Typical Host Family in Ghana

Living with a local host family while volunteering abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences of the trip. Sharing the same living space, meals and free time with a host family is truly the best way to learn firsthand about the culture and daily life in the community.

The host families in all of our host countries have been hosting foreign volunteers for many years. The family members have all been trained by us on all the big and small aspects of the job.

Your family provides you with all meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most families eat meat but they accommodate vegetarians (rice, beans etc). Most food is spicy — although they will tone it down for you upon request. The host family also will have bottled water for you.

Let’s take Ghana in west Africa as an example:

Here is one of our actual host families!

Host family in Ghana

This particular host family is in the apartment on the right:

Host family in Ghana

The living room:

Host Family in Ghana

Beds are usually hard as a rock:

Host family in Ghana
Toilets at Host Families are western design. The flush handle does not work usually. To flush, fill a bucket from the bathroom and dump it into the toilet. Use toilet tissue sparingly, as it clogs the pipes. When you travel around Ghana, carry a small roll of toilet tissue with you, as many places don’t have it.

Host family in Ghana

Personal Bathing:

  • There is usually no hot water
  • There are usually no shower heads
  • Water comes into the bathroom either: 1) from pipes then out of spigots near the floor, or 2) manually carried from outside water tanks
  • In either case above, the water is stored in large trashcans in the bathroom.
  • You wash/rinse by scooping water from the trashcan with a small bowl
  • If you truly cannot do without hot water, ask to heat water on the stove.
  • Bring a compact mirror from home, as many bathrooms have no mirrors.

5 Things to Do to Prepare for Volunteering Abroad

When you’re volunteering abroad, you need to be prepared. This is more than just getting packed and knowing where you’re going. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you’re going, here are five things you need to do to prepare for volunteering overseas.

Familiarize Yourself With the Culture

Know more about the culture of where you’re visiting. When you’re volunteering abroad, it can be difficult to fit in. The local people may feel like you have a sense of superiority, and may be turned off by your lack of respect for their way of life. Learn as much as possible about their culture, and avoid separating yourself from the locals.

What Are Your Expectations?

Make a note of everything that you expect to gain from your trip. It could be to build relationships with others or help certain types of people. When you have a bad day or something doesn’t go quite right, you can look back over your expectations and remind yourself of your goals.

Get Your Vaccinations

Depending on where you visit, you will need to make sure your vaccinations are up to date. There will be other vaccinations that you need to get for the specific areas, including malaria and typhoid. These need to be done weeks in advance, so require preparation.

What Are Your Skills?

You won’t be able to do everything while you’re volunteering abroad. You will need to think about your own skills, and determine the ones that you can offer while you’re out there. Put yourself in a position to be able to use your skills to help the local people.

Learn More About Volunteering

There is a lot to learn—good and bad. Go through each of them, and prepare yourself for everything that can happen in the place that you are visiting. What do others say about volunteering in that particular area or with that particular program you’ve chosen?

Once you get prepared, you are ready for your volunteering abroad. Remember to have fun and keep a journal to remember your trip.

Passing the Time on the Flight

You’re finally on-board your international flight for your volunteering trip abroad!

OK……Now what? How are you going to pass the time on the flight?

Actually we should say “flights” plural,  because most of our volunteers need at least two flights to reach one of our volunteer destinations

And some of the flights can be over ten hours in the air. For example, if you are flying to Ghana from California, you will typically fly five hours to the East Coast to New York or Atlanta, then connect for your nine-hour flight to Accra.

Here are some ways for you deal with all this flight time!

1. The Usual Suspects.

Sleeping, reading, movies, music, journaling, and drawing. Also, more and more airlines — especially outside the US — are offering in-flight Internet access.

2. Mimic your destination’s time zone.

Stay awake and sleep according to the time zone in your destination. This will help you recover from any jet lag symptoms, allowing you to adjust more quickly to the local time zone.

3. Talk to fellow passengers.

Shy? Intimidated by all those accents, saris, hijabs, or African headdresses of your fellow passengers? So what! Get over yourself :=).  Smile and say hello to people. Resist the temptation to put your ear buds in and consciously cut yourself off from the other passengers. Perhaps you’ll make a new friend, and maybe learn about your destination – especially if the folks you talk to are returning home.

4. Look out the window!

You are 30,000+ feet above the earth! Isn’t is amazing to see the clouds, stars, the moon, the ocean, even other planes from this perspective? You’re traveling perhaps half-way around the world in less than 24 hours. These things were unfathomable to humans not even a century ago. Consider yourself very fortunate.

5. Take photos and videos.

Capture yourself, the scenery out the window, perhaps even a new friend(s). You might not realize it now, but looking at these photos and images after the trip – especially after many years – will keep your memories of this special trip alive and vivid for you and others.

