Home

 

Getting Experience

- # of # Filtered -

Beyond The Call Of Duty In Africa

Q&A with Scott: Volunteered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Share this
Print this
Scott
Volunteered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Carleton University
His thoughts on Motivation
I wanted to further develop my skills and experiences in community development work, and to help refugee populations escape from conflict zones.
His thoughts on Adaptation
I learned very quickly that a person living in these circumstances has to be extremely flexible to deal with changing situations and different challenges whereby every day seemed fraught with another situation or event.
His thoughts on Language Learning
Language is extremely important when attempting to build a bridge across a cultural divide.
His thoughts on Cultural Differences
I found that the willingness of people to share, to work hard, and to learn as much as possible, were shared values that allowed me to partially bridge the cultural divide.
His thoughts on Coming Home
I ensured that I scheduled a few days to “decompress” in the UK before heading back home. The idea of decompressing was to get used to being back in the so-called “modern world” before having to interact with family members.
His thoughts on Coming Home
I found that I felt a profound sense of injustice, given the amount of excess wealth is available in our society. For a while I felt a certain sense of disgust and anger.

When and where did you volunteer abroad?

Between March and May of 2008 I volunteered with a grassroots NGO based out of Kampala, Uganda, where I focused on professional development of the NGO as well as teaching English to refugees. During the three months in East Africa, I was able to travel around southern Uganda, through much of Rwanda, and I spent time in both South and North Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

What made you want to volunteer abroad?

I had traveled extensively with my work as a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces (CF) in my early twenties and I spent over a year working as a NATO peacekeeper in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During my time in Bosnia I felt very cut off from the local community, so I when returned to Canada I knew wanted to travel and work in different places around the world and to be able to share knowledge with the people I encountered. I completed two undergraduate degrees in the sciences, but near the end of my program I was able to take several senior-level classes in community development and international studies; and I also took several graduate-level courses in public health and community development. In 2007, I was selected to do another military tour, this time in Afghanistan – but I knew that my heart was not in working in Afghanistan as a soldier. I was able to break my contract with the military and I soon was able to arrange for volunteer work with an NGO in Uganda. I wanted to further develop my skills and experiences in community development work, and to help refugee populations escape from conflict zones.

What was your biggest surprise about your volunteer experience abroad?

Working and living in a large metropolitan area in Eastern Africa posed a different set of challenges to what I’d predicted. Luxuries, such as electricity, internet connectivity, and (in some cases) indoor plumbing, were juxtaposed with struggles to prevent communicable diseases such as malaria, maintain hygiene, deal with food poisoning, and make it through frequent power brown-outs, occurrences of civil unrest, pollution, a lack of personal security and an overtaxed infrastructure. I learned very quickly that a person living in these circumstances has to be extremely flexible to deal with changing situations and different challenges whereby every day seemed fraught with another situation or event. I was generally surprised by the hospitality and generosity of many people I met, but was also humbled by many that were in dire need and struggled daily in order to acquire basic necessities.

How did you deal with the cultural divide?

Working with groups of people who have fled from their homeland to start anew in another country, I found that you have to be extremely humble and willing to listen and learn from their experiences. Many of the people I was living with and working with were refugees who had fled from the DRC. It can be difficult to explain to children that we do not have war in Canada and that people of different cultures and ethnicities co-exist without dominating one another. Another salient point I found was that language is extremely important in at least attempting to build a bridge across a cultural divide. Overall, many people that I encountered shared an ideal of reinventing themselves and working hard to build a better life for themselves and their families. I found that the willingness of people to share, to work hard, and to learn as much as possible, were shared values which allowed me to partially bridge the cultural divide.

Describe an experience that made a particularly strong impression on you?

One experience that stuck out in my mind was when I was in the city of Goma, North Kivu province of DRC. There was an extreme animosity towards the United Nations and anyone who represented a European or American power. I was only in this city for a few days but it was unsettling to require an escort everywhere I went. I was disturbed once again to see a city wracked by war and then, shortly thereafter, by an earthquake and volcanic eruption from nearby Mount Nyiragongo. The plight of this city and its people has left a permanent mark on me.

What was your return like?

I suffered a lot of reverse culture shock, since I’d been immersed in a community of refugees and had little interaction with expatriates in East Africa. I ensured that I scheduled a few days to “decompress” in the UK before heading back to my home in western Canada. The idea of decompressing was to get used to being back in the so-called “modern world” before having to interact with family members. I found that I felt a profound sense of injustice, given the amount of excess wealth is available in our society. So for a while I felt a certain sense of disgust and anger. But I wanted to avoid conveying such hostility onto my loved ones when I returned. Another way I was able to deal with my return was that I brought my work back with me – I worked through email to help develop several grant applications for the NGO I was working with. In this way, I was able to keep some sense of continuity with my previous experiences in East Africa.

What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?

I’d say that if you’re working in austere conditions and trying to do community development work in sub-Saharan Africa, you’ll need to have developed a variety of skills before you go. One can achieve this by working in middle income countries, developing language skills, building some medical knowledge in order to self-medicate, being formally trained in community development and having several years of volunteer or community development experience before you go – and most importantly a sense of humour to deal with both the ups and downs of living, working and traveling in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, my biggest tip is to have a toolbox of skill-sets/experiences to allow you to deal with challenging circumstances.

What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?

I am now working for the Canadian federal government where I focus on public health and security. I am close to completing a master’s in Infrastructure Protection and International Security. After I returned from East Africa I completed another undergraduate degree in anthropology, and backpacked through South America for two months. I would like to study more anthropology in the near future and to travel more into the Middle East and South Asia.

