Managing Culture Shock during your Volunteer Abroad Program

From the time I was 14 through 23 I was fortunate enough to participate in 11 international volunteer and intern abroad programs. Although each of these volunteer programs were in a different country (and yes, I absolutely have my favorites) the adaptation to a new daily schedule, host families, co-volunteers, local supermarkets and volunteer program sites was always very similar. Between 3 days and 3 weeks, I always called my mother in tears, told her I needed to go home, and told her any version of “I shouldn’t have come” that you can think.

Throughout each of those 11 conversations where my mother listened to my fears, reassured me that I would have a great time if I gave myself a bit of grace and opened up the next few days, then told me to send lots of photos, I was always reminded of why I chose to participate in the volunteer program in the first place. Bringing myself back to my initial goal, then slowing down for long enough to enjoy the new world around me, I realized that I was scared. I was scared of not making new friends in Argentina, of not understanding my Peruvian host family’s Spanish, scared to let Costa Rican my volunteer project coordinators down, scared I wasn’t going to be able to have as large of an impact in Guatemala that I wished.

The lesson that I learned through these experiences, and that I hope will help you have the best volunteer abroad experience is