Inside the volunteer experience

Allina sums up her experience with VolunQuest!

Knowing how difficult it is to decide about what volunteer organization to go with and after having the great experience I did with Volunquest I hope that this review can be of guidance to any prospective volunteers.

One thing that certainly made my experience so unique and memorable was the location. Apart from the reassuring sense of community and safety one gets from being on a small island, the natural beauty and the variety of activities available was simply spectacular. How often does one have the opportunity to enjoy a Caribbean sunrise almost every day on the way to work or get to go swimming on weekends with sharks. During free time you can go to the island’s turtle farm or better yet, if you are really lucky and there at the right time of year, you can take part in the release of the baby sea turtles into the ocean!

One of the main reasons I chose to volunteer in Mexico in the first place was because I wanted to improve my Spanish. Although you will evidently find English speakers in town because of the impacts of the tourist industry, apart from when I was in the classroom, I spoke Spanish almost the entire time I was on the island. One might think that because of the tourism on the island one would miss out on the local culture but at least for me that wasn’t the case. I had the fortune of staying with the most wonderful host family who truly welcomed me into their home and offered me an authentic cultural experience. They invited me to celebrate birthdays of close and extended family members, el Grito (Independence Day) as well as throwing me a going-away party and generously preparing a range of delicious traditional foods! With four children in my host family ages 3-9 and all the neighborhood kids who came around eager to go fishing, to play some football or to learn a little English from the “maestra de Ingles”, there was constant excitement in and around the house which I took great pleasure in being part of.

Loving food also made the experience very special for me since there were so many great foods to try. I was introduced to some local “loncherias” where I ate some excellent empanadas and sopes alongside some exceptionally refreshing exotic juices! I was treated to arroz con leche (rice pudding) and would often in the heat of the afternoon get myself a big cup of orchata (a delightfully refreshing rice-milk and cinnamon beverage) or a paleta de coco (a pure coconut popsicle). And everyday before class started I enjoyed some fresh fruit bought from the street vendors.

Apart from all these extras that made my time on Isla Mujeres so special, working for Volunquest was truly a great learning experience for me. I learnt a lot from my colleagues with whom I had the pleasure of teaching alongside. Working with them really made me reflect upon different types of teaching strategies and classroom management techniques, which was a first for me. By the end of my stay I was able to put what I had learnt to the test when I was given the responsibility of taking full charge of the classes. Nonetheless I would be missing out one of the most important reasons why I believe my experience was as special as it was and that was because of the students. Being greeted everyday by their enthusiasm and excitement with them coming up to us in there free time to tell us everything they could remember from last class was probably what I enjoyed the most of my entire experience. Their eagerness to learn was so motivating and rewarding and really proved to me that this English volunteer program, besides providing a very useful tool for the island’s future development, was being very much appreciated and enjoyed by the kids. Working with the students was such a pleasure!

Thank you Volunquest for providing all around such a great experience!