How Volunteering Abroad can Help Widen your Comfort Zone

Emily Davis, who volunteered in Swaziland on our Nutrition Internship, tells an account of what it was like to volunteer on a project with Kaya and how she came out of her comfort zone:  

“When I had started my internship with Kaya Responsible Travel I was ridiculously nervous about what the people I would be working with would be like. I was nervous about navigating my way through OR Tambo and public transport, what the food was going to be like, and if I would have enough to do on the weekends. At first I had thought that I was almost too nervous that I wouldn’t enjoy my work. During my 14 hour layover in Dubai on the way to Swaziland, I had too much time to think. I didn’t sleep a wink, and all I could think about was going home. I am pretty sure my father was just about ready to get on a plane and take me home. It is interesting how we let fear dictate us.

After the first couple of days here in Swaziland I became closer to other volunteers and the individuals in the office, and became more comfortable in my new home for the next month. The lodge crew has the amazing ability to make everyone feel as if they are home, by providing a clean, warm, and welcoming environment. I can say that since my trip to Swaziland I haven’t felt homesick, or even wished that my internship be over sooner. In fact, I am upset that I was only here for four weeks. Not to be cliche, but time sure does fly when you’re having fun. In fact, this trip was the most fun I think I have ever had. I have never met people who could make me laugh so hard that my eyes water. We interns and volunteers get along so well not just because we are fun and exciting, but because we all share a passion: to help those in need.

Kaya Responsible Travel carefully chooses the best of the best volunteers. Because of this our group “clicked” immediately. All sharing stories about home, sharing laughs and excitement of starting our projects. The nerves that I had originally felt as I was traveling to Swaziland about the other volunteers quickly dissipated within the first ten minutes of being at the volunteer lodge and I began to come out of my comfort zone. This experience gives an intern so much more than a “resume boost”. This internship grants the intern to new, and potentially the greatest friends he/she has ever made, real life experience, and a new form of independence, and an altered perspective of the world.

Kaya and the local team work diligently to help the volunteers and interns to find fun and exciting activities to take up the weekend. I took part in a three day safari in Kruger my first weekend, and went zip lining through the mountains in Malolotja my second weekend which also helped me to come out of my comfort zone. This internship wasn’t just about only helping the children at the NCP it was about pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and showing myself the human being I was destined to become.

My favorite part? Homework club, hands down. Even though visiting the NCPs and seeing the children is remarkable and so fun, with homework club I felt like I was directly giving back to the students. The children I have had the honor of working with this past month have grown aslearners, and intellectuals and I could not be more proud. In primary school the students are so willing to learn, yet when they go home chores and other household duties come before homework. However, homework club was created to combat that. This way the students complete homework and are more likely to progress through primary school.

At the beginning of my internship, the local team  sat me down to chat about what I wanted to get out of this internship, and what I had expected to bring to it. I explained that I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment after my month here, and that I could bring enthusiasm and new ideas to our team. After four weeks I can say that I feel that desired sense of accomplishment and even pride. During my fourth week here, fellow intern Catherine, and I have worked diligently to launch our own program at the NCPs.

We are working to implement toothbrushing here at the care points. Just from my town alone, in one day we collected over 170 toothbrushes and toothpastes for the children. Before coming here I was yearning for a way to make a difference in the lives of the children I’ve worked with, and with the help of Catherine, the Mount Washington Valley, and Kaya Responsible Travel that dream was easily accessed and the kids at the NCPs will be impacted forever by our idea.

I entered this internship as an eager college nursing student, with many ideas about my future life plans, but confused about which path I would take after I graduate. Now, after pushing myself far out of my comfort zone, working with such a vulnerable population, and having done things I never imagined I would have the opportunity to do; I will return to the United States a more independent, adventurous, and focused individual. From my mere four weeks of working in Swaziland, my dream of working with Doctors Without Borders as a nurse midwife has become my reality. I intend on returning to school to receive my masters in midwifery, and return to Africa to help make the world a better, safer, and healthier place. I have a lot of things to thank Kaya Responsible Travel and the local team for: my new forever friends, the memories, the opportunity to positively impact these children, and for pushing me outside of my comfort zone. But the largest thank you is for molding me into the person I am supposed to be, and showing me the right career path in which I will enter. As I look back on how I reacted to my internship in the beginning days of travel, I can’t help but laugh at myself. I laugh not because I think I was weak, but because I can’t believe all of the life experience I was willing to give up before I even started.”

We would like to say a big thank you to Emily for sending us this account of her experience. If you would like to have a similar experience volunteering abroad, then take a look at our wide range of projects types. You can also speak to a placement advisor by requesting a call back or more information!