Heather was born and raised in North Carolina. She loves traveling, swimming, yoga, and reading, but she is still sorting what she should do with her life.Interviewed on - 19 October 2015
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
I've always wanted to travel. I regretted not studying abroad in college and I knew that I needed to find an affordable way to travel. I also wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path. I knew that this was an experience I needed to do while I was young and bogged down in the "real world."
I chose to travel with Malawian Style because the program was the best of both worlds. I was able to have a cultural experience, give back to the community, and also go on a safari. I also felt very safe and secure traveling with a local company. This was also way cheaper than most of the other options I was looking into. This also fit the time frame of how long I was looking to travel.
Cape Maclear is flipping out of control beautiful. The lake is crystal, the days are warm, the nights were cool, and it was really a vacation paradise.
I think it's unique because I really felt involved in the community, but I also was able to travel and do the fun "touristy" things in Malawi. I went on a safari, I hiked Mount Mulanje, and learned to water ski on a UNESCO world heritage site! A pretty unbelievable six weeks!
There was a volunteer coordinator on-site who I could always speak to with questions or concerns. There was an entire office staff as well who arranged my safaris and trips. They were all very kind, trustworthy, and responsible. They seemed to be very busy but they always made sure that I knew the plan and felt secure along with all the other volunteers.
Not so hard, you can almost always find someone who speaks some English. I never had any issues with this; I actually really loved learning a bit of Chichewa.
On a positive note I was surprised by how friendly the local people were. I thought maybe they were being friendly because they wanted something from me, but no; they just wanted to simply have a kind chat! On a less positive note, I was surprised by the lack of efficiency. I knew it would be very different from home, but almost the entire country is cash only. It's just wild to see.
I wish I could have stayed longer!
The days varied quite a bit as I was able to help with several different projects within the community at Cape Maclear. When I wasn't staying with my host family, I was staying at the hostel "The Funky Cichlid" which was beautiful and new. These days I would get up early and go on a swim everyday. After breakfast I would help with whichever community project we were arranged to assist during the day, maybe a beach clean up or teaching a class at the elementary school. Then we had a free afternoon to enjoy the lake. My favorite was kayaking during sunset, just the prettiest colors!
I loved just playing with the kids in the village. I also loved spending relaxed evenings with the other volunteers. We would play cards or bao and hang out with the local staff. It was a really chill vibe and I feel like I've come away with many good friends.
I stayed with a host family for two weeks and a hostel for the other days. The hostel was very new and clean. The accommodation varied for the safari and hiking. Most of the time we were either in a lodge or camping. All was completely fine and very, very nice by Malawian standards.
Make sure your debit card doesn't have any international withdrawal fees, this is a total cash economy with a maximum $80 withdrawal from the ATM. Also, bring all the toiletries you need for your stay because they are expensive here. But in general pack light, you will be traveling a lot and will not want to cart around a very heavy bag.
I would say the hardest part of volunteering abroad was actually getting on the plane and jumping into the unknown. It was hard to go without knowing really what to expect. I traveled on my own and had never been to Africa before. It felt like a big leap of faith, but it was so rewarding in the end.
Maybe that everything is imported and toiletries are quite expensive; I would have packed more of this kind of thing, such as sunscreen, bug spray, etc. You can find it but it's actually cheaper at home.
I think volunteering abroad is a real privilege. This is an opportunity to grow and learn about another culture through a very real experience.
I wanted to give back through my time abroad, but I really think I ended up gaining more insight and growth through this experience. It’s funny how some reflection in another place really makes you figure out yourself.
Gosh, I feel like I see the world in a completely different way. I am so grateful to have gained this perspective on life and the world. I feel like I'm more understanding, sympathetic, and well rounded. I think it’s so incredibly important to see other people and understand how they live. I am grateful for what I have at home but also grateful that I have a better perspective on the world.
Absolutely, I met some really incredible people because I was traveling with Malawian Style. They have a very broad range of activities available and I really trust them to support me while I'm traveling. They really know their stuff and all the staff were just so friendly and kind. I also really like that they are a local company and empower the local communities through their business.
This is tough because I really want to return to Africa for a longer stay. I'm also excited to explore Southeast Asia at some point soon!