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An Unhappy Camper

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When a volunteer opportunity doesn't pan out as expected, Alicia learns a valuable lesson.

Near the end of my time in Colombia, I had the opportunity to volunteer at an English immersion camp. These two-week camps are set up in a similar fashion as the program in the schools, with both bilingual Colombian camp counsellors and native English-speaking fellows interacting with campers. In addition to English skills, the camp helps attendees develop skills such as leadership capabilities and survival techniques.

I had heard stories of fellows having a great experience at these camps; how they enjoyed connecting with the campers and feeling like they were making a difference with them. I was looking forward to having a similar experience. The fellows who had volunteered before viewed it as a rewarding experience and I had hoped for the same.

It reminded me that no two travel experiences are the same.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was a disappointing and difficult experience. It was great getting to know some of the campers and hearing about what they wanted to do after graduating high school. One girl specifically told me about her plans to travel abroad. She wanted to study in Germany because they offer free tuition to international students—she was also learning German in her free time to prepare—and travel to Canada and the U.S. And while hearing about this camper’s goals made my day, it wasn’t enough to change the overall experience.

For me, the experience reminded me that no two travel experiences are the same. For all the hype about how great travel is (and it is great), there is a downside. The hope is at least something in the experience that makes it purposeful. The immersion camp was an opportunity for campers to advance their English skills, and for that I am grateful that they had the opportunity. Whether it made a difference is something that I hope for, but accept that it I may never know the answer.

Looking back at the experience (hindsight is always 20/20, right?), I (re)learned two important lessons: 1) never settle for less than what you want, and 2) trust your instincts. I settled to volunteer for this camp when I wasn’t selected for my first choice. I rationalized it, thinking that I was just being flexible, but have since realized that I had masked settling for less than what I wanted. I wasn’t trusting my gut as I should have, and when being in an unfamiliar setting while abroad, ultimately I should have trusted my instincts. 

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Alicia Williams

Alicia Williams is an English Teaching Fellow with Heart for Change in Colombia. Living in the Eje Cafetero, she has learned to take time for coffee, rather than getting coffee to go. She plans to live abroad for awhile.

Website: aliciaisincolombia.wordpress.com

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