An Honest Review – My Volunteer Experience With IVHQ & Green Lion Bali

During my 5 weeks in Southeast Asia, as many of you may know, I spent 2 weeks volunteering with an organization called called IVHQ in Penestanan, a small village just outside of Ubud, Bali.  I participated in the Teaching English programme, and along with my boyfriend, Sean, took on a class of 24 Grade 4 students.  I wanted to write a post to provide some insight to future volunteers on what to expect, how to prepare, and how to get the best out of your volunteer experience with IVHQ and Green Lion Bali.

You may also want to read a related post on my IVHQ Bali Experience – IVHQ Bali FAQ.

Feel free to check out my fundraising tips, or How We Raised $4,561.00 for our Volunteer Trip to Bali.


The Fantastic:

-The staff are incredible.  They truly do care, even if it takes asking a few times to get what you need.  Be kind to them, and they will help you in any way they can.

-Bali is beautiful.  It is even more lush and green than it looks in photos, and absolutely lives up to all expectations of natural beauty.

-The food is decent.  The only downside is that it is somewhat repetitive…we were only there for 2 weeks, and by the end of our time in Bali we were definitely tired of the same few things.  Expect to eat out more than on weekends.  The good news is that food is relatively cheap in Bali.  My personal favourite restaurants were Kopi Desa Cafe and Ibu Rai.

-There is tons to do.  Make sure you do some research before you go, especially if your time is limited, and check out my upcoming article on 6 Things to do in Ubud, and check out my post on Conquering Mount Batur.

-The program is very flexible.  If there’s a certain activity during the orientation that you’re not keen on participating in, nobody is going to make you.  Or if you want to take a Monday off teaching so you can spend a long weekend exploring another part of Indonesia, Green Lion is generally very flexible.  Some people even switched programs if they weren’t happy with what they had chosen.

-Orientation is fantastic.  I can’t believe how much we were able to pack in during the few days of orientation.  You will be insanely busy, but it is such a great opportunity to experience true Balinese culture before beginning your volunteer program.

-The locals are kind and friendly.  Even if they don’t speak english, they seem to go out of their way to make foreigners feel comfortable.

-Some of the children will steal your heart.  They’re not all perfect, but the ones who are bright, eager to learn, appreciative, and of course, positively adorable, will fill you with a sense of joy that you didn’t know you could feel.

-Bali is fairly inexpensive.  It’s not as inexpensive as other parts of Southeast Asia such as Northern Thailand or Cambodia, but it’s still pretty good.  Whether you’re hoping to shop for souvenirs, buy a few groceries, spend the day at a spa or go out for dinner, you’ll find that your dollar can go quite a ways in Bali.

-There is a great supermarket about 10 minutes walking distance outside of Penestanan, where you can find almost anything you could imagine, from produce to snack food to clothing and souvenirs.  It’s called Bintang.  Any local or older volunteer will be able to give you directions.

The Beauty of Ubud
The Beauty of Ubud
Me at The Holy Water Temple during Orientation
Me at The Holy Water Temple during Orientation
Our Grade 4 Class
Our Grade 4 Class

The Challenges:

-The children can be extremely challenging.  I had unrealistic expectations going in; visions of eager, polite, quiet students doing exactly as I asked dominated my daydreams.  This is not the case.  Expect them to yell at you, and each other, demand a ton of your energy (mentally and physically), and sometimes have trouble catching on to new concepts.  I felt terrible to be clapping my hands together and yelling “DIAM!” (quiet) at my class 10+ times a day, but that’s often the only way to attempt to regain control of the group.  In any class, you’ll have the quiet, bright, eager students, and you’ll have the troublemakers.  Try to keep a cool head when challenges arise.

-Ubud can be very loud.  Most families have several roosters, which begin crowing at around 3am and don’t stop until midnight.  Ubud is also home to an incredible amount of dogs, which run freely through the streets barking, howling, and sometimes fighting with one another.  It is also customary for cars and mopeds to honk at each other as they pass a slower vehicle, or as they go around a blind corner.  The honking is constant, and eventually you almost seem to forget about it, but it’s always there.

-Culture Shock is real.  I remember my second day in Bali, I found myself crying in a cafe, wondering what I was thinking traveling all the way from Canada to Indonesia.  Things just seemed so different.  I wondered if I were safe, felt lost without being able to call for help should I need it, was frustrated with people who couldn’t understand me, and even more frustrated when I couldn’t understand them.  The food was different, even the coffee was different.  Expect it to take a few days to adjust to your new surroundings – which is completely normal.

-There are critters.  Lots of critters.  This one was particularly difficult for me, as I am terrified of spiders, and Bali has spiders the size of my hand.  Bali is also home to snakes, cockroaches, scorpions, geckos, rats and an assortment of other creepy crawlies.  In my 2 weeks with Green Lion, there was never an issue with anybody being harmed by any of these creatures, but that didn’t ease my mind.  Try to be better prepared mentally once you arrive than I was.

