I met Jessica at the Lessons From Abroad Conference in January of 2016. After a long conversation, we discovered Jessica’s interest in teaching abroad to continue to learn about other cultures while improving her Spanish. Fast forward to August and Jessica was preparing to spend several months volunteering with Unearth the World’s nonprofit partner in Peru. We recently reconnected with Jessica to ask her a few questions about her experience in Peru with Unearth the World. Her advice for people contemplating volunteering abroad? Make the most of your experience. Try new things. Meet new people. Go out of your comfort zone. We hope you enjoy reading more about Jessica’s experience below as much as we did!!
UTW: Why did you want to volunteer in Peru?
Jessica: Originally I was finishing my undergraduate degree and my minor was Spanish, so I was looking to improve my Spanish and thought about doing a study abroad experience…I met Kathryn at a study abroad conference and knew that I wanted to go with Unearth the World to Peru. I had a little experience teaching music so I thought it was perfect. I liked the flexibility and the fact that I could stay longer.
UTW: Why did you choose to volunteer through Unearth the World?
Jessica: A big part of it was that I liked Kathryn. The philosophy of doing something that’s actually beneficial to the community versus some of the voluntourism out there that’s not really helping anyone. I liked the idea of going with Unearth the World and making a difference while also improving my Spanish.
UTW: What surprised you most while in Peru?
Jessica: My initial surprise was how much work it was. Teaching isn’t easy. It has its challenging days, but it’s also very rewarding. I loved the experience and the challenge and the ownership I was given. I was able to teach four classes and really be the leader on that project. I felt like they were my classes. I was able to design lesson plans and activities and grade the assignments. It was rare that I had a co-teacher, so I really got to know the kids.
UTW: What did you find was the most rewarding aspect of your time volunteering?
Jessica: Everything. Honestly the most rewarding part was the relationships I built with the kids and the people and the way that it helped me become a better person. It was a blast getting to know the kids. I was both a teacher and got to work at the teen center, so I got to know those kids, too. It was certainly rewarding in the classroom to see when my students would grasp a concept and really understand.
Outside of the students…the other volunteers and people in the community. The whole thing was a lot of personal growth for me.
UTW: What is your biggest takeaway from your experience volunteering abroad?
Jessica: You can really do anything that you put your mind to. Going into the experience, it seems daunting and you’re nervous and excited. I had a little bit of teaching experience, but I didn’t have the type that I ended up getting from LLI. Going into a new role as a volunteer and trying to live in another country and travel around the country…the biggest takeaway was that I can do anything that I put my mind to.
UTW: How will you incorporate what you learned volunteering abroad into your everyday life?
Jessica: I’ve learned some more confidence through the experience. When I get nervous about something, I think back about how I lived in another country and it gives me more confidence. I think it’s also just enjoying the moment. There’s so much you have to take in. I just learned to enjoy the experience and the students even when I was having a stressful day. I’m trying to live in the moment a little more.
UTW: What would you say to someone interested in volunteering abroad?
- I would say that if the time in your life is right, then it’s one of the best experiences you could have in your life. It’s important to be ready, but you can never be fully prepared. If you know it’s something that you want to do, invest it.
- Make the most of your experience. Try new things. Meet new people. Go out of your comfort zone. It’s important to capitalize on your time.
- Go at the right time in your life so that you can really commit yourself to it and get the most out of it.
- Go in with an open mind and spirit. It can really help you grow as a person.
- For UTW – I really appreciated the assistance in the beginning preparing me for the trip. It was nice knowing that there was a person I go to asking for help or advice in case I needed it. Going abroad, it’s good to know you’re going with a program that has been there and can step in.
- Definitely take the opportunity to live with a family if you can. That was a highlight of my trip. You really get to know the culture better and sort of feel like you’re living more in the lifestyle of the people you’re working with. It adds to the connection.