By Courtney Sill (Health Science, ’18) and Kellie Wong (Biochemistry, ’18)
This summer, we had the privilege to travel with the International Student Volunteers (ISV) Program to Australia for an entire month. Volunteering abroad with ISV gave us the chance to no longer be “just tourists,” but rather have the chance to go much deeper as we explored a new environment and culture. The ISV organization has been nationally recognized with several awards that value its impact on hosting countries, volunteer project designs, variety of adventure tours, and ease of planning. Additionally, ISV provided us with the chance to earn academic credit with more opportunities for a worthwhile learning experience. ISV has certainly earned it’s place by being named as one of the “Top Ten Volunteer Organizations,” so named by the US Center for Citizens Diplomacy. One of the greatest assets to the ISV program itself is the various countries from which to choose when planning a volunteer trip. The six countries available to visit include Australia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, South Africa, and Thailand. Each country has as many as five different volunteer project groups, and each project lasting two weeks long. ISV projects focus on community development, wildlife, and conservation. The program provides any students a chance to earn at least 80 hours of volunteer service within their project.
We chose to do a conservation project in Australia where we worked on a Wallaby Sanctuary near Sydney to improve the appearance of its facility. Some of our tasks included laying mulch in flower beds, removing logs and dead branches from the wallaby enclosures, and reinforcing the perimeter fence. We also got to interact with some wallabies and kangaroos when we refilled their food stations! During the two weeks on the project, we worked with eight student volunteers along with our project leader, Steph. As volunteers, we got the chance to stay at the project location where living quarters and food were provided within the program’s initial fees. While the project may sound like there is a lot of physical work, ISV ensures that people of all levels of fitness will be capable of contributing. The project also includes plenty of down time for volunteers to relax, spend bonding time together as a group, and enjoy the some extra fun activities planned by the project leader.
We also had the chance to head out on an extra two week adventure tour traveling down the east coast of Australia. During these two weeks, we experienced the fun, adrenaline-filled activities that Australia has to offer. We went snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, white water rafting down the Tully River, surfing, and everything in between. So it’s safe to say that we got the full Australian experience in the month that we got to spend in the land down under.
While we both agree that the trip was a lot of fun, we both faced individual hardships along the way. Upon arriving, we found the time change and unfamiliar settings had taken some time to get used to. We didn’t know anyone other than each other and we didn’t know what to expect for the next couple of weeks. As time went on we began to open up a bit more and became adjusted to the more relaxed Aussie lifestyle. However, we still fought the challenge of communicating effectively in our group settings. Each of the other volunteers had a very different set of beliefs, language usage, and leadership techniques. Due to these differences it forced us to learn more about each other in order to best suit one another’s needs. This resulted in better team collaboration and even new friendships. We got to learn a new way of life and found that our own lives changed because of this experience. We began to notice aspects or factors related to our own culture that we never had before. If you are like us, you will find similarities and differences between them but appreciate them just the same. You may even adopt a new custom or trait that you grew found of during the experience. The ISV program has taught us to grow more in Leadership, Research, and Global Citizenship, and we believe that this is how traveling is meant to be done.
“Before I left for my trip, all I thought about was trying to complete my global citizenship competency, but now looking back on the trip I realized I’ve learned so much more than I ever thought. I have indeed learned the traits of what it takes to be a global citizen, but I’ve also learned that global citizenship cannot be accomplished without leadership. It takes leaders and teams to make a difference, something that was very evident during our time on the project. Being a global citizen means being able to not only accept other cultures but also immerse oneself in that foreign culture. Getting the opportunity to stay in Australia for a whole month allowed me to grow accustomed to the Australian culture and hence feel less like a tourist. This trip also opened my eyes to how much of an impact we can have on this world. As global citizens, it is our job to protect and maintain the ecosystems of the world in order to provide a bright future for the generations to come. Coming back from this trip has made me more aware of other cultures and how truly fantastic it is that our world is so diverse. With this being said, I can’t wait to continue exploring these different cultures, and hopefully partnering again with ISV.”
“All in all, I’ve realized how important research is for nearly every aspect of our lives. As a Health Science major, I’ve especially become fond of researching our diets, foods, and the companies in control of the food industry. I know now that I’ll be doing a lot of my own digging as I read nutrition labels in grocery stores and discover the quality of food products I purchase. After learning about the negative and positive effects on our environment from different manufacturing techniques I know now that my purchase is more than dinner on the table, but a decision that effects many other people. Not only will my purchasing decisions directly affect my health, but also many other communities, jobs, and resources around the globe.”