-Roofs, windows, and doors are often open to the elements.  There is no such thing as a sealed room.  Most windows don’t have screens, doors are generally open over an inch at the bottom, and some buildings have thatched roofs, which leaves a large amount of space between the top of the wall and the roof.  Things will get inside.  Wear good mosquito repellant.

Giant Laba-Laba!
Giant Laba-Laba!
Sean was able to capture this very overwhelming moment with the students. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I was incredibly flustered here.
Sean was able to capture this very overwhelming moment with the students. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I was incredibly flustered here.


Things I Wish I Knew:

-There are several volunteer houses, not just one.  The volunteers are spread out in different buildings around the town, some a 15 minute walk away from others.  I had expected us all to be in one common area, but we weren’t.

-Wifi doesn’t always work at the house.  Expect to spend a decent amount of time in cafes with free Wifi for patrons if you plan to stay connected on the road.

-The power goes out every now and then.  It doesn’t normally stay out for long, but there was one time when we were without power for almost 8 hours.  Charge your devices when you can and be sure to pack a flashlight.  The water systems also run on electric pumps, so showering is not an option when the power is out.

-Budget more than the suggested $20/week that the website suggests.  Unless you plan to stay at the volunteer house every day and night and eat the same 5 meals in rotation, I’d say that $50.00 – $100.00/week is more realistic, depending on how extravagant you want to be and what kinds of tours you plan to do on the weekends.  I found myself spending about $80/week and being quite comfortable.

-Go in with an open mind and a positive attitude.  It can be really difficult in modern times to keep an open mind, especially if you’re anything like me – I was searching for tidbits of info on Instagram and IVHQ’s Facebook page months before departure.  I had this vision in my head of what I expected the program to be like, and it was entirely different.  Remember that your journey will be personal and unique to you.  Embrace everything that comes at you with positivity and you will be just fine.

Language Lessons
Language Lessons
The Daily Commute in Penestanan
The Daily Commute in Penestanan
My Bed in the Group Accommodations
My Bed in the Group Accommodations
The Bathroom in one of the Private Accommodations. Yes, those windows are open to the jungle outside ;)
The Bathroom in one of the Private Accommodations. Yes, those windows are open to the jungle outside 😉

Please feel free to contact me at if you have any further questions that aren’t answered in my IVHQ Bali FAQ post, or if you’d just like to chat about my experience.  I’m always happy to help.  Otherwise, I really hope you enjoy your upcoming volunteer experience, and remember, these are my experiences, and they won’t necessarily be yours.

Happy Travels!

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.


  1. This is the one i’ve been waiting for 🙂 sounds like it was a big eye opener for u!
    Did you feel as though you made a difference for the children at all?x

    1. I definitely do feel like I made at least a small difference, but I would strongly urge those who want to feel like they’re making a big difference to volunteer for more than just two weeks. It wasn’t enough time to really see my efforts develop, does that make sense?

  2. Your review is just what I needed !
    I’ve volunteered for construction programme but like you, I’m terrified by spiders… How did you do ? 🙂

    1. I did ok! I was in rough shape the first few days. They are everywhere. But eventually I found that I just got used to them. They really, truly don’t want to hurt you! I hope you have an amazing time!

  3. Your blog was very helpful!

    I’m going to volunteer with IVHQ Bali in a week, how safe were your belongings and cash? Did you take them everywhere you go, or were the volunteer houses safe enough to leave belongings there?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi there! I’m so glad you found the article helpful 🙂

      The volunteer houses are fairly safe, however they are open all day and other volunteers are coming and going. I would suggest bringing a lock for your bag or backpack just for peace of mind 🙂

      Let me know if you have any other questions! I hope you have an amazing time 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for this review! I just got accepted into the IVHQ Bali program for 6 weeks starting in January next year.

    Did you find IVHQ helpful and supportive? How long did it take for you to become comfortable?

    This would be my first time travelling alone and volunteering overseas so I’m quite excited but anxious!

  5. hi! your review was super helpful!! I’m thinking of applying to the IVHQ Bali for 4 weeks starting November. i saw the different accommodation types, which would you recommend? Any tips? I would really appreciate it 🙂

    1. Hi There!

      If you’re traveling alone, I’d recommend the group accommodation, as they provide the best opportunity to meet new people. Even if you’re traveling with a friend I think the group accommodation is a good idea. Sean and I traveled as a couple, and we thought we’d like staying in the private accommodation, but we only stayed there for one night and then transferred to the group house because we felt really isolated.

