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 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 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.
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.
Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com 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.