At this time last year, I was desperately searching for some sort of travel opportunity. I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for, but I knew what I wanted: to be involved in volunteer work while having exhilarating adventures in a different culture.
While it seemed like simple criteria to fulfill, finding that perfect opportunity around campus was surprisingly difficult. Then I heard about International Student Volunteers (ISV). After reviewing what they offered, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity.
In operation since the 1980s, ISV is a summer volunteer program geared towards full-time students. Last year, over 140 universities granted academic credit to ISV participants. The organization offers students the opportunity to combine meaningful volunteer projects with exciting adventure activities. Groups of eager and like-minded students travel to placement destinations in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Eastern Europe.
"The most rewarding thing somebody has said to me about their ISV experience is that it had changed them as a person," said Peter Cordell, ISV President at Guelph University. "The people they met and the volunteering/activities that they performed influenced their worldview. Many people come back from this experience with further aspirations for community involvement in their home country."
This past summer I volunteered in the breathtaking country of New Zealand, where I participated in ecological restoration work. I spent one week in the stunning and pristine Kaimai-Mamuku forest, where we worked with the Department of Conservation doing trail maintenance. We learned about the Maori culture, and even went to a kiwi release (a kiwi is a flightless bird that is native to the island nation), which was a very special and unique experience.
My group then spent a week at the Tahwaranui bird sanctuary, an oceanside national reserve where we planted trees. There was even time to go swimming in wintery Pacific Ocean waves, which became truly one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. Volunteering through ISV allowed me to engage in another culture while making a lasting difference.
After two weeks of volunteering, we did an adventure tour that was filled with extreme activities. These included bungee jumping, skydiving, blackwater rafting, and a uniquely New Zealand experience called zorbing, which is essentially being in a human-sized hamster ball and rolling down a hill.
This trip was the greatest summer of my life, and I would do it all over again in an instant. I loved absolutely every minute of it, from the people I met, to the places I saw, and all the activities I took part in. Since I've been home, I have thought about those unforgettable four weeks every day. I made friendships that will last a lifetime, to the point that an ISV reunion is now a much-needed monthly occurrence in my life.