What do you think are the benefits of an international volunteer experience that is not related to your field of study?
Emily : I believe there are many benefits to having an international volunteer experience that is not related to my field of study. I believe that being an international volunteer has been very different from any of my learning experiences in college. Indeed, I learned new skills both personally and professionally. For example, during my volunteer experience, I worked on websites and did several other tasks that I had never done before. Getting this experience not only helped me develop new skills for my future career, but also helped me work on my confidence to try new things. I learned to adapt to unique circumstances while working, which is an asset I would not have been able to develop otherwise. Overall, I am very happy with the new skills I have learned, but more importantly, the personal growth I have gained during my volunteer experience. I also believe that it is very important to get out of your comfort zone by trying new things.
What was the best part of your mandate?
Alyna: The best part of my term was meeting the people affiliated with my partner organization. Having the opportunity to meet and interact with many of the women who have worked with SETU Nepal, despite the barriers of a remote internship, was truly a wonderful opportunity. They were all so kind and welcoming, even though I did not speak their language. I was still able to interact with them in ways I didn't think possible. Having the chance to hear their stories and see the incredible work they were able to do despite being confined in Nepal was an unforgettable experience.
Based on your experiences, what are the advantages of a field mandate and those of a virtual mandate?
Vincent: I would say that the major difference between a field mandate and a virtual mandate is the human contact. So far, I have been lucky to have had the chance to do mandates in many countries. On the other hand, with my current experience of remote volunteering and what I have been able to experience, the first thing we develop is the contact with the people you work with. Unfortunately, technology has its limits and you spend much more time with your colleagues in the field. There are informal dinners, coffee breaks and of course, the daily life that we can share with them.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to volunteer internationally to make a positive impact?
Rebecca: I had to take some time to think about this because there were so many answers! Indeed, I would recommend being curious first, and as much as possible. Ask questions about absolutely everything, do research, create a more personal connection with your colleagues, try new recipes, but most importantly, think beyond what you see. By being curious and asking questions, you create a personal connection with those you work with, but also, with the host country and that is beautiful. I also recommend always doing your 100%. Do what you can while you can. By doing so, you will gain the trust of your organization and, in turn, have a greater impact on their work. Finally, don't do your job with your own cultural references. You have to question everything you do, and that's only because we tend to forget that things can be done in different ways.
How will the things you learned during your experience help you in the future?
Alyna: I think the main thing I learned during this experience that will help me in my future career or internships would be to always be flexible and be ready to adapt my expectations. As an international development student, many of my classes gave me tools to prepare for the field (or virtual) experience, but it is almost impossible to be fully prepared for the reality of an internship. In that sense, my internship has taught me skills, such as adaptability and flexibility. I believe that these skills will be essential in my future (post-graduation). Being able to adapt to new tasks in addition to adjusting one's expectations, if things don't go as planned, are definitely essential elements to help me succeed in the future!
What skills do you think you acquired during your experience as a volunteer?
Vincent: That's an interesting question. Indeed, I found the answer to this question at the end of my first term: the knowledge I have acquired can have no value in my host country if I don't adapt to their reality. So the answer to your question is more humility.
Has this volunteer experience made you question your plans for the future? Are you thinking about exploring new career fields since you had this opportunity?
Rebecca: To be honest, this international volunteer experience has not changed my plans for the future. However, since I am interested in the phenomenon of terrorism, this experience has made me think about the importance of international relations, especially in regards to protecting these types of crimes. In criminology, we try to understand the reasons why a person acts the way he or she does. We are trying to look at the bigger picture and this international volunteer experience was an excellent opportunity in order to put in place our tools.
Is there anything you wish you had known before your term began?
Emily: At the beginning of my mandate, I was very nervous about participating in an internship remotely, and how that would affect how successful the next three months would be. I wish I could have eased these nerves a little bit sooner and instead went in with the mindset that everything would go smoothly. I think that this would have allowed me to adjust into my role as an academic e-volunteer a lot more quickly and easily. It took me a little while to really get comfortable and understand that my mandate would go by way faster than I anticipated. Roughly one month into my internship I began to try to make the most of every day, to make deeper connections with my co-workers, and to suggest some unique tasks that I wanted to work on. Overall, I just wish that I did not let my nerves get the best of me in the beginning, but I quickly learned how to cope with these feelings and not let them get in the way of my internship experience!
Is there a specific skill set that is required for virtual mandates?
Vincent : I would say “patience” because exchanges with Nepal are not instantaneous. Sometimes it takes a few days before receiving a response to an email, there is the difference in hours and the only means of contact is the internet, which, in my opinion, creates an additional distance between us. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always easy when you’re working in the field, but at least being there allows us to confirm or deny certain information.
At the end of your term, do you think you will have made a difference in the lives of the people of Nepal?
Rebecca: I hope I made a difference! I hope I made a good impression so that the partner organization will continue to trust Canadians and different volunteers. I think I will be recognized as someone who did a good job and helped T-HELP with their tasks, but nothing more. It was a first time experience for many of us, including the partner organization. I think everyone was a little confused at first... On the other hand, I hope I gave T-HELP some tips to improve their work on a daily basis and created some good memories. I hope they will remember me as a good volunteer who changed the work of T-HELP for the better.
Emily: I really hope that I was able to positively impact the Nepalese people during my tenure! I mainly worked on creating new templates for social media as well as success stories and I hope that my work brought more attention to my local organization, Prerana Nepal. I also hope that my work has helped Prerana develop new projects. If more projects can take place, it will improve the quality of life in addition to improving the equality and inclusion of Nepalis. The projects that Prerana is currently working on include rehabilitation services for people with disabilities in addition to introducing activities to empower women and initiate sustainable environmental practices. All of these things are very important and I hope that all of these things that I have helped with during my tenure will help them stay on track and introduce new projects.
Alyna: I would like to think so. On the other hand, I think that with the nature of remote volunteering, it's harder to connect with others in meaningful ways. I hope that I have made a good impression on my organization as well as their beneficiaries that will endure over time, although it is hard to know if this will actually be the case. I do know that this mandate has definitely made a difference in my life, so I hope it will be the same for my colleagues in Nepal. I really hope that the work done this summer has helped to lessen the importance of the work of my organization.