I love to travel and I spend my days trying to gather money for my next adventure. Being right now at a phase were I'm unemployed, doing my thesis, and sending some job applications, I decided it would be the perfect moment to volunteer abroad. I know that as soon as I get a job it's going to become incredibly hard to do something like that for a long period of time. My decision was then based on timing, on having saved some money working in retail, and on knowing I was finally mentally ready to do something like that.
Why did you choose IVHQ?
When the ideas of maybe doing a volunteering program started to pop up into my head I found, by coincidence, that an old colleague was in Indonesia with an organization called IVHQ. She praised their name in every photo she posted and everything looked so incredible that I had to research it. I didn't choose them as much for prices, as I don't really think they have the best price in the market, but their package included accommodation, food, and support, and they had a multiplicity of programs in dozens of countries, which is why I decided to go with them.
Regarding my program, I knew from the beginning I wanted to teach. I've always wanted to have a teaching experience in my life and being able to put together two dreams - teaching and volunteering - seemed perfect.
What was your favorite part Colombia?
Colombia is incredibly "artsy." First of all, people are so full of energy and so alive, dancing and singing everywhere. I feel like there's always a very artistic vibe in the air in that country. You are always hearing music on the streets, when they go out their dancing talent is insane, and the street art is out of this world; you can see beautiful graffiti everywhere, to the point where it is not touristy anymore, just another part of their streets.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Definitely the people I met along the way. Even though I may seem like a social butterfly, I have very well camouflaged social anxiety. It's hard for me to try to start new friendships and to feel comfortable with the people around me, but in Bogotá, it was so weirdly easy to be myself with all the volunteers. We all shared the same interests and opinions, and living with them 24 hours a day with no breaks was one of the best experiences I've ever had.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff was extremely supportive. They always tried to make us feel at home, and if anything was wrong, they did their best to help. I had some issues with one of my programs, but after telling them they understood and changed it so I could have the best possible experience and give the best version of myself to the kids. We also had weekly meetings where we could share our mutual concerns the living environment.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I had the most amazing time so I doubt I would change anything. The only thing I would, perhaps, change a little bit is my extreme organization and the fact I had all flights to return already scheduled. After the program I went for a week to Colombia's coast, where I had a great experience and met amazing people, so if I had to do it all again I wouldn't change it. However, I felt that three weeks was not enough; I know that if I didn't have everything booked already, I would have extended my program.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
We woke up really early, around 7 a.m., to have an amazing breakfast before heading to our program. Once there, we stayed until lunch time, depending on the program (I had one twice a week that was pretty far from Bogota so we only returned at 4 p.m.). Our morning at the teaching program would consist of giving some classes basic themes in English and then having some individual sessions with the kids in need.
We all shared lunch at the house around 12:30 p.m., and afternoons were free to go visit a museum, chill at the nearest park, or do some shopping. At night we usually had dinner pretty early, around 7 p.m., and then went out to a club or a bar most of the time until 11 p.m., our curfew.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I tried to make the most out of my free time and used almost all of my afternoons to get out and do something different. I visited museums, tourist attractions, went to the most well-known restaurants and cafes, saw the main squares, etc. However, I also had some afternoons that were exclusively dedicated to doing nothing, usually going to the park with all the volunteers to listen to music and chat for a bit.
On weekends, we made the most of our extended curfew to go out for some drinks, and we also tried to see new places. We travelled to Medellín on one of the weekends and to some cities nearby on the others.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best it?
We lived in a very nice neighbourhood in Bogotá (something very important having in mind Bogotá is not the safest place), near to supermarkets and small shops. The house was always beautiful; it had two floors with a small garden and was always very clean. We slept in bunk beds in considerably large rooms. and there was always enough space for all our things. Overall, it was a very cosy environment and had a very familiar vibe.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
If you plan to sign up for a teaching program and, just like me, have no teaching experience, you should be aware that it isn't going to be easy. In Colombia, they have almost zero knowledge of other languages, generally speaking, so you should have at least some basic Spanish skills to be able to explain to them what things mean in English and have a minimum level of communication. Otherwise, you will face uncomfortable situations where you can't teach them properly because you can't speak their language, and they’ll end up not learning anything because they will just give up on making an effort.
Now that you're home, how has your time in Colombia impacted your life?
It may be a cliché, but I definitely feel like I've returned a different, improved version of myself. I'm currently more spontaneous, following the motto "it is what it is", trusting more my instincts, and letting myself go with the flow. I was very nervous for this experience, trying to control every single aspect, but most of my days ended up being random, unexpected, and last-minute decisions, and that's what made everything so amazing.
I feel like I'm also more conscious of the people that surround me. I'm now able to better appreciate everyone's stories and pasts, and I'm more open to different people. Also, I'm definitely less judgemental and more understanding.
Would you recommend IVHQ and your program to others? Why?
I definitely recommend doing a teaching program in any country that has a partnership with IVHQ (and I extra recommend Colombia or any place in Latin America). It's true that you need to save some money and pay a considerable fee with them, but I can assure you that it's worth it because you'll never feel alone and you'll be supported every step of the way.
You'll meet wonderful people, live life-changing experiences, and grow as a person due to the with new cultures and ways of living in society.
Beatriz is a 22-year-old from Portugal who is currently finishing her master’s thesis and looking for a job in the United Kingdom. She loves traveling and marketing, and she can be easily persuaded into nearly anything with a chocolate bar.