Because I’m always eager to give something back to the world, I decided I wanted to do volunteer work in another country. For me this is also the best way to really get to know a country and its culture. People had told me that AIESEC is the perfect organization for this, because the activities AIESEC does really make an impact.
As I spoke some Spanish I decided I wanted to do my volunteer project in Medellin, Colombia. During my project I worked five days a week on a preschool. At the school I taught English and helped with other activities. Next to the teaching, the local AIESEC committee organised events and in the weekends we often went on trips to get to know Colombia.
Working every day at the school, I did face some difficulties. At some days I prepared a whole lesson, but were all lessons cancelled. You learn how to adapt to these situations and quickly come up with new plans. In The Netherlands we have great facilities to educate our youth, it was very interesting to see how they try to reach the same goal in Colombia, without all these resources and money.
The whole experience helped me to see how I face challenges. It showed me how I react in a situation where I don’t know anyone or anything. The most important thing I learned from this, is that it is okay to ask people for help and to be grateful when people offer it. You can really learn something from everyone you meet. For the rest of my life I will try to remember this and pass it on to others.
Of course there were a lot of cultural differences between my home country and the country of my project. The language, the food and the people are different. Some things I liked more and others less. I’m normally very punctual, in Colombia I had to learn to be at least half an hour late for everything. The hospitality of the Colombian people is something I loved. They make you feel at home right away and you can never leave a place without having some food first.
Without a doubt it is difficult when you are somewhere by yourself and don’t speak the language. But this experience proved me that there always is a way to communicate with each other through hand gestures, food or even music. Also I saw that it is better to focus on the similarities you have. Did you know both Colombian and Dutch people love to complain about the weather?
When I just arrived in Colombia I spoke very little Spanish, I didn’t know the country and I didn’t know anybody there. When I left the country six weeks later, I could speak the language, felt at home in Medellin and had lots of new friends. All in all, doing a volunteer project not only influences the local community, but also has a big influence on you.
This post was written by Tinka Overschie. Tinka went on an exchange with AIESEC in the Netherlands. We offer international voluntary projects and professional internships with the aim of developing leadership in youth.