Elise is from Utah, where she is in the Deaf Studies program at university and is training to become an ASL Interpreter. She participated in World Endeavors’ Deaf Education Volunteer Project in the Philippines.
It’s hard to put into words, but my international volunteering experience was an adventure! It was eye opening, fun, beautiful, and hard work, to say the least. I had an opportunity to do so much - experiencing a new life and culture. It is something I will never forget. It was the experience of a lifetime!
What was a typical day like as a deaf education volunteer?
The center where I volunteered has three classes of deaf students in grades 1-6. Each class has a permanent teacher, so I was able to work with all three classes. I was in charge of the sign language lesson each day, and focused on teaching the kids as many signs as possible. Every day I spent a couple of hours in each class teaching vocabulary lists, doing spelling activities, and practicing signs. During my placement I learned that world geography wasn’t part of the children’s curriculum, and took the opportunity to incorporate it into my lessons for older students by teaching them country signs, geography terms, and making sure they knew where countries were located on a map.
My favorite thing about working with the kids was seeing them get so excited about learning things. I feel like I contributed to the organization. Most of the children have never had access to a language they comprehend. When they come to school they not only learn science, math, Tagalog and English, but they learn to communicate with sign language. Being able to be a part of helping them learn to finally communicate was incredibly rewarding. I wish I could have stayed for a few more weeks. This was definitely a placement where the longer you can stay, the more you will be able to contribute.
What was the first thing you noticed when you arrived in the Philippines?
My very first impressions were of the air. I grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains at a very high and dry elevation level. Breathing hot, humid, heavy, sea level air was quite a change!
Why did you choose this program?
I wanted to volunteer abroad because I wanted an opportunity to make a difference and see a different part of the world. I am a Deaf Studies major and wanted to somehow use sign language in my volunteering. The best way to do that is through education, and World Endeavors was one of the few organizations that had a good deaf education volunteering program. My mother lived in the Philippines when she was younger, and had such wonderful things to say about the people and culture that I knew it would be an incredible place to work.
Living with a local family adds a dimension to the volunteering abroad experience like nothing else can. My host family was wonderfully welcoming, and fun to be with. They loved watching Filipino soap operas, and laughing at each other’s jokes. There were three grandkids in the family under the age of four, and each time they came over to visit we had a blast playing with the children and counting to ten in English.
Did you have a chance to travel while you were in the Philippines?
As volunteers we were given the weekends off, and were able to travel around. I got to visit a few neighboring islands, beaches, caves, and many beautiful places. Some of the most fun moments of travel involve the transportation itself. We got to ride with nine people in a motorized tricycle built for four, travel up river for hours in a small pump boat, and brave storms at sea in small pump boats while headed to other islands.
On one of our Saturday trips we visited Biliran and a few tiny islands surrounding it. We were stranded at one point, which resulted in it taking longer to get back to the main island. But because of this we were out at sea when the sun set. It was my first time experiencing a sunset while completely surrounded by the sea. It was incredibly beautiful and so different from sunsets on land. The sky, water, and even the air around you seemed to turn the most brilliant purple-ish blue.
Any language barrier is challenging by nature, but the Philippines is unique because most people speak at least some English. Finding my way around and managing day to day life was made a lot easier because of this. But it was also really fun to learn bits of the local language, Waray Waray.
What was a typical meal in the Philippines?
In three words… rice and fish. They also serve lots of pork, rice, chicken, rice, shrimp, rice, mangoes, pineapple, and more rice. My favorite foods were pancit (a local noodle dish), squash and coconut curry, prawns, and fresh mangoes.
My time abroad has definitely given me the itch to travel to more places are spend more time volunteering with others. I gained a greater understanding of how much I have to give to others, and how many opportunities there are to help people around the world.
Yes, there are vast cultural differences, but when it comes down to it good people are good people all over the world. It’s easier to relate to them and grow to love them as you work together than you might have originally anticipated.
The experience is so much more meaningful if you keep an open mind and just have lighthearted fun while you work. Sometimes you just need to laugh at your situation, being frustrated just holds you back from a great experience.
One of the more challenging, yet retrospectively the most fun, things about being abroad is how often you stretch yourself beyond what’s normal to you. Whether it’s the food you eat, communication, cultural differences, or living conditions, you just do a lot of things you never thought you would.
The Filipinos are awesome people, and their land is beautiful. Anyone thinking about going there should!