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Comment: An unexpected lesson in life

In this featured comment for the University Post, a Chinese University of Copenhagen student explains how six weeks of volunteering in Indonesia changed her world

Everyone is planning summer vacation at this moment. But I can’t help thinking about my summer last year – a six-week volunteering trip to Indonesia, on one of the Global Citizen programmes organized by the volunteer organisation AIESEC UNIC.

I hope I can hold onto these memories even if I cannot find the right way to describe how much this trip has impacted and changed me, my views towards the outside world, happiness – and myself.

I worked as a full time volunteer in children’s education. The specific task was working part time in a primary school as an English teacher in a small village. By saying part time, I mean that compared to the schools we are used to, it opens only few hours per day: All the kids were dropped out students, because financial challenges force them to help the family selling vegetables at the market, and this charity school is for after working hours.

Not a tourist

I was more than surprised to watch them exposed to the sun, which here is almost sinister, carrying heavy baskets around, bargained with wares just like their parents are. They are not really children, but reflect the helplessness of their family.

So unexpectedly, while I was teaching the children, they taught me too. I realized I took so much for granted, and that my priorities are all about myself. That I was looking for happiness in all the wrong places in life. Surely it should come from the heart.

I learned about living in a totally different culture, but not like a sightseeing tourist.


Being an overseas volunteer means getting to know the lifestyles, etiquettes, and never making your judgments before really understanding. Though we could learn a lot via internet, experiencing it in person is always the best way.

I realized the struggles that international volunteers must go through:

Being helpful in another country doesn’t only mean that you are doing good, but also doing the good in their way. I embraced the local culture and learned to live simply and appreciate little things. From my co-workers, I learned how to work well with kids, how to be a patient and responsible teacher.

Hot shower means nothing

I learned that I could be a calm person when I live out of my own bubble.

I found confidence in myself I hadn’t seen before, as I was the only female volunteer in that village. I learned no matter how bad things look like at first sight, they are only as bad as you let them be.

Like having no hot water for a shower, I almost wept for that at first, but since then I never waste water at home. It is all about perspective. I learned that having a positive attitude and never stop believing that it is possible – even including finding the way out when getting lost in small villages.

Go further than the crowd

I learned what happiness really means. The children showed me that a little smile, wave or hug can make someone’s day. I realized how valuable our ‘normal meals’ are. I realized I was spoilt when I was a kid, protected by my parents from everything. But my students, they were the best life mentors. I learned that while I may not be able to change the world in six weeks, I can still have an impact on a child’s life and make a difference.

I learned much and could go on. Six weeks of exploring the world outside, six weeks close to poverty and hunger, was six weeks of self-development and growth.

It reminded me of a phrase I read: ‘The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.’

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