GoAbroad Interview

Lauren O’Donnell - Marketing Officer

Lauren ODonnell - Marketing Officer

Lauren is currently earning her master’s degree at University College London, whilst working for V2. She is interested in ethical and sustainable development in the Caribbean and Latin America, and the relationship between mass tourism and inequality. Lauren is also passionate about education and safeguarding vulnerable children. She spent two years working as an English teacher in Madrid, and one day wishes to develop educational outreach programs in the Global South.

How did you originally get connected with V2 Volunteer & Vacation?

I was studying a postgraduate course in London and decided to focus some of my research on tourism in the Caribbean and Latin America and the impact it has had on development. I met Jade (V2’s Managing Director) at an event about industry and development in Latin America and went from there! 

Sustainable farming volunteering in Mexico

Volunteering locally at a community farm that feeds vulnerable people and aims to educate the town about sustainable farming

You haven’t volunteered abroad yet, so which of V2’s destinations would you choose?

I haven’t volunteered abroad, but I have volunteered in the U.K and organized a lot of different fundraising projects. I also lived in Spain for two years and have traveled to the Caribbean. Of all of V2’s destinations, I think I would have to choose Tobago! I have always lived in cities, so I love the idea of going somewhere so different, somewhere with so much nature and wildlife that you can’t find anywhere else. As someone who has studied several languages, I’d love to learn more about English-influenced Creoles. 

What are the typical characteristics of a V2 volunteer?

There is no “typical” V2 volunteer, but all of our volunteers are enthusiastic, adventurous, and mindful people. I’m always impressed by their dedication to issues that they are passionate about, such as education, sustainable development, wildlife conservation, and protection of the environment.

How do you use your past language teaching experience in your position as marketing officer for programs in Jamaica and Tobago?

Part of my job involves advising and liaising with volunteers and students, some of whom do not speak English as a first language, which means you have to be able to communicate effectively. Teaching is all about effective communication. I also learned a lot from the parents and teachers I worked with. I understand now how nerve-wracking it can be for parents whose children are volunteering overseas (and for the young people themselves!). We have made sure to create a pre-departure webinar to set people’s mind at ease and answer any questions that they might have. 

One last thing I learned from teaching, no question is a stupid question, so ask away!

What’s the most important tip you give to prospective V2 volunteers?

Research, research, research! It is really important to research the local area. V2 volunteers get free time throughout the trip, so it’s a good idea to search out any activities or tourist spots you’d like to visit ahead of time. I’d also say, keep an open mind and try and be flexible; life in the Caribbean is likely to be different to life back home.

Trying on flippers in the Caribbean

Getting ready to see some sea turtles in the beautiful Caribbean sea!

One of the common challenges faced by participants when undertaking a program abroad is coping with culture shock. How does V2 assist with this before, during, and after volunteering abroad?

We have volunteer orientations prior to departure and on arrival at the destination. We inform our volunteers what to expect before they leave, via email and through webinars. We know it’s difficult to truly understand until you are there, so we make sure there’s lots of support when our volunteers are on the island.

We make sure our volunteers have internet access as lack of connectivity can be a huge culture shock. Many of our staff are Caribbean, and have traveled or lived abroad, so there’s always someone on hand who can talk through any issues our volunteers might have.

We also keep in contact with our volunteers after their placement which gives everyone the opportunity to share their experiences. For volunteers who want to stay in touch with their placement organization, we can help, especially if they want to become returning volunteers/organization ambassadors.

What sets V2 Volunteer & Vacation apart from other volunteer abroad organizations in the Caribbean?

At V2 our main focus, aside from ensuring our volunteers have an amazing experience, is making a positive impact in the communities we serve. Our partner organizations do not work for us; we work for them. Some volunteer companies might fall into the trap of offering placements that do not reflect the needs of the local community. Our main commitment is to work with our partners to identify what they need in order to reach their goals, then design placements so that our volunteers can fulfil those needs. Furthermore, most of our team is from Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago, so we have specialist local knowledge and our team is really committed to giving back to the islands and showcasing the best of their country and culture.

Chichen Itza in Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

Exploring Central America before moving onto the Caribbean

You’re a recent addition to the V2 team, what was your initial impression of the organization? Has that changed in the last several months?

My impressions of V2 as an organization has always been positive, and I’ve always been really impressed by their aims and their commitment to responsible tourism. Having been with V2 for a little while now, I appreciate the amount of planning and coordination of functions outside of marketing, and I am really impressed how organized and enthusiastic the V2 team is; everyone at V2 enjoys what they do and why they are here.

What are your goals for the rest of 2015?

My main goal is to continue letting volunteers know about V2 volunteer placements with our wonderful partner organizations in Jamaica & Tobago. A really exciting project for me would be to head the expansion of new projects in Tobago!

What is the best part about working for V2 Volunteer & Vacation?

I really enjoy being creative and innovative in so many ways. Working with such a diverse team is so much fun. I’m very excited that I get to go on a V2 adventures as part of my job. The best part (yes here comes the cliché),I love that at V2 I get to feel a great sense of self-worth in connecting volunteers with organizations that need and appreciate volunteer help.