What It’s Really Like Volunteering In A Foreign Country

Most of these opportunities are religion-based.

Volunteering Cambodia
New vision Cambodia school. Photo: Celine Wherritt

Her mom is a heavy gambler and drinker.

6-year-old Sita is a girl I had the privilege of teaching English for 2 weeks, and she lives with a severe lice infestation, constant hives, and a deformed eye. Every day, the teachers comb through Sita and other students’ hair to remove as much lice as possible. This summer, I worked at an elementary school geared towards lower-income families, where I worked with students with learning disabilities or lack of hygiene. In spite of their poor living situation, it’s inspiring to see that the children are excited to sing, learn, and play games. Seeing my little ones slowly progress in their understanding is indescribably satisfying. The more time you spend with them, the more attached they get to you! I will never get tired of their high-pitched voices addressing me as “Nakru Celine” ( Nakru is the Khmer word for  “teacher”).

While I was lucky to have found a philanthropic school dedicated to bettering the lives of their students, others may not be so lucky. There are scams you have to make sure you don’t fall for! Some schools will simply sign a letter of volunteer recognition in exchange for money, and  other schools that require you to pay to volunteer. There are also “orphanages” who simply use children (with poor families)  to invoke guilt and convince you to donate money to their organization. Oftentimes, the best volunteer opportunities require you to have some form of teaching background or experience.

Volunteering Cambodia
Elementary school Khmer. Photo: Celine Wherritt

If you are thinking of volunteering in a foreign country, I would HIGHLY recommend it. My first recommendation would be to understand the basics of the language before departing on your journey. It is frustrating and saddening when the children want to communicate with you but you don’t understand what they are trying to tell you.

One thing you should be aware of is that most of these opportunities are religion-based. For example, the school I worked at recited Bible verses and prayed every morning to raise the children in the Christian faith. If you don’t identify with their religion/aren’t religious at all, that’s perfectly fine, but you should be prepared to be honest and upfront about your beliefs.

Celine spent 6 weeks in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

Volunteering Cambodia
High school Khmer. Photo: Celine Wherritt

Celine Wherritt

Product Marketing Intern

Celine is a student at UC Berkeley, she has often traveled to Cambodia and even conducts volunteering work in Southeast Asia. She is also active as a member of Model United Nations.

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