My love for travel was inspired two years ago, when my Mom sent me on a month long trip to Australia and Hawaii with Westcoast Connection. I was only 17 at the time, however I knew I had caught the travel bug, and anyone who has ever traveled before knows, you'll never get rid of it. Upon my return home back to Long Island, I immediately got a job in hopes that I would be able to save my money and begin a new journey elsewhere. Since that trip back in 2014, I have also visited Canada, Mexico, London, Ireland, and South Africa. Traveling abroad is intoxicating because of the new cultures, people, and ways of life that you get to experience. You are faced with the thought of "Wow, there is life outside my bubble of a life back home." You begin to realize there are new people, new places, and new opportunities for anything, anywhere, and everywhere, all just waiting for you.
Why did you choose GoEco?
For my most recent trip to South Africa, I chose to volunteer with GoEco, volunteering in a wildlife sanctuary. I absolutely loved traveling with Westcoast Connection, and EF College Break, but for my Africa trip, I wanted something "hands-on," not something touristy. I had always loved animals and always wanted to volunteer. So when I saw an advertisement video on Facebook for the "Top 5 Places to Volunteer in the World" by Insider, I followed the link, read the information, and booked on the spot, not knowing that I had just booked myself the best experience of my life.
What was your favorite part about South Africa?
There are so many amazing things that I LOVED about South Africa. I was in Johannesburg for my first two days, and then I was living on the sanctuary about 45 minutes north, in Hartesbeepoort. I loved the food, I loved the animals, and I really loved the exchange rate from the dollar to South African Rands (ZAR)! When I was there about $1 was equivalent to 14-15 of their local currency. I was able to buy so much at such a little cost, it was great. However, my favorite part about South Africa was definitely the diverse culture that was everywhere. Women were balancing pots, bags, and other items on their heads walking down the streets of Joburg, while art was covering the walls and buildings, and people were selling their fruits and vegetables on every corner. It was beautiful.
What made your experience abroad unique?
What made my experience most unique was definitely the hands on work with the animals. Glen Africa's sanctuary is over 2000 acres, so each animal has an enormous amount of living space in their enclosures. During my time on the sanctuary, we built enclosures for serviles and warthogs, cleaned the horse stables, and the enclosures of all of our animals. Some days we were able to go on lion walks, game drives, or had the opportunity to go on an excursion, or play with a baby leopard. Then after our day of work, we could hang out in quarantine or our living quarters, play some pool, or grab a few at the bar at the lodge on top of the hill. However, no matter what we chose to do, we always shared in the beauty of the African sunset.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff on the sanctuary during my program was amazing. The best thing about our project leaders was that they all each had previously volunteered on the sanctuary were asked by the owners each individually to come back and lead the project because of their hard work, dedication, and passion. They all were so amazing and unique in their own way. They all knew exactly what they were doing at all times, were extremely professional, and so helpful. They explained everything in such detail and always were so knowledgable about every question that came their way. And every night when the volunteers were relaxing by the couches, or up at the bar, the leaders would always be right there with us sharing in the fun.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I definitely wish I would've stayed longer than just two weeks.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
We would have to be up and ready by 8 a.m. We'd split up evenly into two teams. One would go to clean the stables, and one would clean the elephant house. We would have one hour for this as we needed to be at the top of the hill at the lodge for breakfast by 9 a.m. We would eat and then at 10:30 a.m. we would begin whichever work we had for the day. During the week we were all split into three teams so that each day, each team could rotate projects, thus helping us to finish work faster, and accomplish more in a day. At noon we would finish work and lunchtime would begin, which usually lasted until 2 p.m. At 2 p.m., we would begin our last bit of work which would conclude at 4:30 p.m. From 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. we had time to relax, shower, or take care of anything we needed to. Dinner was at 6 p.m. and afterward we were free to hang at the bar or head back down to quarantine.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
During my free time, I was able to relax around quarantine, take a nap, head to the shops, or go on an excursion with my friends at a small additional cost. The weather was getting hotter towards the end of my stay, so towards the end, we relaxed a lot around the volunteer pool.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was shared, with multiple beds to a room, a shared kitchen area, and shared bathrooms and showers. What made it even better was that it really created a "home-like" atmosphere for each of the volunteers.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Every participant should know that they are signing up to work hands on with the animals. You're there for the animals, so if you think you'll be sleeping in and not breaking a sweat, this probably isn't the program for you.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
How I view the world, myself, my home, and everything around me is different after volunteering abroad.
I have more perspective on life and my graciousness for it. I am a different person because of this trip.
Would you recommend GoEco to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend my program to others, and in fact, I already have. I haven't even been home a month yet, and I'm already coordinating with friends at home, and my new friends from around the world when we will make our return. This truly is an experience like no other - the trip of a lifetime.
Chris Scalone, 19, is a Spanish education major from New York. He has been to the Bahamas, Hawaii, Australia, London, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, and South Africa. During the school year, Chris is a yogurtista and a home health aide. In the summer, he is a camp counselor and world traveler.