Volunteer Chronicles: Expectations
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.
I arrive in Amman Jordan on January 4th, and I can’t help but wonder what to expect. I wish I could say that I was fully prepared for what lie ahead of me – but I’m far from it! I am in that panic mode that happens before any big trip; trying to figure out what to pack. During this pre-departure time we tend to be full of expectations and excitement, it can be a fun time and a stressful time; even for a seasoned traveler and volunteer like myself.
I am reminded of how powerful expectations are when you volunteer or simply travel deeply into a culture. During this part of the volunteering process, I have been reminded of ‘expectations’ frequently and have already had to reset them a number of times
After filling out my detailed family application next I had to wait. And wait, and wait. In fact, that has been the most frustrating part of the process so far; waiting to hear about my volunteer family assignments. It was only frustrating because one – I was anxious to learn more about where I would be living for a month, and two – because I couldn’t really make my flight arrangements until I had my family assignment. I had hoped that I would receive the assignments sooner, but the process takes time.
About 4 weeks later, the day came when I received an email announcing my Jordan family assignment. GeoVisions sent me a document with information on the family including ages, professions, the family environment, interests, leisure activities, emails, and photos. I was encouraged to contact the family via email shortly thereafter. It was great to see photos of the house and family members – it made the whole process really seem real for the first time.
As it says in the GeoVisions documentation, “Keep an open mind and involve yourself as much as possible in the host culture and in the life of the family. You are embarking on a wonderful cultural voyage!”
That’s when my first expectation was shattered. I read through the family information and was surprised when I read that the family was Christian. I had always assumed that I would be placed with a Muslim family in Jordan, but to my surprise, that wasn’t the case. I felt silly for even making that assumption. I had assumed I would be learning extensively about the Muslim culture by living with a Muslim family. It’s important to realize I can still accomplish my goal of learning about the Muslim culture, regardless of what family I am living with. The key is that I’m living with a local family – and from there, my possibilities about cultural learning will be endless. I love to travel because it breaks down stereotypes and that’s exactly what this did to me; the Middle East is not only populated by Muslims – they are a part of the culture. I actually started to get excited about additional stereotypes it would begin to break down for me.
I immediately started an email to the family asking them a few questions and introducing myself. I wondered how in the world they would even understand my note since I wasn’t sure what their English level was. The next morning I woke up and had a Facebook friend request from one of the daughters! So much for not knowing if anyone would know how to speak English. Once again I was reminded that I needed to reset my expectations. I wasn’t going into a remote Nepalese mountain village with no plumbing or electricity; I was going into a major thriving, modern Middle Eastern city. A place where Facebook is prevalent; heck, these days Facebook is everywhere!
Next I had to focus on purchasing my airfare and went through the long and sometimes frustrating process of finding the lowest price fare that would work for my budget. GeoVisions does have partnerships and discounts with airline agencies, however their discounts are for students. Since I didn’t even come close to qualifying as a student, I was on my own when it came to figuring out my airfare. I think this is pretty standard for volunteer organizations; you arrange your own transportation. However it sure would be nice to have discounts beyond student discounts!
Now I’m a week away from leaving to head towards Amman and I’m frantically trying to get organized. GeoVisions sent a great tutor’s packet that not only includes a few documents on tutoring ideas for various levels and ages, but it also included access to ESL websites. The document also covered general travel information such as packing, culture shock, returning home, and a whole section on the ‘E’ word… Expectations.
This is only the beginning of breaking through the wall of expectations. As it says in the GeoVisions documentation, “Keep an open mind and involve yourself as much as possible in the host culture and in the life of the family. You are embarking on a wonderful cultural voyage!”