Everything you need to know before volunteering abroad

Travelling the world and volunteering with kids sounds like the ultimate summer dream… am I right?

Well, um yes, I’m always right.

ok, definitely not always, but regardless, there are a few things you should know before you decide to hop on a 13 hour flight, thousands of miles away.

Alishan Mountain

Right after I finished my freshman year, I decided to travel and volunteer abroad to Taiwan. I was teaching English classes and sharing the Canadian culture to students from anywhere between grades 1-6 for three weeks. I also had the privilege of going on a 3 day field trip with them to Alishan Mountain (a place known for its breathtaking sunrises). After my three weeks of volunteer time, I spent another 2 weeks in Taiwan and my last week in Japan. Although this sounds like the summer dream, there are a few things I wish I would’ve known before setting foot out of Canada.

  1. Culture Shock is a real thing

Travelling to a foreign country was a huge cultural change for me. Everything from food and water to language and customs was something I had already been exposed to, but nonetheless, didn’t exactly make it any easier. Heres why:

When I travel, it is really hard on my body. My body gets so upset that I experienced Traveler’s constipation my first two weeks in Taiwan. I had to use 3 enemas and laxatives to finally become my normal self…or so I thought. The following week I was feeling okay up until my last week in Japan, where I experienced severe food poisoning. When I came back to Canada, I had to get 3 tests done (so far) to determine if I had contracted any parasites from unclean food/water, or IBS.

2. Volunteering doesn’t mean it’s easy


Volunteering is hard work, and it becomes THAT much harder in a different country. I completely underestimated the language barrier when volunteering in a Taiwanese elementary school. When you are trying to teach another language, please remember to bring your laptop because my mom convinced me it would not be necessary to pack it since they have computers at the elementary school. Although she was right, the computers were all in Chinese – something I cannot read. Luckly, I had an English version of powerpoint on my google drive account that I was able to access on their computers, but that only helped me so much. When teaching another language to a variety of children, who are all different ages, it really requires you to get creative and fast! I ended up printing lots of cartoon photos like fishing, snowboarding, zip-lining, swimming and using these to play a game of sherades with the kiddos. However, I had no idea I was going to do all this until I got there because I was under the impression they had lesson plans already in place…WRONG!

3. To be abroad, means you’ll change abroad.

There is always that cliche that says when you travel abroad it changes you. But it is also a cliche for a reason… because that couldn’t be more true! I had never noticed any changes in myself when I was in Taiwan and Japan; however, when I came back home, that’s when I realized I had changed. I’m not a totally different person, but rather the little things in my personality had changed. For starters, I can honestly say that the little things that used to bug me so much, don’t anymore. I just don’t care because there are way more important things in life to spend time worrying about. Second, I am no longer a sloppy, messy person that just leaves things all over my bedroom floor. Perhaps it is because I’m living alone, or perhaps I have more time to clean, but whatever the reason, I find myself maturing in aspects that I didn’t even know existed.

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All in all, travelling and volunteering abroad are loads of fun, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any bumps in the road!

My word of advice, don’t be a hot mess like me! DO some research before leaving the country. Even packing a few Tums would have made my trip that much more amazing!

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