What it's like to volunteer in another country

Headshot of Adah Freeman.
Adah Freeman
May 29, 2023
Landscape of a lamppost along a gravel path up a forested hill

When I first got to Granada, I had a few non-negotiable to-do list items scribbled on a piece of paper that I knew I wanted to get to no matter what. Some of them were travel destinations, some were restaurants to try, but several were on my list simply because they scared me. 

Every semester i like to make a list of things that intimidate me: things that i know are well outside of my comfort zone and for that reason, things that will help me grow. For my semester in Spain, most of my list had to do with social interactions and decision making in an entirely different language: solo travel, going to local workshops alone, talking to new people. My final goal? Volunteering in another language. 

Pretty quickly, i realized that if I didn’t go ahead and sign up for a position and commit early, I would let the hesitancy win and would never get around to it. Therefore, a month into my study abroad program, I was officially a weekly volunteer at a retirement home just next to my study center. Every Tuesday, I would check in at the front desk and head over to the activities room to get started on prepping for the activity of the afternoon. Sometimes the activity coordinator had a craft or game for me to help with, and sometimes I came up with my own art or coloring activities.

At first, I was pretty nervous every time I went in—the setting was new, I still wasn’t familiar with the system, and it took a lot of focus for me to understand many of the residents. However, over the weeks, I began to understand a little better and started to get into the rhythm of the volunteer shifts. My favorite part of the two hours was always chatting with several of the older ladies about their lives and the snippets of advice they would give me (example: make sure you never take off on a journey on a Tuesday o.o). I felt more and more comfortable, saw my comprehension skills improve, and finally reached the last day all too soon. Throughout the 3 months I volunteered, I met some wonderful señoras, learned how to teach arts and crafts in Spanish, and most of all, I pushed past the discomfort of doing something scary and succeeded.

I’m so glad that I went through with getting involved with volunteering while abroad, and I can see how much I grew personally and with respect to my local community. And my final day was the perfect ending: our last activity was making little journal booklets. I helped put together the journals using staples and helped teach the way to cut the papers and fabric book cover so that it would all go together smoothly. As I went through and stapled each binding, one of the ladies turned, put her hand on my shoulder and handed me one of the extra booklets. I flipped open the first page and on the inside was a little note: “for Adah, thank you for everything”. On each of the next few pages was note after note from various ladies I had befriended over the months. With each one I came closer and closer to crying, and on that day’s final “hasta luego”, I walked out with the little handmade booklet tucked tightly in my hands.

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Headshot of Adah Freeman.

Adah Freeman

Hola! My name is Adah and I am a junior at North Carolina State University currently studying in Granada, Spain! Though my major is Biology, I have a passion for all things art and Spanish, and you can most likely find me sketching away during the late hours of the night. My current obsessions are gouache paints, crochet, and watching local birds! I'm so excited to share my time exploring Granada with all of you.

2023 Spring
Home University:
North Carolina State University
Biological Sciences
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