During high school, I knew that I didn’t want to follow the typical student route and straight shoot it to college upon receiving my high school diploma; I wanted to do something different. I wanted to get out into the world and do something that I knew would help people and/or the environment and perhaps even make a difference to someone if not a whole community. Not only would I be helping, but I also knew I would be learning more about myself through this experience because for 6 weeks my life would be entirely different. That’s why I went to volunteer in Australia with CVA, Conservation Volunteers Australia, a program offered through InterExchange Working Abroad.
As I embarked on this volunteering quest I found that I was much more nervous than I thought I would be. Even though I have traveled before and been far from home for weeks at a time, I had never done it alone. This was the first time in my life that I ventured from everything I’ve become familiar to, my family, my friends, my home, and essentially my life. But, this was just another lesson to be learned, just as Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood”. I knew stepping into this that I would be put to the test and it started before I even entered the country. However, when I arrived in Sydney, after stepping off the plane, getting my baggage and stepping out into the city I was struck into a trance and I knew that from this point forward things would be different. I found my travel-legs soon after and ventured out into the wide new world I found myself in.
While volunteering in Australia my fellow volunteers and I did several things led by our fearless team leaders! Our missions would usually change every week, as we would move to different sites, so we could spread our aid to more places. Before the start of every project we were always shown how they wanted things done and our team leaders were a fountain of knowledge about the natural wildlife and plants wherever we went, and I learned a lot about Australia and it’s environment during my journey and through work we did.
For the first week we worked at Stockton Beach weeding, picking up garbage, spreading mulch, planting, and building or repairing fences. Every day was different as we walked up and down the beach doing our tasks. Although it was very hot working there, the area was beautiful to look at and I’m glad we were there to help lend a hand to maintain the beach. A few of us even had our picture taken (including me!) which was put in a local newspaper because of the work we were doing. Then, with our free time we were able to go swimming and we even had a group trip to see the dolphins up at Port Stephens, which was a nice break from the usual routine.
The next week we traveled to Singleton to work where we were weeding and poisoning the invasive plants to make way for the native species along the Hunter river. We could see the results of our labor here so fast as we were clearing away all the plants that were suffocating the indigenous species with their growth. Again, we had a group picture taken at the site and it was put in the newspaper with an article about the work being done. Also, in our time here we saw Kangaroos nearly everyday and the team leaders even took us up to the top of Callicoma Hill where we went hiking and the view was spectacular.
After that we had a full week of planting trees, in addition to watering trees that were already planted and the ones we just planted as well. All in all we planted over 1,200 trees that week which makes me so proud, knowing that I am participating in something so helpful to the environment and the community.
On the fourth week of my volunteering effort we went to Black Neds Bay where we were doing some “Bitou Bashing” as our team leaders would say because Bitou Bush is a native south African plant and after being introduced to Australian coasts it started to choke off Australian vegetation and became a common problem in New South Wales. So, we did our part to destroy the Bitou Bush along Black Neds Bay. That concluded my last week in Newcastle, which I will sorely miss cause I met so many people and made lots of new friends there, but I concluded my time there and made my departure for my final 2 weeks with CVA in Bathurst.
Bathurst was a major difference to Newcastle since it was much farther inland and more in the mountains. It was a good change of pace and a chance to see a wider variety of Australia. In the first week there we were clearing land by weeding around a relic of a house that is going to be a historical site. So, for the first few days we worked on that until we went and made some paths at the river and then prepared a house for a meeting about how we can help protect and maintain the river. We then attended the meeting and the presentation. In that period of time we also took a trip on the Bridle track where we drove for hours along a trail in the beautiful Australian mountains and saw wild kangaroos and a cave.
The next week was all based at a gold mine facility where we were helping to restore and clean it out so it may be used as a historical museum site as well. We swept out buckets and buckets and buckets of dust as well as moving out old and broken machinery and clearing branches and debris from the area. During this time our team leader Bill told us all about how this gold mine worked and gave us a whole tour of the site, which was really interesting.
Not only did I get priceless knowledge and experience to help the environment during my stay, but I was also introduced into numerous cultures all at once! In addition to getting the chance to see magnificent country of Australia and the locals there, but I also volunteered with people from around the world! It was incredible to live with people from so many different backgrounds, let alone being one of the youngest people there, and the only American! I was with Koreans, Germans, Japanese, British, Belgian, Taiwanese, and even a person from Holland. Everyone brought something different to the team and we all got along swimmingly so it was simply incredible to be around them and get a glimpse of what their country is like too. They were all so nice and welcoming to me, and they all left an impression on me. I hope to stay in contact with them for a long time.
Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I was able to go to so many places and see so many different things that I couldn’t name them all if I tried. I’m so thankful for the volunteers and the team leaders for being so kind and teaching me so much about their countries and culture as well. I know that this experience changed me for the better and opened my eyes to the world around me. I feel so much more in tune with my surroundings, and I have the opportunity to take this knowledge and experience with me wherever I go in life. For this am I thankful to InterExchange for giving me this opportunity to explore and learn from more than just a textbook and a classroom, and I would recommend everyone to take a chance and go out and volunteer abroad because everyone you meet can teach you something and it is an unforgettable experience. It is truly a life experience that will teach you more in that short time about yourself and the world than you could ever learn from just school.