Supervision While Volunteering Abroad

For all of our teen volunteer trips abroad, Cosmic Volunteers provides 24 hour supervision. Here’s how it works:

You are only allowed to leave the premises of your host family if you are accompanied by at least one of the following people: Host Family Parent, Trip Supervisor, Country Coordinator, or Group Leader from Home. This includes program activities as well as free time. For example, even if you want to rise early for jogging – you must do so with one of the people mentioned above.

Arriving at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal

Arriving at the airport in Kathmandu, Nepal

Trip Supervisor from U.S.

A staff member from Cosmic Volunteers in Philadelphia will travel to the host country to serve as the full-time Trip Supervisor (TS). The TS will be the main supervisor and 24 hour contact in the host country for both you and your parents back home. The TS is available to accompany your group on the flight from home to the host country if you prefer. For example if you live in the Los Angeles area, our TS will fly to L.A. several days before your departure then go on the same flight with you to the host country.

Orientation in Guatemala with our Local Coordinator

Orientation in Antigua, Guatemala with our Local Coordinator

Local Country Coordinator

We have a full-time Country Coordinator (CC) in all of our host countries. The CC is always a native of the host country; so of course they know the culture and speak the local language(s) fluently. The CC will serve as the local supervisor and also be available 24 hours to your parents back home. Our CC will meet our group at the airport in the host country. They will work with the TS to provide a detailed orientation, accompany you to the host families, supervise the volunteer work and excursions, and be available 24 hours for emergencies.

Group Leaders from Home

We encourage you to have at least one Adult Group Leader from home go on the trip. This can be a teacher, school administrator, or even a parent. There is no age requirement for adult group leaders. Having a teacher on the trip can be especially important in helping students put aspects of their school’s curriculum into practice.

Teach in China in 2015

We now have the dates for our Teaching Volunteer Program in Yantai, China for 2015.

Dates for 2015:

Spring Semester: March 2 – June 30
Summer Session: July 13 – 26
Fall Semester: September 1 – December 20

Teaching in China

Yantai is a coastal town in China, about a one-hour flight from Beijing. Yantai is a relatively small Chinese city with an urban population of a little over two million people.

The teaching placements are at boarding schools in the heart of Yantai. The age groups of the students are: 6-12 years old for the primary kids, 13-15 years old for the middle school, and 16-18 years old for the high school students.

The schedule is Monday to Friday with approximately two hours of classroom time daily. The most important role you will have is to practice conversational English with the students. They do not often get to hear a native accent, especially in person.

Teaching in China

So how do you qualify? You must be a native speaker of English, and you must be at least eighteen years of age on the program start date.

Your accommodations will be on the school campus. You will have your own private apartment, with WIFI, TV and your own bathroom.

Meals are included and take place in the dining room with the students and colleagues. There is a wide range of food, including vegetables, beans, rice, fish, chicken, beef, fruit, and and eggs. You can also walk to grocery stores in your school’s neighborhood to buy things like snacks, instant coffee, and soft drinks.

Click for some videos from the teaching program in China to get a better idea what the classroom experience is like.

On the weekends, there are some wonderful activities and towns in and around Yantai. One of our favorites is the coastal city of Qingdao. Once a colony of Germany and Japan, Qingdao has a great deal of European architecture. The red roofs, green trees, blue sea, and azure sky form a bright and colorful picture here. The city is sometimes known as the Switzerland of the Orient.

Global Citizen Festival 2014

If you are in the New York City are next weekend, consider going to the Global Citizen Festival on September 27, 2014 . The event is an initiative of Global Poverty Project, an international education and advocacy organization working to catalyze the movement to end extreme poverty by 2030.

An Australian grown project, The Global Poverty Project creates campaigns with the purpose of increasing the number of people taking action to end extreme poverty, with the vision of a world without extreme poverty by 2030.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be among a dozen world leaders who will attend. There will be music performances by JAY Z, No Doubt, Carrie Underwood, fun., The Roots, Tiësto and more.

We are a bit dubious of Global Citizen’s stated goal of seeing the end of extreme poverty by 2030. And there is the danger of a lip-service-only event, especially when celebrities are involved.

However we like festivals like this because it can sometimes be the next best thing to traveling to places like India and Ghana to volunteer. There are usually expats from different countries at these types of public events — so there are opportunities to at least meet and talk to folks who are different than you. And the more people spend time together for such a positive reason, the more understanding can result.

We also like that Global Citizen talks on their website about domestic poverty. This is a question we get a lot — Why volunteer abroad when there are so many problems back home that you could be helping with.

Global Citizen’s answer is that there are plenty of resources to end poverty both at home and at home. Our answer is similar. In the US in 2012, public charities reported over $1.65 trillion in total revenues. There are over one million registered public charities and private foundations in the US. So I think we’re doing ok back home even while we help other abroad!



