Not all those who wander are lost

Sometimes, I think I must be the luckiest girl in the world. I may not have every material desire, I get frustrated, and angry sometimes, I get sad, things don’t always go perfectly. But I have been granted enough good fortune to be able to live out some of my biggest dreams.

In September of 2010, I embarked on a 9.5 month exchange to Nice, France. If you knew me well between grade 11 and second year university, you know that this was something I had dreamt about and hoped for.

Again, if you know me well, then you know that I have wanted, for quite some time, to do a volunteer project in a developing country. Again, my dreams are coming true.

A couple of nights ago, I received confirmation that I have been accepted to participate in a volunteer abroad program in Guatemala, beginning in September. I will be placed in a rural medical clinic or hospital surrounding the extremely picturesque city of Antigua, for 11 weeks. During this time I will be staying with a host family, soaking up as much of the local culture as possible, and hopefully drastically improving my Spanish skills. As I begin week 9 of my placement, I will be joined by one of my best friends of over 10 years, Rachel Spekking, and once both of our placements are over, we’re hoping to explore a bit of what else Central America has to offer.

Finding the right placement for me has been a grueling process, with lots of frustration. I have investigated many organizations only to find out that they were scams, or didn’t support their volunteers. Some looked like great programs but were far too expensive for me at this time, or didn’t offer the type of experience I wanted. I changed my mind many times about what I was going to do as I got new information – so if you’re reading this thinking “I thought you were going to India!” or “I thought you were going to Kenya!” that would be why.

The organization I finally chose is called IVHQ (International Volunteer Headquarters) which is based out of New Zealand [www.volunteerhq.org] which is essentially a middle man that places you with a grass-roots organization in the host country. They have BY FAR the cheapest rates out there, they have the program I wanted and they also have incredibly positive reviews. I have communicated with them quite a bit during the past while, including having called them, and while other companies couldn’t or wouldn’t answer my questions, they have been incredibly prompt and helpful. I think it’s always a risk to trust your safety and money with a company you don’t have experience with, but I feel I’ve done just about the best that I can.

The only thing I DO NOT like so far is that when you go to pay your registration and program fees, they charge you an extra 5% of the cost for credit card processing fees. I realize this is necessary for the company to do, but they should be more upfront about it and include it in their fees quoted on the website. For people going for only a couple of weeks, 5% isn’t much, but for me, going for 11 weeks, this really adds up.

Here, I will keep you updated before, during and after the trip. This is partly for myself – I didn’t keep nearly as good record of what I did in France as I would have liked. This is also for you. I know that many of my friends have done or are interested in doing volunteer abroad projects, and hopefully here you can find some honest insight into my experience with this country and this organization.

3, 2, 1…Here we go.

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