GoAbroad Interview

Nicole Schollum - Volunteer Coordinator

Nicole Schollum - Volunteer Coordinator

Nicole has plenty of experience abroad, as she has spent time working, traveling, volunteering, and, most recently, raising her three children abroad. After returning to her native New Zealand and feeling ready for a change, she was fortunate to find a new direction in her career through a job with the Love Volunteers team. Making this big change from her previous career in market research in the finance industry has been something she continues to relish in daily.

How did you get connected with Love Volunteers?

Having returned home to New Zealand and my three daughters all now in school, I was looking for a new challenge. Fortunately, Love Volunteers was looking for a new team member at this time, and I met with Kelly and Mike and immediately gelled with both of them and the ethos of the organisation.

Woman hiking with her child on her back

Backpacking with children

Before joining the Love Volunteers team, you worked in market research. What inspired you to make a career change?

I was disenchanted by the banking industry and wanted to deal with real people doing meaningful things. Love Volunteers was a breath of fresh air.

Why do you think international volunteer experience is valuable in the world today?

Time and again I have the pleasure of reading testimonials from our volunteers saying, “This has been a life changing experience!”. Volunteering abroad gives us the benefits of travel (new experiences and a broader perspective), but takes this to a new dimension by allowing us to see so much more than we would as a tourist. Add to this the opportunity to make a real difference and volunteers can’t help but be changed for the better. I’ve noticed that, as contributing where the need is greatest, our volunteers also bring their experience home and enrich their family and friends. On a practical level employers love seeing “whole people” prepared to take challenges, eager to learn and grow, and willing to help others.

You’ve traveled, lived, and worked abroad for 18 years! How do you use this experience to help volunteers prepare for their volunteer programs all over the world?

It is great to have had so many of the same experiences as our volunteers. I can empathise with how they will feel when travelling for the first time alone, how rewarding it is to overcome the little challenges that unfamiliar environments present, and how amazed they will be by the sights, sounds, and smells of different destinations. I can also relate to what a buzz they will get from actually helping out rather than just observing communities in need.

Floating raft house in Thailand

Floating raft accommodation in Thailand

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

My role is all about helping volunteers through the planning stage. I’m lucky enough to be the first point of contact for many of our volunteers and I absolutely love sharing their excitement for the adventure that lies ahead and helping them to choose a program that best fits them and answering all those burning questions they have.

I also enjoy responding to testimonials from our volunteers sharing their amazing experiences and letting others know the impact they can have on the programs or writing articles helping volunteers prepare for their trip.

In your communications with volunteers, what is their biggest fear in volunteering abroad? How do you help ensure volunteers feel supported throughout the entire volunteer abroad process with Love Volunteers?

The biggest fear volunteers have is in regards to their safety while on placement. It’s awesome to be able to let them know that they’ll be met at the airport and taken care of from the moment they arrive to the time they wave goodbye. In my opinion, volunteering is one of the safest ways to travel as we have done the work of finding trusted and experienced partners in each country and we know that volunteers will be supported throughout their stay. The local teams are also our experts on the ground, assessing the local situation and providing accurate and up to date information when required.

Bamboo raft transportation in Thailand

Bamboo raft transport in Thailand

What is the most important thing volunteers should know before arrival?

That things will be different from home! For many this is their first overseas experience, and it’s important that they read the guidebook we send out and prepare for the location they have chosen.

Flexibility and an open-mind are the best attributes a volunteer can have.

If you could participate in one of Love Volunteers’ programs, which one would you choose and why?

This is a really hard question!  I’m attracted to so many of our programs, but my first choice would probably be Africa, as the small amount of time I’ve spent in this continent has me enthralled with the land and the people. Places like Zambia and Tanzania desperately need more volunteers and I’d love to take my daughters on a program there when they are 12 or so.

What do you love most about your job?

The fact that I’m actually doing something real. In my banking career I was frustrated by the meaningless “rich get richer” nature of my work, and it’s such a relief to be proud of what I do and to interact with the actual people that are going out there and making the world a better place.

Volunteering at a dog rescue center in Asia

Volunteering for a dog rescue centre in Asia

How do you hope to improve Love Volunteers’ programs in 2016?

It’s my passion to respond to each volunteer as an individual and cater the experience to them specifically. We are launching an updated website this year, which will allow us to provide volunteers with more accurate and specific information and ensure they are paired with the most rewarding program.