Learn more at www.globalpovertyproject.com

Busting a Pinata in Guatemala

Ever been at a party where there was a pinata? One of our volunteers in Guatemala had the chance this summer!

Not sure what a pinata is? A pinata is a container made of paper mache filled with candy and/or small gifts that is smashed open during a celebration. In ancient times pinatas were mostly part of religious ceremonies, but today pinatas appear mostly at birthday parties.

Pinata in Guatemala

Most people would associate pinatas with Mexican culture. They would be right, but the tradition of pinatas goes back to ancient Chinese culture. Pinatas landed in Europe in the 14th century, with the Spaniards carrying the practice to Mexico.

Finally, the use of pinatas spread from Mexico to the rest of Latin America and even into the United States. In Philadelphia where Cosmic Volunteers is based, you don’t have to drive more than 15 minutes in most directions to find a store that sells pinatas!

The above photo shows our volunteer Zoe taking a whack at her very own pinata this summer in Guatemala. She had her seventeenth birthday just a couple of days before arriving in Guatemala. Our local Coordinator, Carlos from Zamora Academy, showed us his customary thoughtfulness by presenting Zoe with the pinata for her birthday, during one of our volunteer groups’ nightly social gatherings.

Zoe traveled to Guatemala to spend two weeks volunteering at an orphanage outside of Antigua. She wrote to us:

My time in Guatemala was amazing! I loved being immersed in the culture directly with the host family and getting to see differences and similarities of our cultures.

Here is a look at what Zoe and fellow volunteer Cassie got from the pinata!

Pinata in Guatemala

Volunteer Teaching in Tamil Nadu, India

One of our volunteer teaching placements in India is the Sri Ramana Matriculation School in Tamil Nadu. The school was founded in 1988 with only six children. Today the school has more than 350 students ranging from 4 to 16 years of age. In addition to receiving an excellent education, students learn to become responsible and morally honorable young adults.

Volunteer Teaching in India

Each of the science, mathematics, computer science, social studies, moral science and geography curriculums are taught in English. Students also receive instruction in their native language, Siddha (traditional herbal medical treatment), dance, yoga and music. The school provides students with books, school uniforms, daily lunch and transportation.

Volunteer Teaching in India

A recent newsletter from school Director M. Karunanithi says,

The recent volunteers were very well attached with the children and teachers. On Monday morning, they came to the school and said goodbye to the children, teachers and to me. They were very hard to leave from us and shed their tears. And they assured that they would come back in the next year and do the volunteer service for long time. We appreciate their service and also we are very much grateful to them.

Volunteer Teaching in India

As a volunteer teacher you can assist with English and writing, math, science, music, geography, art, yoga and dance. The teaching curriculum for each major subject is based on the students’ standard book. Volunteers are also encouraged to create their own lesson plans. Depending on the subject, volunteers can bring along teaching materials such as picture books, instruments, flash cards, art supplies, and songs.

The minimum stay for this program is four weeks. Your start date would be either September 1 or or January 1. We encourage you to arrive one week before the start of school, so that you can acclimate to the culture, climate and time zone before you start working with the students.

Safe Passage for our Volunteers in Guatemala

We send our volunteers in Guatemala on a one-day tour of the non-profit Safe Passage’s programs in Guatemala City. The tour leaves from the city of Antigua, one of the cities where our programs are based, and takes volunteers by minivan to Guatemala City.

Included in the tour is a view of the trash dump near the public cemetery as well as visits to their Early Childhood Education Center, Educational Reinforcement Center, and Adult Literacy Program. We also have our volunteers visit with the children in the program for lunch in the Main Building.

Volunteering in Guatemala

In 1999, Hanley Denning founded Safe Passage in a tiny dilapidated church at the edge of the Guatemala City garbage dump and dedicated her life to empowering this community through education. Throughout 2014, Safe Passage is commemorating their 15th anniversary and looking back at the progress made over 15 years of service and dedication to Hanley’s dream.

Volunteering in Guatemala

Our volunteers in Guatemala spend over 30 hours per week either building houses or working at an orphanage; with the latter program their activities include arts and crafts, reading books, playing games and sports, light cleanup work, and generally being a caring presence for the children.

A typical orphanage in Guatemala has 15-20 children, ranging in age from 3-12. We also sometimes conduct physical improvements of the children’s shelters, including our volunteers paint the buildings, weed fields, and clean up rubbish and debris.

Volunteering in Guatemala

For accommodations, volunteers stay with local host families in Guatemala who provide you with your bedroom, all meals, WIFI and include you in the family dynamic. These families are known to us personally and have been specifically trained on hosting foreign volunteers. The host families are all within minutes walking distance of each other. Bedrooms are same-gender only. A typical host family hosts 4-8 volunteers with two per bedroom.

Volunteering in Guatemala