one interviews that highlight a certain project, location, and volunteer experience, to give an insider’s view on the impact of a volunteer’s experience.
For more information on GVI’s Alumni Program, click here.
Our first participant in this series is Sami Dawes from Brighton, UK. Sami participated on a GVI community development Internship in Playa del Carmen, Mexico last spring. She developed a passion for international development while attending university, and currently works in a Further Education College. I was excited to sit down with Sami to learn more about the three months she spent in Playa del Carmen (also my current place of residence!).
Below is an abbreviated transcript of our conversation. Disfruita!
1. Why did you choose to participate on a volunteer abroad project?
“Well, volunteering abroad is a great way to meet people, and quite a big part of my degree was community development; I loved it, but there wasn’t a huge opportunity there for a practical experience and to get a taste of the field. So, when I saw GVI, I thought, yes, let’s put my degree to the test, and what I learned with GVI allowed me to join the dots and gave me well-roundedness [to compliment my degree]. There are so many jobs in the world where you need experience from across the board, and if universities did something like this…for a semester…you could get really good knowledge of the field.”
For a complete list of GVI’s projects, click here.
2. What about the experience was unexpected or challenging?
“The language barrier is always going to be a bit of a challenge in some ways, but I did the lessons and I did find people were friendly enough in Playa, so if you tried to speak the language they really appreciated it. I also wish I had had a bit more confidence in myself with travel. I had never really been away be myself, and some of the places around Playa can seem quite far. I didn’t want to do a lot of the journeys on my own, but towards the end it became less intimidating.
From my degree I learned to never take anything at face value, so I went into the experience a bit skeptical about how much the projects would really be helping. With the community development projects in Playa though, they really did meet the needs of the people in that area, which was not something I expected. The project that was there was more like grassroots in a way, especially their healthcare project. It’s quite relentless: they have so much dedication and passion and commitment to it, and I actually think that was my favorite project.”
3. What advice would you give to others who are interested in volunteer work abroad? If you could tell your pre-volunteer self any one thing, what would it be?
“Make more of your spare time! Time goes so quickly. Looking back, part of me wishes I had also done longer, you get so into the projects. It was also so easy to contact you guys, email you, phone you, meet you through the ambassador program…you can do the research quite easily. So definitely do your research, especially if you have a couple of programs or projects in mind…talk to someone and get them to tell you the ins and outs of each project and that definitely helped me make a decision.”
So definitely do your research, especially if you have a couple of programs or projects in mind…talk to someone and get them to tell you the ins and outs of each project and that definitely helped me make a decision.”
4.What is one strength you discovered during your experience? What is one weakness?
“A strength was definitely the leadership module. I discovered I’m much more capable than I thought, to lead volunteers and to make projects and activities that at the start I would have never even considered. Now I know what I need to do, and I have a lot more confidence in myself to do those kinds of management activities. For weaknesses…probably managing group dynamics! I can’t stand confrontation, but I guess at times group dynamics can be difficult. So maybe that’s a weakness that I just have to work on a bit.”
5. How do you think you can integrate this experience into your future life, either career-wise or personally? What about GVI aided you in your journey to make those discoveries?
“When I came back from the project I wanted to give myself the rest of the year to work out what I would like to do. I am at the moment considering getting a Master’s in International Development or Gender Studies, and it was really GVI that pushed me to think do I want to do it sooner rather than later, and to think what kind of organization I’d want to work in, the kinds I’d be happier with…GVI is one big family. They’re not like colleagues, they really care for each other, so it was like working with family. Everyone was so friendly [which] really made the experience…The people I was with at the time [also] really made it. I’d love to go do another project!”
Muchismas gracias Sami for sharing your time and perspective, and for your dedication to the Playa Spring 2016 GVI program!
Feel ready to start making a difference? Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment, and conservation projects worldwide.