Overseas Travel: The Experience of a Life-Time

This trip enriched me personally by: fueling my love of travel and learning about other cultures, showcasing the beauty of the natural world and the need to protect it, and learning to be diplomatic when in a small space with many different personalities.

Image: Olivia Maes

By Olivia Maes AMSB
BA (Hons) Natural Sciences: Zoology, Veteran Volunteer @oamaes
Special guest post from the newest member of the Conservation Jobs team

Recently I wrote about the advantages of overseas volunteering for your CV. Today I would like to focus on what it can do for you, not professionally, but personally. Over the last few years I have been so lucky as to do quite a bit of overseas travel and volunteering. Each of these trips has given me wonderful memories, as well as new insights into my own personality and that of others. Let’s go around the world and see examples of ways in which travel broadens the mind.

In 2006 I travelled to a tiny island in Indonesia, called Hoga. It took 5 days to get there, and at the time Google Maps didn’t know where it was. Learning skills such as species identification, doing transects, fish netting, snorkeling were useful for my CV, as well as good fun. However, what I really treasure are the experiences that didn’t give CV “points”. Working in close association with the local people, I learned some basic Bahassa Indonesia to be able to communicate. Furthermore, I got to see how they live and learn about the Indonesian culture. The natural scenery was stunning: silky soft white sand beaches, with palm trees and mesmerizing sunsets. Being cooped up together 24/7 on a small island meant that interactions between people were at times quite intense. This trip enriched me personally by: fueling my love of travel and learning about other cultures, showcasing the beauty of the natural world and the need to protect it, and learning to be diplomatic when in a small space with many different personalities.

The next few trips were India, the United States, and New Zealand. I had been waiting to go to New Zealand for a long time, so jumped at the opportunity to do some volunteer conservation work. Again, new skills learned for the CV, but also insights into myself. Although I loved New Zealand even more than I’d thought I would, I realised that moving out there wasn’t an option. The amazing natural beauty, the friendly people and laid-back life-style were everything you could wish for. However, being so far away from friends and family in Europe, was a major stumbling block. Volunteering in New Zealand helped me realise that, although I love travel, I need to be close to my loved ones. This has been useful in focussing my career plans. Conservation can give people the opportunity to work and live all over the world. I had thought previously that this was what I wanted, but now I had learned that I would prefer to do conservation work that would allow me to settle in Europe.

My last big trip was to Brazil, near São Paulo. I worked at a local conservation organisation, Mata Ciliar, to research the welfare of captive ocelots. Contrary to the other trips, I was working alone and in charge of my own research project. Spending hours in the beating sun (and sometimes the pouring rain), doing behavioural observations, gave me a lot of time to think. Pondering such things as whether to do a PhD, which languages would be useful in an international conservation context, and how I could find jobs working closely with big cats. These hours of quiet, thinking time, have been very useful to help me decide how to proceed with things after graduating. Once again, I had to pick up the local language (Brazilian Portuguese) to be able to interact with the people I was staying with. At times, this lead to much hilarity, as it turned out that some things (like idioms) were completely lost in translation.
From all my trips, this is probably my favourite. I got the chance to: completely submerge myself in a new culture and language, try if research was something I would like to continue in, and to realise the importance of a pleasant work environment. The people (and big cats) I met there were truly lovely; an experience I treasure.

I hope our whistle-stop tour around the globe has given you a flavour of the type of experiences that travel provides. CV points are great, but the changes to you as a person, are what really makes overseas volunteering so enriching.

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