Tell us a bit about yourself and why you love to travel?
My name is Nana, I come from Denmark but live in Patagonian Chile working with tourism and in my spare time, I like to hike. Not sure if I love to travel, but when I started to travel by myself back in High school, it was with the desire to get to know a bit more of the world.
My parents only went to Italy, the same place every year and I wanted to experience other places. I prefer to stay in one place for a longer time and Chile opened my world for hiking and outdoor adventures and when I am looking at my next travel destination, I always check if there are good hiking opportunities, beautiful nature and wildlife.
Why did you decide to Volunteer abroad?
I studied Spanish in high school and I thought to myself that I would never learn it properly if I didn’t go to a Spanish speaking country to get the language “under the skin”. I did not want to travel around as backpacker, I wanted to stay in one country, learn the culture and improve my Spanish. That is why I choose to find a programme and work voluntarily in a Spanish speaking country.
I actually wanted to go to Colombia.
I kid you not, Shakira inspired me to get to know this exotic country! I found an organization that I liked and I was looking at the programmes together with my best friend who wanted to do the same and she was more into Mexico. We wanted to go in the month of January and Colombia only had programmes starting in June so this is why it ended up being Mexico. I have been to Mexico twice since then, I absolutely love this country and feel it is my second home where I have my second family.
How did you go about getting a volunteer role?
I searched for volunteer programmes online in a Spanish speaking country and where I did not have to work with kids. Furthermore, I didn’t want to work with an organization with a religious motive or beliefs. Not because it’s bad, but as an agnostic, I have a hard time relating to religious beliefs.
I ended up teaching English for a group of students. This organization was offering a cultural exchange programme and not a “go out and save the world” programme so that was kind of the focus: we weren’t there to save poor people, we were there to get to know a new culture and exchange experiences. My Mexican sister was going to Denmark and I was living with her family for 6 months.
Were there many challenges to living and volunteering in Mexico?
The biggest challenge was, of course, the languages. My Mexican family did not speak English and I had a hard time, in the beginning, expressing myself. But other than that, I actually think I was pretty lucky: I had a wonderful family that I am still in contact with today, I had some great friends, I was welcomed in the local Karate club and I liked my job as English teacher a lot. I know some other volunteers had some challenges with their host family, the cultural differences, the job etc. some even changed family or job.
Did you get to travel much and if so, where is your favourite place to visit?
I travelled for 2 weeks during Easter vacation and then 2 weeks after my volunteer programme ended. Some of my favourite places I visited was Nayarit (a beach place), Guadalajara (where I actually ended up studying in 6 months 3 years later) and visiting all the beautiful places in the state of Oaxaca and the Yucatan peninsula.
What was a typical day like?
I worked in a school teaching a small group of students English. I prepared my class during the morning, then had like 1,5 hours of teaching. Three times a week I took Karate classes and back home I studied Spanish by myself. I had some friends I hang out with now and then and helped my Mexican mom whenever she needed it. I was and still am very close to my Mexican mom.
What is your best travel moments?
It is hard to choose and some details are fading away since it was back in 2008. Visiting places in Mexico was amazing, but celebrating my birthday with first my Mexican family (it was a surprise birthday party they made for me) and then with my friends are some very good memories I have. The feeling of belonging and that people want to do something good for you is something I never will forget – it was more important than the travel moments.
What must pack items would you recommend?
A diary! I don’t write diary normally but doing my foreign trips I always did and I have some great memories in this diary this day today that reminds me of all my struggles and all my great times. I hardly remember if I brought anything special, but I made great use of my backpacker when I was on a weekend trip or when I was travelling during the Easter vacation.
What advise would you give to others who want to work abroad?
Choose the organization carefully. I liked that my organization focused on cultural exchange and not on saving the world.
Be open to other cultures and the fact that things work differently than in your country. I heard a lot of “in my country, we do this and that”. It doesn’t help you and your host country will not change their practice just because you think your country does it better. Many of the other volunteers had a hard time adapting a different culture but it was also difficult for their host family to understand their new family member.
My host mom was very worried about having a “white European” because she was afraid people would steal from me, kidnap me or even worst. We had to find a common way to make her feel more secure when I left the house and travelled alone. It was new for me that someone had this kind of worries for me and it was new for her to have a foreigner in the house and she felt very responsible for my life and well.
Thank you Nana!
Read more of our work abroad series here:
- VOLUNTEER ABROAD: WORKAWAY VOLUNTEERING IN EUROPE
- WORK ABROAD: ONLINE ENGLISH TEACHING
- WORK ABROAD: WORKING IN ROME
- WORK ABROAD: CAMP AMERICA EXPECTATIONS
- WORK ABROAD: WORKING IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND EGYPT
- WORK ABROAD: TEACHING ENGLISH IN TAIWAN
- VOLUNTEER ABROAD: RELIEF WORK IN ECUADOR
- WORK ABROAD: TEACHING IN CAMBODIA
- WORK ABROAD: FINDING LOCAL JOBS AS YOU TRAVEL
- WORK ABROAD: INTERNATIONAL TEACHING IN SINGAPORE AND QATAR
- WORK ABROAD: TEACHING IN VIETNAM
- WORK ABROAD: FREELANCE BLOGGER
- WORK ABROAD: TEACHING IN BANGKOK
Any questions, experiences and comments – leave them below! 🙂