Welcome to our third post of the How To: Travel Without Quitting Your Job series! If you’re new to the series let us give you the gist: in November 2016 we introduced a series which will be posted monthly featuring one way to travel the globe while still working towards your academic/professional goals. All posts featured in this series will showcase ways to travel that have been done by us or some of our close friends.
Last month, Katherine wrote about her experience living and studying in Galway, Ireland as an exchange student at the National University of Ireland (NUIG). In this post, we’ll be featuring a volunteer-related way to travel, this time with Jordon talking about his time volunteering in Nicaragua.
How To: Travel Without Quitting Your Job (Series, Post 3) – Volunteer
Jordon spent a week volunteering in the Nicaraguan countryside in February 2014. He shares a little bit about his experience as a volunteer in the paragraphs below!
During my university days, I always had the feeling that my travel dreams had to take a backseat. I just wasn’t in a position to study, work, pay for school aaaaand travel. I wasn’t thrilled with the circumstances but I was making the best out of what I could work with. I also kept reminding myself that travelling after getting my education was more than reasonable! Lo and behold, I was starting my 4th year of undergrad when the travel bug bit a little bit harder than it normally did.
Since it was the middle of the semester, an exchange abroad wasn’t an option. However, I was lucky enough to go to a school that offered other opportunities to travel. The volunteer program at my university was called Alternative Spring Break. As you might guess, it takes place over the one week break during February that university students get every year. Instead of going to a beach and partying all day and night I was able to help and live among locals in a community in need!
Keep in mind that I still had to write a letter of intent and pass multiple interviews in order to be accepted, mostly because the program is very popular among students and is usually a great success. Each year, the school partners with local organizations and asks them what they are in need of. The year of my application, students were able to visit places such as Guatemala, focusing on recycling and taking care of the earth or Nicaragua, focusing on education and fixing a local school. I was chosen for the Nicaragua trip, but I would have been happy with any of the choices. After a week-long preparation course detailing the country, the people, the type of work we’d be doing and where we would be staying, it was time to pack up and jet off!
The week we spent in Nicaragua was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to date. There were about 16 of us on the trip, including the team leads and organizers. We all stayed on a Nicaraguan farm in the middle of the mountains in the small town of El Chile. The town was quite poor, no one owned a car and only a handful of the homes could afford a TV. Our residence was crawling with all kinds of animals from monkeys to pigs to chickens! The family we stayed with were so welcoming and grateful for our help. Four of the seven days were spent working 8AM-5PM at the local elementary school. We were in charge of fixing the roof during our stay. We mixed cement, hauled steel beams and gave it a fresh coat of sealer and paint.
One of the “rest” days was a day trip to the nearby city of Matagalpa. Here, we were able to visit a local restaurant and shop around the many market stalls lining the streets. And our other “rest” day consisted of two different hikes (one in the morning and one in the evening) to a famous river that ran through the mountains, where we took a much-needed wash… and one to the peak of the neighbouring mountain with an incredible view. On our last day in Nicaragua, we met many of the students that attended the school we were helping fix, met traditional linen weavers that sold all kinds of handmade goods to support themselves and were treated to a traditional Nicaraguan ceremony to say thanks for the work we provided.
Being able to be immersed in a culture to that degree is not something you often get when traveling. This opportunity gave me a great chance to visit a country I had never been to before and to also help out in way that would have otherwise been impossible. Much thanks goes to Carleton University for providing me this opportunity and to all the volunteers that made it happen.
If you’re interested in volunteering abroad, check out S.O.S – Students Offering Support – or your local volunteer office. They were a big part of realizing this adventure and have many great opportunities to check out!
Note: Please choose organizations carefully when applying for a volunteer position and be sure that the help/money you are contributing is directly helping the community in need.
Don’t forget to check back next month for our next post in the How To: Travel Without Quitting Your Job series. Next month’s subject will feature a work related opportunity, so stay tuned!
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