When I was younger, one of my professors used to say that not all classrooms have four walls. I always wondered about the mysterious meaning of his saying, until one day I decided to find out for myself. The first thought that struck my mind was travelling. I believe that learning from different cultures is one of the biggest lessons one can have. Thus, a year and a half ago I decided to volunteer for two months in Egypt and help the underprivileged children. Little did I know how much this experience would shape me! It’s my pleasure to tell EDUopinions about my experience.
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How Can You Volunteer Abroad?
Fortunately, there are various NGOs which encourage students to volunteer abroad or go on different exchange programmes. One of them is AIESEC, the largest not-for-profit youth organisation which is present in 127 countries from all over the world. What I like the most about this organisation is that it promotes leadership and cultural awareness. It encourages students to get outside their comfort zones and explore their potential.
The organisation provides unpaid volunteering programmes of up to eight weeks to people between 18 and 30 years old. The aim of these programmes is to promote the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. The SDG’s aims are to improve the quality of education, decrease poverty and hunger, promote gender equality, reduce inequalities and many others. In addition, each exchange programme is connected to one of the previously mentioned global issues. If you wish to volunteer abroad with AIESEC, all you have to do is to go to their website and look for a volunteering programme which suits your needs.
Before I decided to go to Egypt, I did not have a particular place in mind for my exchange. All I knew was that I wanted to live in an exotic environment, with a beautiful culture. I tried to imagine myself in different countries, but they did not feel like the right place to be. One day, I just knew. I had to go to Egypt. The idea popped into my head and it made me excited as time was passed. Looking back on my experience, I realise that I could not have chosen a better place!
What Did I Do There?
During the summer of 2017, I was in Cairo for a seven-week exchange programme, where I worked in an NGO with deaf children together with another eleven participants from Greece, India, Spain, Russia, Morocco, Kenya, Portugal and Azerbaijan. Our main activity was teaching English to kids. ‘How is that even possible?’ one might ask. Well, our project was divided into two parts – in the first two weeks we learned Arabic sign language and in the other five weeks, we interacted with the children. Every day we had courses held by the founder of the NGO, who was teaching us the basic skills needed in order to have a conversation with them. But here comes the most challenging part! We had to put everything we learned into practice. This was one of the times of my life when I realised that human interaction and connection is beyond words. Therefore, we tried to emphasise more the visual part, by drawings and different presentations.
Volunteering abroad is not all about working! Imagine riding horses by the pyramids, watching the constellations while spending the night in the desert, seeing the sunrise in a hot-air balloon over Luxor, scuba-diving in the clearest waters of the Red Sea and many others. In these weeks, I got the chance to see the most breathtaking places, spend time with the locals and taste traditional food such as Falafel and Kushari.
What Did I Learn From This Experience?
Egypt opened my eyes to the world. The most valuable thing that I learned is that we, as human beings, can bring a positive impact wherever we go. Connecting with people from all over the world to fight for the same purpose is one of the significant changes that we can make in society. I developed my leadership skills as well as adaptability and I became more self-aware. I realised how much the simple things matter in life and that our attitude changes everything. These weeks were a spiritual journey, which made me a better person.
Moreover, I grew to understand their culture. Egyptians are friendly people, who always want to help you and welcome you into their homes. For them, friendship and family are the most important values. Can you imagine having 14 cousins? In an Egyptian family, you will find that very often. Their lifestyle is completely different compared to Europeans – they work until 5 am and sleep during the day. Cairo at night is one of the most vibrant places I have ever been too! And as far as food is concerned, everything is delicious and very cheap.
After seven weeks in a foreign country, I finally understood the meaning of my professor’s saying – not all classrooms have four walls. Volunteering abroad brings a positive impact both to yourself and society. What about you? Would you consider going on an exchange programme?