I was getting bored and frustrated with my routine life and wanted to experience a different culture, but did not necessarily have the monetary means to travel alone and wanted the trip to be more meaningful and fulfilling than just being a tourist.
Why did you choose IVHQ’s program in Mexico?
I chose Mexico because I studied Spanish in school and knew more about that language than any other language. I chose IVHQ's animal rights program because I work with animals at home and they hold a special spot in my heart.
What was your favorite part about Merida?
My favorite thing about Merida was how it felt like home even though I was in another country. The entire community couldn't have been more welcoming or helpful.
Was it difficult to communicate with locals?
I had taken some Spanish classes throughout my educational career, so thankfully I felt I had a leg up. Even if I hadn't known any Spanish whatsoever, everyone there was very open and patient with trying to communicate as best they could with a language barrier.
What surprised you most living in Merida?
I was most surprised that Merida was like a normal city. I expected it to be a bit impoverished, but it was so full of life and culture and warm smiles that it was hard to not feel at home as soon as I stepped foot there.
Why do you think your experience volunteering abroad was unique?
My experience abroad was unique because I didn't go into it with any expectations. While I worked at the animal shelter, dogs would come in scared and skittish almost daily. One in particular, Ramona, was very scared of human interaction. Within about half a week, I was able to gain her trust and walk her on a leash without a problem. When I left and was saying goodbye to Ramona, she put her paws on my torso as if to hug me and licked my face as if she was saying “Thank you!” for giving her a second chance.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Mexico?
One thing I wish I would have known before going to Mexico would be how proud they are of their Mayan heritage. I volunteered in the Yucatan, and although I had learned a bit about Mayan culture in school, I was still very oblivious to all that their indigenous people had gone through.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
I would walk daily to the shelter and report to work at 9:30 a.m. We would greet the coordinator and asked her if there was anything special on the agenda for the day (all in Spanish). She would generally tell us if there were any new arrivals or any specific animal we needed to focus on. We would start by socializing with the cats and cleaning the cat room. After that, we would feed the dogs and clean their cages. Once those got done, we got to walk the dogs all around the outdoor shelter and socialize with them until we left at 1:00 p.m. to go have lunch at a local restaurant.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
We took the time to explore nearby cities, ruins, and cenotes as well as a local beach and Chichen Itza. On the days we were too tired to travel a distance, we would shop at a local fruit stand and get gelato from a quaint shop (all within walking distance to the accommodation) or relax by the pool at the house and go out for a couple drinks at night.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
Our accommodation was a mix of indoor/outdoor living spaces with spacious bedrooms. It had an outdoor patio, community kitchen, and pool. The best part about it was being able to make friends so quickly and talking to them about their home countries.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Mexico?
The most helpful thing I did was packed everything I needed in a carry-on. It made going through the airports and customs super easy and quick and I wasn't without anything. I was able to do laundry down there as well as buy anything I may have forgotten too so I had no problems. Also, I would advise rolling clothing instead of folding them. It saves SO much space in your luggage!
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
My advice would be to go in with an open mind and a willingness for adventure.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff were great about answering any questions and preparing us for what to expect while in country.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
The best thing about volunteering abroad is getting to experience an entirely different world with people you hadn't previously met. You're all going through the same learning experiences together, so it really makes you feel close to the people you volunteer with and you're also immersing yourself in something completely different than your normal life. In just my two weeks in Mexico, I made over half-a-dozen friends that I know I will stay in contact with for a very long time.
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
The hardest part about volunteering abroad was getting over any fears I had before I left. I was going to a foreign country by myself and had no idea what to expect, so it took a bit of time for me to fully convince myself I had made the right decision. After coming home, there are no doubts in my mind that I did.
Now that you're home, how would you say volunteering abroad has impacted your life?
My time volunteering abroad has only made me want to do so much more in the world.
Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
The only thing I would have done differently was stayed for longer than the two weeks I did.
Would you recommend IVHQ to others? Why?
I would recommend this program 100 percent to anyone wanting to experience a different culture and make friends that will last for a lifetime.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
Volunteering in Mexico only made me want to do so much more for the world I live in, so I would not be very picky if I were given the opportunity to volunteer elsewhere--I want to see it all!
Melody is from Evansville, Indiana. She studied journalism before taking time off to work at a local doggy daycare/boarding facility. Volunteering in Mexico was her first trip abroad, but it certainly won’t be her last.