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8 Things I'm No Longer Scared of After Volunteering Abroad

Saoirse volunteering in rural areas in Sabah, Borneo. Imo Wigdahl

Volunteering abroad brings whole new meaning to the phrase "first-world problems."

From letting a mosquito bite ruin your day to a fear of making tough decisions, volunteering abroad gives you perspective about what's really a "big deal." Here are eight things that don't bother me since I've volunteered in Nepal and Borneo:

1. Feeling grimy

Its hard to be annoyed about having to have a baby wipe shower because there's no water, when you're volunteering in a village because they have no water.

Safe water is something I definitely took for granted—and when finding bathing water could be an hour-round trip, sometimes its easier to just go to bed a bit gross. (Though I can now tick "shower in the rain" off my bucket list.)

2. Spiders (and most other creepy crawlies)

Never did I picture myself as the kind of person who could pee in a confined space with a spider larger than my fist chilling out by my head. But after a while, it just becomes standard.

Every toilet has a massive spider; best just to name him, acknowledge his presence and get on with it.

3. Leading a team

I've never had much opportunity in my life to be in charge of a team, so I always assumed it wouldn't suit me or I wouldn't like it, but it turns out I'm comfortable being a leader. I also found enjoyment in supporting others in their leadership development and watching someone shy transform into a comfortable team member.

Every toilet has a massive spider; best just to name him, acknowledge his presence and get on with it.

4. Eating the same thing everyday

After digging foundations or trekking through jungle, I didn't care that I'd be eating the same meal I've had every day for the past week. It was fuel, it would fill my stomach and it meant I'd be able to go to sleep with a full tummy. It also made me feel guilty for those hours I've spent parading up and down supermarket aisles lamenting that there's nothing interesting to eat. Bring on the rice and beans.

5. Making difficult decisions

I'll clarify this one by saying this isn't about making the correct decision, but just having the confidence to make a decision at all. I used to be that person who'd shrug at options and not have enough faith in whatever I chose. Now I know that being indecisive can be dangerous in certain situations. Questions such as “should we trek over this fresh landslide"?" or "I can't remember if I purified this water, shall I drink it anyway?" are enough to teach you that the answer can't be "Hmm . . . I'm not sure"

6. Sleeping under a mosquito net

I definitely thought this was going to feel suffocating and claustrophobic, until I saw the kind of bugs that come out at night. And when you wake up surrounded by several dead spiders who had tried to get through your mesh barrier, the mosquito net becomes your best friend.

7. Things sucking my blood

Leeches and mosquitos were the main reason I didn't initially choose Borneo as a country to volunteer in. Call me petty, but the idea of looking down and seeing a leech get fat off of my own blood just made me shiver. Now when I see anything attached to me, it's met with an eye roll and a slap or a flick.

8. Feeling at home with strangers

My family will tell you I like my own company, which is still true, but now I love meeting people from different cultures and not letting a language barrier get in the way. This new found love has seen me travel in campervans with Hare Krishnas, dine in the foothills of the Himalayas and dance to tribal music in the Bornean jungle.

Your mind broadens when you travel abroad, but your heart grows when you volunteer abroad.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Saoirse Clohessy

After volunteering in Nepal documenting earthquake relief work, Saoirse Clohessy has set off into the rest of Asia, armed with her camera and a determination to be useful to more charities doing amazing work.

Website: www.facebook.com/saoirseclohessy

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