      My number one tip is just to go in with a completely open mind – release expectations and just experience it. You will love it. Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Happy Adventuring,


  6. Hi there, really appreciate your review! I am considering the volunteer trip as well. May I know if there will be interviews by IVHQ before they accept you into the programme? 🙂

  7. your review is amazing!!!!! im also really scared of the bugs 🙁 did you bring a mosquito net with you for sleeping? or what do you recommend?

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I did not bring a mosquito net…mosquitos weren’t honestly much of an issue…however if you think it will make you feel better then absolutely bring one. I just sprayed lots of insect repellant with DEET and after a few anxious nights I settled right down.

      I hope you have an amazing time in Bali! Please feel free to email me with any further questions you may have –

      Happy Adventuring!


  8. Hi, i found your review very helpful since I’m considering an IVHQ volunteer trip to bali from 4 to 6 weeks and I’m also planning to work with children as well. A few questions popped into my mind while reading. So were there other volunteers in the same program working with u? And do you think its safe enough to bring a laptop, camera etc. with you and using them at wifi cafes? How many other volunteers were staying at the same place?

    1. Hey Maria!

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad you found the review helpful.

      To answer your questions – there were tons of other volunteers in the same program as us. They will generally partner you up in groups of 2 or 3 to teach – they did a great job of matching people up with who they seemed to become close with during orientation week.

      I do think it’s safe enough to bring a camera, however a laptop might be a bit much…just because storage is very limited in the volunteer house, and it would be hard not to have your flashy laptop out in the open. If you can, I’d recommend bringing something like an iPad or even iPod / smartphone with wifi capabilities instead. I did the entire 5 weeks just with my iPod and I found that to be enough.

      Our specific volunteer house was home to approximately 16 volunteers. Some houses had more, some had less, and it fluctuated throughout the weeks as other volunteers came and went.

      I hope I was able to answer your questions!! If there’s anything else you’d like to know, please feel free to email me at

      Happy Adventuring!


  9. Hey!
    Thank you for sharing such a helpful post! I will be volunteering in Bali this year. I was wondering if you know any information about the construction and renovation project. Did the volunteers you met on your placement like the experience? What sorts of things did they do?

    All information is helpful! Thanks so much!

    1. Hey Kristina!!

      I met quite a few volunteers who were doing the construction and renovation project – and they absolutely loved it. If I’m being honest, that’s actually the project I wish I had done – simply because my time was limited, and I feel like I could have made more of a difference in two weeks doing something like that. They did things like renovated bathrooms and refinished walls in a school. You’ll love it!

      Happy Adventuring!


  10. Hi Ashley!

    I was so happy o find your blog about this program! I’m pretty sure I will do the 4 weeks of teaching, but I still haven’t made up my mind regarding the accommodation…. The picture you have of the dorm looks pretty nice, but how are the bathrooms? How many people did you share it with? I’m traveling alone and I want to meet new people, but sharing bathrooms and toilet facilities with stranger is not something I’m very eager about!
    I guess the bathroom situation is kind of to me as the bugs were to you 🙂

    Thanks for all the useful information!!

    1. Hi There!

      Oh, I totally understand the bathroom issue. Personally, I have a lot of digestive issues and was also worried about this, so let me be honest.

      The bathrooms are probably different depending on which group house you stay in, but at ours, they were located at the back of the property, there were two of them, and were shared between all 16 volunteers AND the family that lived there. It was rare that I needed a bathroom and didn’t have access to one, but the privacy is definitely limited. And in Bali bathrooms are typically very basic…we did have western toilets that flushed, but it’s essentially a little tiled room with the shower head right beside the toilet. If you’re truly concerned about this, I would say spring for the private accommodation. 🙂

      Let me know if you have any further questions!


  11. I’m going to do a volunteer program in July and I have a few questions

    Did the spiders cam inside the house? How did you deal with this??? I’m terrified of spiders…
    And was there any possibility to go to the beach or swim in a swimming pool when you had some time off?

    I’m looking forward to your answers!

    Thanks for the nice review 🙂

    1. Hi There!

      I’m glad you found the article helpful!

      I will not lie to you – the spiders are plentiful, and they are everywhere. In the house, outside, in the bathrooms. It’s not like there’s going to be TONS of them, but you absolutely will see them. They’re harmless. I dealt with this by being a psychopathic crying mess and making other people kill them for the first few days, and I lost so much sleep…that I eventually got to the point where I was just like, “Ok, either I come to terms with the bugs, or I let them completely ruin this incredible experience for me.” I chose to just get over it. You eventually just get used to them, honestly.

      As far as the swimming goes…the nearest beach is about an hour away by car, so it would be possible to go there during the weekend, but there are several swimming pools in and around Penestanan and Ubud that are available for use for a small fee (about $3 USD per day). My favourite one was the pool at The Mansion – here is the website for you 🙂

      If you have any further questions please let me know!

