To learn about new cultures, to put myself into the deep end, and to test my mettle if I am as adaptable as I thought I was, to serve humanity, and to aspire, to inspire, to be inspired and inspired in return.
Why did you choose GeoVisions?
I have been with GeoVisions for a few programs now. My time in France and Italy has been wonderful, and I would like to think that GeoVisions has been objective in putting me with the right families.
What was your favorite part about Italy?
To educate me that stereotyping of countries is not a wise thing to do. I love spending time at the off-centres of countries that I have visited. During the three programs that I have been on, I was staying at suburbia, so I got to lead an ordinary life and do everyday chores, and that to me is priceless.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Being able to connect to other families at far corners of the world, and to be received as an immediate family member; that's truly special.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
I got no support at all. At most, I got one call to make sure that all is okay, and they left me to my devices after that. Please don't take this as a complaint, because I am very independent and resourceful. I probably would have needed to seek out help, if I had ever exhausted all my means to find solutions to my problems.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wouldn't change anything for the world.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Woke up, having breakfast with host family, cleaning up after them, doing my own thing or when I'm in a mood, I would clean up the house for my host family, cleaning up their laundry, doing grocery for them, surprising them in a nice way considering that it's not easy tending to two teenager children that was undergoing hormonal change, practising English with them in the evening, watching TV with those teenagers and sometimes, playing video game with them, spending alone time Skyping my loved ones and off to bed.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Taking a day trip and spending quality time with my host families on the weekends.
What surprised you most about Italy?
After you have spent a considerable amount of time in Italy, you would notice that Italy as a nation is a very broad term to define a collective identity. In actual fact, all fiefdoms have their own distinctive identities and local people are very parochial. A good observation is that Northern Italians are behaving more like Germans and Austrians, where they are more calm and collected when they are communicating with you. Some people might define that as being "cold". As you go south, you might find Southern Italians to become more animated and expressive, and much louder when they are communicating with you. You might also find Southern Italians to be more grounded and that they wear their emotions on their sleeves.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
It was nice because I had a room all for myself. The bed was even bigger than what I have back home.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Italy?
Pack lightly. It's not as if you are moving to Mars. Italy has got everything you have back home, and more! When you are running short of supplies, that compels you to get outside your comfort zone, and start interacting with Italians. This provides you with plenty of opportunity to improvise, to think quickly and act decisively, to practice your beginner's Italian language and sharing your English language skill with whoever that's interested.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
If you are cut out to be an independent traveller. Some people might have this inclination that the program would hold their hands the whole way through but when you are overseas, you are very much on your own and that's okay because it helps you with self development and self awareness.
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
I am very accustomed to travelling. I never ever find it challenging to volunteer abroad. I suppose I am fortunate in having host families that are gracious, genuine, generous and kind-hearted. They took me into their families unconditionally, and there's no wonder why I'm still communicating with them on a regular basis.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
Depending upon where you are stationed in Italy, the further south and deeper that you go, you might find almost all Italians don't speak English at all. It's not helping that all American and English television programs are all ad-libbed in Italian language. Therefore, Italians have no compulsion to learn to communicate in another language. My host family speaks no English whatsoever. As long as you have either a good WiFi or that you are subscribed to a local mobile network, you can always communicate using Google Translate. Because of our willingness to communicate with one another, our mutual effort spoke volume and our English lesson was always filled with laughter and tears of gaiety. Always be prepared to make mistakes and as long as you don't take yourself seriously, you are going to have serious FUN.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Italy?
Italy is everything that I imagined it was going to be, and it's everything that I hope for.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
To affirm myself, that despite different cultural identity, we are all one and the same being. We share more in commonalities than differences. Furthermore, volunteering proves to myself that any of us can do anything as long as we are committed to the cause.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
Yes, it has taught me that with mutual love and understanding, anything is possible. Furthermore, we are all humans, and because of that we cry, laugh, get angry, and sad over the same things. I just think that the world is going slightly overboard right now, but we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are one and the same being; we are all of this beautiful planet called Earth. Thus, we shall be acting more responsible toward it and one another.
Would you recommend GeoVisions to others? Why?
Of course! Totally. Definitely.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
I would love to explore the Russian, Baltic, and Middle Eastern cultures. It is imperative for us to reach out to cultures that we are not familiar with. Understanding them will narrow the gap between people, and this is the best way to counter fear. In the world that we live in now, we need more understanding, instead of generalising and stereotyping.
Ping Lim - 2014 Program Participant
Ping Lim has traveled extensively across Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America. His bucket list is to travel to Antarctica, South America, Central Asia, and Africa one day. Ping is an entrepreneur who has set up a worklight company from scratch, but he also manages a hotel and is into property development in New Zealand. He is an avid believer in providing microfinancing, and has been a Kiva supporter for years.