Browsing Category VOLUNTEER ABROAD

Volunteering Abroad: The Inside Scoop

by Monday, September 14, 2015

Maddie and Evan with the kids at GoEco day camp in Cape Town, South Africa

Last month my 17-year-old daughter, Maddie,  and her best friend did some volunteer work in South Africa. I was initially super excited to let her have this amazing opportunity, but then was a little worried about her safety and the unknown, having never done volunteer work myself.

I have always wanted to do volunteer work abroad,  and now I would be letting my daughter be a guinea pig (if you will) by experiencing this first.

She was determined that this was going to happen and did all the legwork herself. She found an organization called Go Eco ( that had a great reputation and offered a program that spiked her interest.

She chose the Cape Town, South Africa location that would have her working with underprivileged children at a day camp, teaching them life skills through sports, such as surfing. This was the one. She was to go for three weeks and stay at a volunteer house with other volunteers from all over the world.

She went from July 29, 2015 to August 18, 2015.

When she returned, I decided to interview her about her experience, not only for my knowledge, but to share with others who are also interested in volunteering abroad.


Here is a little insight on how her volunteer experience was:

Me:Was the GoEco organized with documentation and the transfers/airport pick up?

Maddie: GoEco was very organized. I was a little worried about not being picked up at the airport, but there was no problems at all and it was easier than I thought.

Maddie and Evan in their shuttle from the airport, heading to their volunteer house for GoEco in Cape Town, South Africa

Me: How were the conditions of the volunteer house?

Maddie: There were 4 connected houses with 8 people in each. They were very basic with no frills at all. There was no television, no radio and each house had one bathroom to share.

Go Eco volunteer house in Cape Town, South Africa

Me: How many volunteers were there? And what were the age ranges?

Maddie: There were about 20 volunteers from all around the globe, ranging anywhere from 17-30, but mostly college aged. We were the youngest ones. There were only a couple other 17 year olds there.

Me: Did you feel safe in the area?

Maddie and Evan with their new friends Alex and Joey from London

Maddie: Yes, we felt extremely safe and anytime we went out in the town, we always stayed in groups.

Me: How was the work? Was it hard?

Maddie and her new friend Alex from London playing with the kids

The kids in the classroom, ready to learn

Maddie: It started out with a few days of training and then we worked everyday, all day (usually 8:30 am-4:00 pm). The mornings were in the classroom and afternoons at the beach doing swim lessons with the 12-14 year olds.  It was very intense and harder than I thought, mainly due to the language barrier and keeping the kids paying attention.  After our long day at project, we would often have lesson planning to do for the next day. Our nights and weekends were free to explore the area.

Maddie and Evan sightseeing in Cape Town on the weekend

Me; How was the food?

Maddie: The food was okay.The breakfast was yogurt and fruits and the lunches and dinners were simple, with a protein, starch and a vegetable. It was very Americanized type food, which I was little disappointed in. I wanted to try some weird foods. I did get to try a traditional South African sandwich called a”gwenya” though, which was like a puffy bread bun with french fries and some red spices. It was so good!

A “gwenya” South African sandwich

Me: What did you like best about this experience?

Maddie: Making new friends from around the world and the kids. They were so adorable and full of so much love.  Every time we walked into the class, they would literally jump all over us hugging us nonstop. It felt great to make them so happy.

Maddie and her new friend David from Sweden making “friendship bracelets”

Me: What did you like least about it?

Maddie: I wish I would have gone in a different season. It was winter season when I was there so it was very cold for surfing and our volunteer house had no heat, so nights got extremely chilly.

Maddie and Evan hat shopping. Its winter season in August for South Africa

Me: What kinds of things did you do on your free time?

Maddie and Evan out with their new friend Julia from the Netherlands

Maddie: We went out at night to a local bar and socialized with other volunteers and backpackers staying at a surrounding hostel. It felt kind of crazy being at a bar at 17, but in South Africa, it doesn’t matter. I even ordered a drink (oops). On the weekend we went hiking and shopped in the town and I even went skydiving! (sorry Mom)

Maddie skydiving!

Me: Would you use Go Eco again to do volunteer work somewhere else?

Maddie: Yes! I plan on doing another one, probably somewhere in South East Asia when I am 18.

Me: Did you learn anything by volunteering abroad?

Maddie: Yes! I learned so much! I learned how to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and found ways to connect with them, other than by just talking (a language barrier was there in many cases). I also learned how to take care of myself and it made me feel more confident that if I can travel across the world at 17 alone, I can pretty much do anything. This experience also taught me to be grateful for everything I have. Seeing these underprivileged children being so happy with absolutely nothing, humbled me in a way that made me want to give back even more.

Maddie looking down at Cape Town, South Africa from a view point at Lions Head

Me: Do you think everyone should volunteer abroad?

Maddie: Yes! I think this experience is mind-opening and would be beneficial to anyone, no matter how old or young. I feel like volunteering abroad has changed my life in so many positive ways. I can’t wait to do it again!







The Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

by Monday, August 10, 2015

The discussion of a gap year is something that isn’t much talked about in my circles.  As a matter of fact, it isn’t too common amongst most American families. However, if you are from countries like England or Australia, a gap year is something that a lot of new graduates consider. I wanted to share what some of the benefits of taking a gap year are.

What is a “gap year” you might ask? A “gap year” is a sort of sabbatical from studies between high school and college, sometimes between undergraduate school and graduate school, to travel the world.

