The Importance of Volunteering Abroad

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Traveling abroad is an amazing experience to have, especially getting to volunteer abroad as a teenager. Traveling is an amazing way to open up your perspective and get out of your safety bubble. Volunteering abroad is the perfect way to be immersed in a different country’s culture and traditions. Traveling as a teenager is a unique experience because it helps you gain a lot of knowledge and perspective at a time where your mind is still opening up to new ideas and developing.

This past summer I was able to travel to Sri Lanka to volunteer with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. I got to stay in a field house near Wasgamuwa National Park in Sri Lanka and assist with research on the human-elephant conflict. It was an amazing experience and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was amazing to get to get to volunteer abroad as well because I was able to learn a lot about the people, culture, and attitudes towards elephants.

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    Volunteering in Sri Lanka was one of the best things that I’ve ever gotten to do. Each morning we would wake up in the open air field house to the sounds of birds, singing voices echoing off the mountains, and the breeze blowing in. After breakfast, we split up to do different projects like checking the camera and sand traps, monitoring elephant fences, gardening and helping farmers, analyzing dung, and looking for footprints. The heat and humidity made the work difficult, but getting to volunteer in such a beautiful place was worth it. During the hottest part of the day, we would eat lunch, enter data to the computer, and have a nice break. In the late afternoon, we’d go to different locations like the tree houses or lakeside to watch for elephants and record information about them. We didn’t always see elephants, but when we did it felt so special. One day we saw over 50 elephants just across the lake we were stationed at! One of the most surreal feelings is getting to look into the eyes of a wild elephant that’s less than 100 feet away from where you’re standing. The evenings were filled with fun, everyone would talk about the day, eat dinner, and play a lot of card games. It was an amazing way to meet other volunteers from all over the globe!

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Getting to travel to Sri Lanka to volunteer with elephants at the age of 16 is a surreal experience; honestly, it hardly feels real that I actually did it. It was such a difficult, fun, life-changing, and eye-opening adventure that I’ll never forget, and it’s made me realize how important travel is. Volunteering abroad gave me the incredible opportunity to see and work around wild elephants. I was able to see the way a different part of the world lives. I was exposed to a different way of life and a very real problem that many people face. It was such a meaningful experience to be able to meet and spend time with the farmers and local people, while also doing work and research with the program.

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I now believe that traveling alone and volunteering abroad is one of the best things someone can do for themselves. I not only learned about the people and the country while I was in Sri Lanka, but I also learned a lot about myself. This trip made me realize that I have complete control over what I want to do in the future and I hope to continue having more experiences like this. Everyone’s experiences are different, but I think getting out of your comfort zone is extremely important, especially as a teenager because traveling and volunteering alone really teaches you a lot about the world, and yourself. I think this quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. sums up volunteering abroad pretty well,

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

Once you’re exposed to something so foreign, it’s hard to adjust back to your normal life, but the important thing is that you implement everything you learn from your experiences into your daily routine. This is why travel and volunteerism are so important for young people. At a young age the mind is still open to new adventures, so these crucial moments help form who you are as a person which is why I think volunteering abroad is such a valuable experience.

 

Jessica Hovermale
Jessica Hovermale is a high school student from Corvallis, OR. She currently serves  on the Executive Team of Youth Volunteer CorpsInternational Youth Advisory Board.