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Guidelines Before Signing up with a Volunteer Program

By Edited Dec 20, 2013 0 0

The traveling bug always hits me at the oddest moment and by 2009, the economy was diminishing. The life as a promotional brand ambassador was gearing toward younger women with looks and no brains, and I was seeking another challenge within my life.

I’ve become a certified TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher when the Recession of 2009 hit likes a brick. I taught in China for 2yrs (another article in the process of being written) and by ending of Spring Semester, there was a five month span before I knew for certain where I’d be teaching next. In the meanwhile, I continued with my online teaching and returned to as a brand ambassador for a former employer who now had her own business.  During my free time, I researched for agencies accepting applications from older, mature TESOL or backpack teachers (I was 45) and other countries other than Asia, which didn’t have an age restrictions.

My mood of choice was toward Europe, and although I’m from a former country which once governed by United Kingdom, I wasn’t truly recognized as a European Unified. My Nationality is West Indies, my true Birthright, but an US Nationalized Resident. There is a difference.  When I was 18, my first international experience was when I enlisted into the US Army and stationed at an Army installation in Germany.

In the 80s, European was a magical place of adventure and there was so much to visit and experience. A 18 month tour got extended into 4yrs, from persistence and ‘playing with the system’ and I traveled throughout Europe and neighboring countries whilst having the advantage on Uncle Sam’s tab as a hired solider.

I truly missed that experience and wanted to have that roaming of exploration of freedom again. The first recruiting program was Footprints Recruiting setup by a group of young people and they advertised a volunteering program with the Republic of Georgia; a small country, sandwiched between Russia from above, Armenia on the right and Turkey below, which had received her independence from the Soviet Union on April 9, 1991.The Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia was opening her doors and accepting interested people who enjoyed  traveling but also had the willingness of sharing their own cultural experience with her newly freed citizens.

Their description of the program claimed that one could enjoy a European experience and a lifetime understanding of a country most people commonly and quickly mistaken as US-Georgia or “That’s Russia, right?”

This program sounded great, however, I’ve noticed after completing their online application, there was a thread had already started claiming that most of the older applicants of their applications being denied because they were ‘Too Old’.

I read a few comments and started inquiring why “the older generation” were being denied when the program itself. Teach and Learn with Georgia, had stated nothing of an age cap. The only concerns I did note which made sense were a police check, physical examination and vaccinations.

Footprints accepted my electronic application, but being a ‘cautious’ individual I conducted an even further research with other agencies if this ‘Age Discrimination’ has truth and applied with another agency which I later learned were sister partners with Footprints.  Within the same week, I then received an email stating that my application has been without explanation.

Footprints never answered any of my emails and I conducted another research about their setup. A few accepted others in the program were writing about their nightmare experiences as well with the good.  Most consisted of the lack of information Footprints Recruitment failed to electronically inform or over the phone discussion.

I then later learned about the Teach and Learn with Georgia program through Greenheart Travel. I do prefer their setup better because I did stay in touch with their representative whilst teaching in China till the time I returned to US-FL. Their guideline requirements was plain and simple, nothing was mistaken or misled. The program invited anyone over the age of 18.  I even had a telephone interview which had legit questions about one’s tolerance about going to another country which is gradually developing into being internationally recognized by everyone globally.

Remember when volunteering for a program in developing countries:

  1. Ensure to read the fine print and other people’s experiences, upon there’s a blog at the agency’s site. Knowledge is power, but be aware of both sides of the coin.
  2. Check if there’s a processing fee. I mean, you’re volunteering your services and the processing fee is almost like a donation even though you are already physically there to help; amounts vary according to duration of stay and site.
  3. Do know that not all programs offer a living stipend for their volunteers like Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG). Some do offer accommodations and board which shared with other volunteers or staying with a host family.  As a TLG Volunteer, I’m obligated to pay the host family a reasonable amount of living expenses and teach at the assigned city or town’s school children English. Staying with a host family is rather demanding especially when one is an older adult; I feel like the overseas aunt who has come over for a visit and the stay has overextended and the novelty has worn off. (I signed up for a 12 month contract.)
  4. Have lots of hobbies if you have more free time than you realized. With TLG, I’m assigned to teach an amount of classes, and most cases I’m done by 1600hrs (4PM). I can logon the Internet, providing electricity is functioning,  share the cable connection and being creative when there is truly nothing to do.
  5. Don’t always believe there’s an age cap. Do your research first before claiming the program doesn’t want you. Most projects are very clear in whom they seek as volunteers, unlike Footprints, Greenheart Travel and most others were informative of whom and what they wanted as helpers.
  6. Do have a list of questions ready about where you’re going and what’s expected. Trust me, during training the TLG Volunteers stayed a 4-star hotel, but after that, assigned to their host families, the new view is totally different what one has envisioned. Don’t get me wrong, as a stock photographer, rustic imagery is fantastic, however, upon the fact that I can walk from one end to the other side of town within one hour … I do prefer more scenery.
  7. Last and not least, know your tolerance! When staying with a host family is very similar like staying with your real family except that with your real family, you leave and go to your own home. However, in a Volunteer program, there are  situations where you are at the host family’s mercy. If the home is a flat (apartment), in this case there is no place to hide in getting away from the hourly entertainment of guests and family, especially if your room is in the same area where everyone gathers (which I’m faced till the end of my contract).

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Batumi, Georgia

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