      Happy Adventuring,


  12. Hi!
    Loved the blog. I’m hoping to take a gap year before university and travel and was considering the childcare programme Were there others around 18years old when you went? Would you recommend going or waiting until after uni? I’m so stuck!! Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Jill!

      Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog 🙂

      There were definitely lots of 18 year olds in the group, you will feel very comfortable. My recommendation is to do this trip right away because if you wait, who knows what will happen? Circumstances can change. Do it while you can. You will not regret it.

      Happy Adventuring,


  13. Hey,

    I’m really worried about spiders, even the thought of them makes my stomach turn, are they really all over? Like how many would you say you see a day and how big are they on average? Because if it’s loads of spiders the size of my hand there’s no way I’ll go hahaa


    1. Hi Bailey!

      I was the same way! Absolutely terrified and paralyzed at the thought of encountering huge spiders. I will be honest with you…you will likely see quite a few every day. More if you are looking for them! Haha. On average I’d say anywhere between 5-8 per day depending on what you’re doing. Most of them are small, but be prepared to see the odd huge one. Generally the big ones will be outside in jungle-y areas, we only had a big one in our sleeping quarters once and we had one of the boys chase it out. Just remember…they are terrified of you, too. And you WILL get used to them! By the end of my trip, I was able to sleep with a small spider spinning a web above me on my bunk bed. I simply just went to the other side of the bed and fell back asleep.

      I really hope you choose to embark on this amazing adventure despite the bugs! It is a small price to pay for the incredible experience you will have.

      Happy Adventuring,


  14. Hey,
    I’m volunteering in Bali in August and I’m super excited. Your blog has definitely been super helpful. I had a question however. What did you do about a cell phone while you were there? Is there a way to get an international SIM for my iPhone there or should I purchase one in my home country?

    Thanks so much!

  15. Really liked your blog.
    l volunteered at Green Lion for 2 weeks in 2014 and had a good time in Ubud and teaching the Balinese students.
    This April 2015, l decided to volunteer in Bali for 8 weeks in a more remote area of Indonesia to experience more the Balinese culture away from the all the tourists around Ubud.
    l decided to volunteer with a Children’s Organization (Widya Sari) in the north-east region of Bali called Tianyar. Had an amazing time teaching with the children from this small fishing village. l attended a number of beatiful Balinese ceremonies with the local Balinese founder, his family and fellow volunteers.
    If you are planning to do any volunteering work in Bali, l would also try spending some time in this more remote region of Bali, as the children and families are quite poor and very eager for support.
    More details on the non-profit foundation can be found at

  16. Hey!
    So I’m actually planning on going on this trip next summer for two weeks and this post has been extemely helpful! but I was wondering how much the end cost was for you. I know the fees and to bring money but I don’t know what to expect for how much the plane ticket will cost. thanks!

    1. Hi Catherine!

      I’m so glad you found the article helpful. I honestly don’t even know what the end cost was for me because we did a lot of traveling after our volunteer trip. I know that our flights (from Calgary, Canada) cost about $1700 CAD each. Really make sure you shop around for the best fare!!

      Let me know if you have any further questions.

      Happy Adventuring!


  17. This was so so helpful!! It really made me want to go even more. I am planning to go in the winter for 2 weeks. I was just wondering if you had to go earlier for the training or if the training is apart of the two weeks.

  18. Thank you for this! I always wanted to travel and do volunteer work with children outside the U.S. As a female , of course it is nerve racking in terms where safety might be an issue. I also hate bugs they scare me to death, so brining off spray and other repellents is a great idea! I am thinking of using The same organization as you, though I don’t understand why volunteering is so expensive but I am sure some covers the cost of the program. Just wondering if you have been somewhere else with IVHQ and would you do it again? I am thinking of doing the Brazil one, starting closest to home and then venturing out slowly to other countries and cities.

  19. Hey! Thanks so much for all this wonderful info. I have been looking into IVHQ but I don’t want to sign up until I get insight from someone who has actually done it. I have just a few questions:
    Did you have free time to do things that YOU wanted? If so what did you do in those times?
    What area would you recommend doing? I am considering doing the kindergarten teaching but if there is another area that you found to be more helpful and interactive I would love to hear about it. Thank you again!

    1. Hi Rachel!

      In your free time you are truly FREE. You can go anywhere and do anything you want. I spent most of my time lounging around the pool at a nearby resort, exploring the shops in Ubud, and hanging out with other volunteers at a nearby coffee shop, Kopi Desa. On the weekends you can do anything you want..a few of our volunteers went to the Gili Islands for the weekend.

      I hope you have an amazing time! Just go in with an open mind and you’ll be set!

  20. Hello I’ve been accepted to do Coastal conservation project in south africa through IVHQ, but I heard some negative things about them

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