Volunteer Chronicles: Applying

Prologue: We found volunteering seems to be a common part of career breaker’s itineraries, and through our Meet, Plan, Go! events we learned that you want to learn even more about it! You asked – we deliver.

Welcome to a new feature on Briefcase to Backpack, the “Volunteer Chronicles”, where we’ll follow Sherry Ott’s two month volunteering trip through the Middle East. We are starting you at square one and you’ll get diary-type updates to know what it’s really like from the moment you pick a program to the moment you arrive home. Sherry’s volunteering with one of our recommended volunteer organizations, GeoVisions, which offers unique opportunities to volunteer around the world and make a difference.

And in the beginning…there were forms…

[singlepic=1905,250,,,right]From the moment I came across GeoVision’s Conversation Programs I was intrigued. I loved the idea of living with a local family while tutoring them, or a local municipality in conversational English. It seemed like the perfect way to have cultural interaction and exchange.

I’m not a novice to volunteering. I’ve done if before with varying degrees of support – from very high end ‘hold your hand’ programs to local budget ‘you’re on your own’ programs). After reading through the GeoVisions website, I felt it was really positioned in between – that middle ground that seemed economical (especially if you could stay for longer periods), and one that provided a great structure and support if you needed it.

I had done some follow up research on GeoVisions and talked to a few people there via email and Skype in order to get some of my organizational questions answered. After that, I was sure that I wanted to go with GeoVisions for my next volunteering project.

I looked through their extensive list of countries and programs and decided what was important to me:

  • I knew that I wanted to be involved in teaching as that brings me great satisfaction and normally builds lasting friendships.
  • I also knew I wanted to do the Conversation Corps and Partner program as that’s what initially caught my eye.
  • I wanted to try focusing on conversational English and culture instead of classroom teaching for a change. I know I do best in one on one environments that are spontaneous and conversational; it seemed like a good fit.
  • Finally, it was really important to me to also volunteer in a part of the world that I hadn’t been to before. When I saw the options for the Middle East, I knew I wanted to volunteer there as it would be the best way to really learn about the culture from the inside with locals.

The first step in the GeoVisions process (and most volunteer processes) is to let them know what you want to do. I chose Jordan and Lebanon for my two programs and went to the website to fill out the initial application, choosing the exact two programs, the length I wanted to pursue, and the time-frame.

When you volunteer with a well organized company, you can’t expect to say, “I’m here and ready to help” and then be put to work ASAP. It’s a process; and it’s normally for good reasons. One of the keys to the GeoVisions programs is matching a host family to a volunteer. After all, you will be living with the family for a minimum of a month, and a good match is the key to a good experience for everyone. Even though it is volunteering, I like to consider the process much like a job interview.

I personally loved the way GeoVisions explained this data gathering process:

You have chosen a program that includes living in someone’s home. You are not a visitor. You are going to have your own space, access to the house, the kitchen…you get the idea. If that were happening to you, you would ask all of these questions too. And ask for a commitment.

Getting a family placement is not like getting a burger at McDonalds. We find families based on the information you provide so there is a good match. Cooked to order!

[singlepic=1904,250,,,right]Next I was asked to fill out an application form asking about:

  • Schooling
  • Work experience
  • International experience
  • Awards
  • Hobbies
  • Allergies
  • Foods
  • Living preferences (family w/ kids, no kids, pets, internet, single parents, etc)
  • Expectations and why you want to do this

At this time you are also asked to put down a deposit which is refundable if they can’t find a placement for you. This is really the step that says – ‘I’m serious about wanting to do this and this is why’. Or in other words…’Put your money where your mouth is.’ It provides the volunteer organization a ‘green light’ on starting to assign resources towards making the placement.

This was just the tip of the iceberg of paperwork. Next, my GeoVisions representative sent me further requests leading to further writing and organization on my part. They asked for:

  • A letter to your host family covering why you want to come, what you would enjoy doing with them, and what you are like with your family and friends in your home country. It also includes information about your education, sports, hobbies, and what you think you can contribute to your host family and community.
  • Copy of my passport page
  • A current resume with references
  • Statement from a doctor regarding your physical health
  • 3 to 5 personal photos of you and your family

This paperwork took a bit more work on my part. It required me to get my resume updated and have a current list of references; something I hadn’t done for a number of years! Everyone knows what a pain that can be when it hasn’t been kept updated – so I paid the price, but happy the work is done now.

Despite the extra work of gathering paperwork and medical approval, I loved this part of the process – mainly because of the letter to the family. This was my chance to sell myself, my skills, and my interest in their country. I sort of felt like I was 13 years old again writing to my first pen pal in Lebanon, Kentucky…strange coincidence regarding Lebanon!

Paperwork may not be the fun part of volunteering, but it’s a necessary one. Sure, you could wait until you arrive in a country and find a cause you’d like to help out locally – and that can also be a good experience – but it will be a very different experience from what I was looking for at this time. The most important thing is to know what you are looking for out of a volunteer program.

I’ve done everything I can at this point…now it’s a waiting game. I wait until someone picks me; then the rest of the journey regarding airfare, trip planning, and communicating with the family begins!

Other comments

9 Comments on "Volunteer Chronicles: Applying"

  1. Katie on Wed, 3rd Nov 2010 12:19 pm 

    Sherry – Geovisions is a company I’ve heard about and looked into, so I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experience with Conversation Corps. I’m curious, how long did the whole application process take for you?

  2. Oliver on Wed, 3rd Nov 2010 12:27 pm 

    Hey Sherry!
    Great article! I’m now in the process of planning a trip to South Africa to do volunteer work. I’d like to go for three months sometime around 2012-2013. There are so many organizations out there and it’s very important to choose one that ‘fits’. After reading this article I’ll surely have a look at GeoVisions’ SA projects! Best of Luck!

    Maybe we’ll run into you in Lebanon!

  3. Tweets that mention Volunteering: What’s it really like? | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- Topsy.com on Wed, 3rd Nov 2010 1:47 pm 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BriefcasetoBackpack and David Lee, Pema Teeter. Pema Teeter said: Suspense! who will pick u? RT @ottsworld Follow me on a 2 mo #volunteering journey w @GeoVisions frm signup 2 return http://ow.ly/33JZg […]

  4. Zablon Mukuba on Thu, 4th Nov 2010 1:06 pm 

    its great you went for a volunteer abroad vacation. i feel its really important to match the skill of the volunteer and the program in which they will be involved in. Volunteers should also be told how to behave while they are with the host family.


  5. Alonna on Sat, 6th Nov 2010 4:11 pm 

    Are we following this real-time (meaning Sherry hasn’t left for this trip yet)? If so – good luck with the selection process! I’m looking forward to following along.

  6. Kimberly on Sat, 13th Nov 2010 12:59 pm 

    Inspiring! I’m planning to have a volunteering trip, this pushes me even more=)

  7. Hans Kortlevers on Fri, 17th Dec 2010 11:24 am 

    I agree with Kimberly. This travel post is also motivating me to help others.

  8. TH on Mon, 20th Dec 2010 9:56 pm 

    I am interested in learning more about this program from anyone who has done it before. Please comment back and we can get in touch.

  9. Michaela Potter on Thu, 6th Jan 2011 6:59 pm 

    Sherry is just settling in with her host family now in Jordan, so be sure to follow the Volunteer Chronicles for weekly updates!

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