Welcome to your new family

It is around midnight, when I am waiting at Barranquilla airport for someone to pick me up. Due to poor communication about this pick-up and my malfunctioning brain after an 18hr journey, I feel rather small. Fortunately a man points at his phone with a photo of me on it; this should be my ride. In the car he explains his son is in AIESEC and he tells me more about the neighbourhood. I smile and nod nervously, anxiously regretting that I neglected my Spanish.

Some time later I arrive at a house in the fourth biggest city of Colombia and I still have no clue about what to expect. A big gate, another gate and the front door lock the house and I wonder what my parents would think. A girl opens the door and a barking dog jumps at me. Although I am not a dog person, I have to give it a go, as I will be living with Carlos, Shyrlis, Carlos Daniel (18), Diana (17), Valentina (11) and Isis (dog) for the upcoming six weeks.

I am extremely grateful to have been welcomed by this amazing family. They were very patient with me; helped me getting along and asked me many questions. Moreover, using hands, feet and Google Translate we both tried to understand each other’s lives and backgrounds. Especially the mom was a woman of gold who involved me in her daily life. The whole experience of living in Barranquilla, feeling as a member of this family, sharing meals and family jokes, is what makes my Global Volunteer experience unforgettable.

Because I could stay with this family, I was able to volunteer at a social project. In a sense, we both volunteered to help their community. The project was located in a drugs and violence rehabilitation centre where I provided classes to 14 to 18 years old boys. Between their therapy sessions, me and two other volunteers offered classes about culture, hip-hop, the position of male vs. female and games to practices working together. It was fascinating to see how the boys evolved from manipulative and masculine to nicer, but also flirtier boys. My favourite class was about the position of the mother. That day our room suddenly was not available and we had to come up with a last-minute solution to replace our PowerPoint presentation. We decided to involve a children͛s book, although, we were afraid the boys might think it was childish. At the beginning it looked like they were not really interested, however, at the end of the book, the boys’ noses were almost inside the book. The most intriguing part was the discussion afterwards, illuminating their shared perspectives and realities.

Working at the project with other volunteers, traveling with them, but also traveling by myself taught me multiple things. In particular, I was able to reflect and learn about my own and others’behavior. I believe it is very powerful to understand why you do what you do and your interaction with other people. I am very glad with the other volunteers, with whom I had great and sometimes difficult moments. Just like in real (working)life. The complete experience abroad has gained me more confidence, better knowledge about myself including clear examples, and it has showed me what makes me happy.

This post was written by Milou Heijmerink. Milou went on a voluntary project with AIESEC in the Netherlands. We offer international voluntary projects and professional internships with the aim of developing leadership in youth. 

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