In this post I am going to focus on volunteering abroad because I have such a close connection to it.
Over the past two summers I have gone on volunteer trips to Costa Rica and Ecuador. I believe that this was so beneficial because it gave me a chance to see how the rest of the world lives. From going on this trips I have realized how fortunate I am to live in America in such great conditions. On these trips I didn't just spend my time thinking about the differences between home and where I was. I spent my time playing with children in daycares. I spent my time making the daycares cleaner and happier than they were before. Going on these trips has been a life changing experience for me.
Opposers to volunteering abroad believe that it is a way for students to use money they have to make their résumé stand out from others. Barmak Nassirian is the associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and he said "We're not idiots. We know the price of an air-conditioned hotel and a plane. It's an act of affluent tourism masquerading as community service." I think he is looking at this type of volunteering from to narrow a lens. By using the word "affluent" he is making it seem as though we are spending our money to go to the nicest area of these countries and eat gourmet meals and we throw a little community service in there to make us seem like we aren't being selfish tourists. He isn't giving us enough credit. We work hard during the day and we don't stay in the nicest part of town. I don't think it is right for someone to discredit the work that another person does. This is still a legitimate way of volunteering. Mark Segal is the director of Westcoast Connection, which has similar programs to one I went on, and he said by volunteering abroad "you're opening the doors for relationships and learning in a way that's very different than being a traveler." When volunteering abroad we aren't just on vacation, we are trying to make a difference.
Here are some personal experiences from my summers abroad that prove these are not superficial trips. To the left is a picture from my first summer in Costa Rica. The first two weeks I spent there I cleaned and painted the daycare. The third week is when the children came back from winter break and I finally got to play with them. They were the sweetest kids I had ever met. I made a very strong connection with the little girl in the picture, Daniella. Even though there was a language barrier I was able to communicate with her enough to play games with her. To the right is a picture of a little boy I met in Ecuador, Benjamin. My favorite part of the two weeks I spent in volunteering at his daycare is when as soon as we walked in he would run up to me with his hands out just like that asking me to pick him up. These two children made me feel like I made an impact on them, which made the whole experience even more fulfilling.