When I’ve talk about this subject with some peers and/or other parents, the idea of it seemed almost frowned upon. Most said that it would make the kids lazy or they wouldn’t be on track with their college completion timeframe plan.  Whatever that is? Others said that college is expensive enough, how were they supposed to also pay for a gap year too?  (Who said they were paying?) Then, there were some that didn’t even understand the whole point. “What is so important about traveling anyway? The USA is fine, there is no reason to EVER leave!” Ugh!!!

This is a frustrating thing to me that people not only, don’t understand the benefits of taking a gap year to travel,  but are against it altogether.

My daughter and I discuss this topic frequently. She is a senior this upcoming fall. Currently she is in Cape Town, South Africa with, doing a volunteer program, teaching children life skills through surfing and other sport activities. So, this is definitely right up her alley when it comes to her after graduation objectives. She hasn’t decided if she will or will not take a gap year,  but whichever she chooses to do, I support her

Here are a few examples of the benefits of taking a gap year as a young person:

A gap year will expand world views and teach tolerance 

The best way to open your mind to this amazing world and all it has to offer is to travel. Many people who have never traveled at all, after traveling, realize their preconceived notions on how they thought a place or people were, in other parts of the world, are inaccurate.  Media does a great job of scaring the public into not leaving the safety of their own country, when in reality, you could be in as much danger in your own cities as you could be anywhere else in the world.  Stereotyping is also a big barrier to hurdle around. The best way to see if what you were told was true about a place, is to go visit. More often than not, what you thought was true, was dead wrong. Just because people live differently than we do, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. We could learn a thing or two from other cultures.

A gap year allows a young adult to grow into themselves and their goals without outside influences

A gap year for a young adult going from high school to college is a perfect time to help them grow into themselves. This is a huge transitional period for them.  They have been in a school system for most of their lives and have been influenced by family, friends, and teachers. If you remove them from their environment, it can help them to mature and learn about who they really are, and what they want to become (not what mom or dad or their best friend want for them).  At this time in a young person’s life the possibilities are endless. What a great opportunity for them to be able to explore the world and find their place in it.

A gap year can help a young adult appreciate the life they have

If a gap year involves volunteer work in third world countries, this can be a life changing experience. Seeing these impoverished countries on the news has much less of an impact on someone than if you were witnessing this first hand. This could lead someone to have a greater appreciation for all of their blessings and can humble a person in a way that could change their entire outlook on life. They may even be inspired to help in some sort of way. Even if they don’t go and join the peace corp. or start a foundation, this insight could generate gratitude in one’s life, and heighten compassion and empathy for others.

A gap year will educate a young adult more than any book could

What a better way to learn about a place and its people than to visit it. No book, no matter how well written, can give you the same experience and being there in the flesh. Spending time in foreign countries; learning the language, eating their food, and seeing their traditions will give someone a sense of history and a more tangible view of a region. All of these attributes can teach someone so much more than just reading about them. The life lessons you can acquire from immersing with other cultures and meeting new people can’t be attained by taking a class, it is knowledge based on personal

A gap year at this age will help a young adult grow into a more open-minded individual

With world travel comes an openness that cannot be attained without it.  When you travel, you start to see that although we are very different in some ways, we are all human and have the same inherent needs. We all need a place to sleep, need food, water, clothes and most importantly, desire to be loved and accepted.  We may be oceans apart, yet we are all one.

A gap year builds character

What a better character builder than being out of your comfort zone.  This can make people very anxious, but learning how to adapt to change can be an extremely important trait to possess in all aspects of life.  People who never leave the comforts of their own home have a very hard time adapting to change and can become very agitated if in these situations.  People who travel, know all too well, that things don’t always go according to plan. Being able to be a “go with the flow” type of person, not only builds character but also helps makes you better at team work and handling unexpected situations with a level head. Traveling helps a person think quick on their feet and learn to be a problem solver. This could be a very beneficial disposition to have in any career choice.

A gap year will not hold future goals back

In the grand scheme of things, do you really think one year is going to hold someone back from their goals? As I grow older, I realize just how quick one year goes by. Like a flash. I also think it could be beneficial to start college one year later because a young adult may mature over that one year period through this life experience of world travel.  They may be even more ready to focus on their academics with a fresh start.  It could also change their course of studies choice, once they have been exposed to more than what is just outside their doorstep. In my opinion, the value of being able to take this time as a young adult to see the world, outweighs graduating one year earlier by tenfold.


“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” -Mohammed


A gap year at this age is probably the easiest time to take one

People who desire to travel usually can’t because of obligations. As an adult, we all have them. Whether it be a mortgage, car payments, student loans, bills, children, pets or all of the above. You name it! It is almost impossible to have the amount of time needed to fully be able to travel the world, or even part of it.  When you have a job with 2 weeks vacation per year, how much can your really see? Not much at all. Many say that they will be able to travel when they retire, to only find themselves either too sick, too old, or unable to financially.

These are just some examples of  the benefits of taking a gap year before starting college.  I think the Brits and the Aussies have it right, by allowing their young adults, a year off, to go exploring this great big, beautiful world, before life responsibilities take hold and the idea of world travel is just a dream.  I’m not sure if my daughter will decide to take a gap year or not, but I do know if she does, it will only make her a more educated, confident, tolerant, open-minded, compassionate individual, who will be ready to achieve any goals she desires.  This can’t be all that bad.

my daughter on the beach in Cape Town, South Africa

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