Before your semester abroad ILP it is 100% normal to be nervous — here are the things I was the most worried about (and how they actually turned out).
I went on a couple of LP semesters, but that doesn't mean I wasn't nervous before every trip (even before my second semester, there were still things I was worried about!). Everyone is a bit nervous about something before going on a big volunteer abroad trip, trust me.
PST: I was so glad I had my ILP rep to talk to about what I was worried about!
Maybe your ILP semester will be your first time living away from home, or your first time abroad. Maybe you have a little teaching experience ... or maybe not. There are tons of different scenarios that may make you a bit hesitant to sign up and live abroad for a few months. Luckily, there are a lot of things you are worried about that you don't need to be!
If you're worried about some of the same things I was worried about, hopefully this post can help you out a little bit:
- Feeling Homesick Or Alone
I Won't Know Anyone In My Group
- I Don't Speak The Language
- Cold Showers, Bugs, Etc.
- I've Never Taught Before
Feeling Homesick Or Alone
I did feel homesick on my ILP semester. It's kind of unavoidable — living in a new place, with new people, with new foods, and a new language, all while being surrounded by new foods and a new culture is all part of the experience of traveling. That's why you're going abroad, right? If you didn't want to experience something new, you probably wouldn't have signed up to go abroad in the first place.
I was nervous I would feel super homesick all of the time, which wasn't the case. Now, there were definitely times I wished I was back in my own bed or could just order Chick-fil-A without a language barrier, or actually hug my family and friends instead of just texting them (luckily there are lots of ways to stay in touch). But it wasn't as big of a problem as I anticipated. Several things helped me out (and I hope they can help you out, too):
As an ILP volunteer you won't just be dropped off in a different country with no help — we promise! A large part of ILP's mission is to provide support while you navigate living abroad with your group. Most of our volunteers are traveling for the first time ever and we know you're signing up with us instead of backpacking solo because you want the support of an organized, experienced program.
First off, every group has a Head Teacher — ILP Head Teachers already have done at least one ILP semester, so they understand what it's like. They're here to help, plus they have frequent contact with ILP Program Managers in the Orem, Utah office throughout the semester.
Then, I had my Local Coordinator — It was a big boost knowing I had someone who grew up in this country to help me out. My Local Coordinator spoke the local language, helped our group out with questions, and helped us all adjust to life here.
My ILP Group. I hope you're best friends with every single person in your group ... that didn't happen to me on my ILP semesters, but I always had someone to talk to. Every volunteer goes abroad with a group to teach, travel, explore, and live with. It really means you're never alone, so you can always plan on someone being there to talk to you help you out. Now, you probably won't be best friends with every single person but I always was surprised at how quickly I did find friends in my group during each of my semesters. I still keep in touch with the friends I made on my ILP semesters.
Things I brought from home was also a big boost on hard days. Having pictures from home and familiar snacks can help you feel less homesick. Also, getting out and enjoying something about your new home totally changes things. Yes, there were days where all I wanted to do was watch a show and feel homesick, but riding bikes to get smoothies, finally visiting that nearby palace or church, or taking a trip to the beach or local mall helped me get out of my funk.
Not Knowing Anyone In My Group
Okay, this is something we talked about a little bit. But it did help me to know that most ILP volunteers go on the program without knowing anyone. Sure, there are some friends (or even siblings!) who come together, but most people sign up and go abroad without knowing a single person. And that was me, for all of my ILP semesters. And guess what? I did make friends within my group, every single time. You do just about everything with your ILP group (even live with them!) so you get pretty close.
There is something about everyone being in a new situation that can really bond a group. Of course, there were times where I missed my friends from home or people in my group got on my nerves, but it works out. It really does (especially if you go into your ILP semester knowing you'll need to be patient and understanding sometimes even when you don't feel like it).
Group size is something to think about when choosing your ideal ILP location. We have locations with groups as big as 20-30+ people, which means there are tons of people to get to know and lots of people to do activities and vacations with. Other groups are 4-6 people, meaning you'll have a really tight-knit group of people to do all of your vacations and exploring with.
Not Speaking The Language
If I'm being honest, this wasn't something I was super worried about until right before I left (and right when I got there). I remember heading out to the store for the first time wondering how I was going to buy something without knowing the local language. I came home with some funny stories of misunderstanding, paying the wrong amount (because I didn't know what the teller was saying so I just handed them a bill that was way under price), and a few other situations, but I figured it out.
As an ILP volunteer, you're not expected to know the language. When you interact with the kids you will only be speaking English, so not speaking Spanish (or whatever language is spoken where you're volunteering) is totally A-Okay.
Especially with things like Google Translate and other apps, it helps you get by ... plus, just learning a little bit can be a boost (and help you feel a little more familiar with this new experience).
Cold Showers, Bugs, Etc.
I went to Europe for my first ILP experience which didn't have some of the same experiences as my second semester in Asia .... welcome to the world of cold showers and huge bugs! This is an element to quite a few ILP locations now and is something we hear volunteers are worried about before they leave. I had heard the stories of the big spiders and cockroaches in Thailand and was pretty worried about them. Now, I'm not here to tell you I loved seeing these bugs by the end of my semester (not even close), but honestly? It wasn't as big of a deal as I thought it would be.
Sleeping in a bug net helps, as does always have a shoe handy to smash a big bug when you see one. I came home with the funniest videos of our whole group trying to smash bugs. It all came a part of the experience of living in a beautiful, tropical paradise (that big bugs also seem to enjoy). Plus, it also means running into other bugs, like gorgeous butterflies.
The cold showers felt pretty nice once once you got used to them (it was so hot and humid that I didn't want to hop in a screaming hot shower anyways). It's pretty shocking some mornings and really wakes you up, but I got used to it. Plus, I was extremely grateful for the little things like warm water when we stayed in a hotel on vacation or once I got home. It was (sometimes an uncomfy) 3-4 months without hot water, but I made it through.
Not Knowing How To Teach
So, you've never taught before? Welcome to the club. Most ILP volunteers don't have any teaching experience. And even if you do have teaching experience, the ILP method is totally unique, so it's kind of like teaching for the first time anyways. Teaching can take a bit of time to pick up, but the ILP method it totally do-able for all experience levels.
Plus, there are lots of resources (and trainings) to help you out and set you out to be a successful teaching. Before you leave, you'll attend a training that teaches you the ILP method, plus some online trainings to review (and review again once you arrive in your country). ILP also has lots of teaching tips, lesson ideas, and resources to help you out.
Teaching will most likely be the most challenging but rewarding part of your experience. There will be hard days but also days where you love your kids so much that even thinking of saying goodbye to them at the end of your semester will make you tear up a little bit.
Here's a little bit more about teaching with ILP.
No matter where you volunteer with ILP you will have support
No matter which one of our countries you choose to volunteer in, you'll receive the same level of support. The hardest choice is which country do you want to go live in for the semester!