Volunteer Spotlight: Simon

"Medellin, the project, and the travel that has followed have been one of the best experiences of my life, and probably always will be."

Simon, a 31 year-old British volunteer from Cheshire tells us about his two month placement in Medellin.

Like any new experience you can seek out all the blogs, pictures, reviews and counsel you like, but nothing will really give you a fraction of the impression of the unknown that you’re about to embark on.

As I spiraled my way down the Andes bowl of Medellin for the first time, I felt the warmth and beauty of the place fairly quickly. I fumbled my way through a conversation in Spanish with the polite and courteous taxi driver - it didn’t matter that my grammar was probably some of the worst he’d ever heard, his courtesy and friendliness reflected the generosity of spirit that I would experience for the next two months in Colombia’s second city. 
My homes from home
With Globalteer you can choose to live with a Medellin family or stay in a hostel, I opted for a month of both.  I wanted to get a feel for Medellin in two very different ways, with the hope of getting to know the city more intimately with a family stay for the first month.  I wasn’t disappointed one bit. My family made me feel instantly welcome and comfortable, and it quickly became a home from a home.  I can only put this down to Globalteer really making an effort to be in touch with a family, and selecting an excellent agency in Medellin to make sure they are catering for their volunteers in the best possible way.
My first day was a whirlwind of a tour, meeting a lot of the staff and the kids at the project, with Elena, Globalteer’s volunteer coordinator showing me the area and some sights making me feel at ease with the city.  As she brought me up to date with my exact role and resources at the project, I was whisked away to the Museo de Antioquia in the afternoon, the first of many interesting and interactive trips with the children.
Getting to know the project

A few of the children I started to get to know pretty quickly, slower with others as is always the case depending on individual characters, but there wasn’t one child who didn’t make me feel like their home was my home.  The family spirit and kindness at the project from the staff and all the children still slightly amazes me now when I think back to my time there.
When involved in activities with the children I found it best to be relaxed and adaptable.  For me the best approach was to try and inspire a sense of fun with any activity undertaken.  It’s good not to forget that you are essentially in their home, so to try and enforce a strict rigid English lesson upon them felt slightly counter-productive. 

Safety and security
In terms of safety in Medellin don’t believe any scare-mongering from friends, family or the media.  Of course you have to be cautious like any big city, but I experienced no problems whatsoever and still to this day travelling Peru and Bolivia.  My friends who had travelled the world encouraged me to live in Colombia more than anywhere else, as they had experienced the same thing, the amazing vibrancy of a culture and it’s people who don’t hold back from day to day in their passion for life.
What language barrier?
I spent a good 4-5 months prior to the trip with Spanish audio books, a good grammar and verb book which I found invaluable.  Of course more often than not I didn’t have a clue what the person was saying in front of me, and not having a background in Spanish and languages it was certainly a challenge at times , but you naturally fall into a groove to be able to communicate.  For example a fellow volunteer had arrived with no Spanish whatsoever and managed to get by (which I wouldn’t recommend).  What I would say is that if you have no Spanish at all, but then you learn the classroom instructional Spanish that Globalteer provide – which is excellent and well thought out – and a lot of basic sentence construction Spanish, it will really enrich your time at the project. 
Having acquired this amount of Spanish I was asked if I would like to teach English at the local school round the corner with the assistance of Globalter’s volunteer coordinator, Elena.  This was not on my radar before starting the trip, but I’m really glad I picked a fair amount of Spanish to be able to get more involved.
So many highlights
I found it immensely rewarding, lots of fun, and a confidence boost to know that with my limited Spanish I could hold the class’s attention, (most of the time!) and engage them in English learning with games, written tasks, and general interaction with all the children.  This was a surprise highlight for my time in Medellin.  Not to mention endless funny afternoons in the nearby park with football, basketball, skipping (I’d forgotten the joy of communal skipping) ice-creams and day-trips out to the cinema, the sustainable living and butterfly sanctuary site, local universities - one including a photography project of the children, and a massive rave in the project for one of the girls’ Quinceanera (15thbirthday – it’s a big deal!), the list could go on.
Another volunteer who had been to the project prior to my stay had said the following words to me when considering whether or not to book that flight and pay the deposit…
"…don’t even think about holding back, just go for it."
Now I know exactly what he meant.  Medellin, the project, and the travel that has followed has been one of the best experiences of my life, and probably always be.