Advice from MyWorldAbroad
Jean-Marc Hachey, Publisher

Scott has written a very moving account of his experience working with refugees in Uganda and the DRC. I myself also worked in the DCR for UNHCR setting up refugee camps for 40,000 Angolan refugees in 1986, so I can very much empathize with Scott’s experiences. Scott is doing all the right things in order to continue his work with refugees and in international development. He’s taking advantage of every educational and experiential opportunity in order to achieve his personal and professional goals. Here are few career tips for others who might want to follow a similar path.

Scott's Next Steps
Advice from MyWorldAbroad
by the founder of MyWorldAbroad
Jean-Marc Hachey
Want to Have the Same Experience?
In a Rush? Read These Articles First
These carefully chosen articles will lead you to our most important go abroad strategies!
Discover the Career Value of Going Abroad
Get the facts! See surveys and stats linking your experiences abroad to future career success.
Sample Application Documents: See How Others Did It!
Get inspired by actual documents that real students used to apply for internships, volunteer positions and other go abroad experiences.
The World Online
Want to stay in touch with the world? Check out these top (and sometime quirky) links!
Quick Guides! Our Most Popular Go Abroad Topics
View, print or share our easy-to-use guides available in English, French and Spanish.
Are You Prepared for the International Job Search?
How much do you know about international jobs in your field? Get ready for a targeted job search!
Do You Have Enough International Experience?
Have you maximized your international experience? Are you ready for the international job search? Find out!
What's Your International IQ?
How much do you really know about living and working abroad? Take this quiz to find out!
Quizzes: Your Master Scorecard
Check your scores for all quiz categories: international skills, experience & the job search.
Career-Boosting Strategies for International Students Studying in North America
What does it take for an international student to succeed in North America? We’ve got tips to help you thrive!
Earn $50 Gift Card & Submit Your Story From Abroad
Been abroad? Want to share your story? Submit your Q&A today to see your experience online!
Self-Evaluations: Think Analytically About Going Abroad
Keep track of your evolving international skill set before, during and after your international experience. Be ready to apply for jobs in the global economy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Find answers to all your questions about MyWorldAbroad by diving into our Frequently Asked Questions section.
Your International Resume & LinkedIn
Write your international resume first, and then create that all-important LinkedIn profile.
Top Tips on Going Abroad & Your Career
Scan our top tips in 40 go abroad subject areas: international skills, getting experience, finding work, and the professions.
International Skills: Be More Than Just a Tourist!
International people have a unique skill set. Learn the terminology and get professional about describing your time abroad.
100+ Career-boosting Strategies While Abroad
Discover enterprising, innovative ideas for how to demonstrate your international skills to future employers.
9767
- # of # Filtered -
  • 90
90
9773
Independent In India
1
9765
Simpatico In Florence
2
9767
Beyond The Call Of Duty In Africa
3
9776
Soaking Up Japanese Culture
4
9742
Take-Charge Travel: Germany And Beyond!
5
10230
Getting Caffeinated In Bolivia
6
11467
Stepping Outside the Box in Sweden!
7
10204
Across Europe In A Caravan!
8
11468
Learning While Teaching in Beijing
9
10145
Real Stories And Real People In Mexico
10
9787
A Spring Semester In London
11
9771
Learning To Love London
12
11645
A Love Affair with Shanghai
13
11845
Hospitality and Hosting in the DCR
14
9781
A Hospital Helper In Costa Rica
15
11996
Daring to Go Solo in Ireland
16
9762
American Freshman In London
17
12058
Architectural Adventures in Australia
18
9766
Short-Term Trips For Long-Term Gain
19
15327
An Open Mind & Open Arms in Spain
20
15387
Bliss on a Budget in Brazil
21
9803
Ten Years Teaching In Seoul
22
9769
Getting Sporty In Switzerland!
23
9791
Making Contacts Count In The UK
24
10851
Tips From Tasmania
25
15405
From Daydream to Reality: Teaching Abroad
26
15401
From Korea to Oman: Teaching English Around the World!
27
15383
Hustle and Bustle in Vietnam
28
15347
12 Months, 12 Countries!
29
15333
A Literary Education in the UK
30
14594
Growing Abroad: Hong Kong & South Korea
31
9770
Contributing To Change In Ghana
32
9760
Getting In Sync In Nairobi
33
9799
Getting Settled In Seoul
34
10258
Encountering Cultures Across Europe
35
9772
Learning To Go With The Flow In France
36
10218
Adaptation And Appreciation In Japan
37
9785
Motivated In Madagascar
38
9786
Kids And Culture In Korea
39
9748
Adventure In The Alps
40
9788
Business And Pleasure In Australia
41
9744
Food, Fun And Festivals In Germany
42
9747
Fun And Friends In The Netherlands
43
9750
Host Hospitality In Morocco
44
9754
Building Memories In India
45
9752
Giving In Guatemala
46
9775
A Year Of Feeling French
47
9777
Into The Wild In Alaska
48
9759
From Cold Feet To Confidence In Germany
49
9779
One Summer, Two Internships!
50
9753
A Season In Sweden
51
10923
Insight And Education In Korea
52
11557
Un stage au Cambodge (Français)
53
9812
Caring And Career Skills In Belize
54
10157
Changing Course In China
55
9740
Sports, Study And Fun In France
56
9778
Study And Adventure In New Zealand
57
9755
People, Places And Passionate Volunteering In Peru
58
9738
Living For The Moment In Valencia
59
11850
The Warmest Welcome in Guatemala
60
9783
Off The Beaten Path In Africa
61
9757
Teaching And Learning In Tanzania
62
9741
Adapting To Work In Peru
63
9746
A Cross-Cultural Co-Op In West Africa
64
9789
Loving Life In Lyon
65
9784
Skill-Building In Bonn
66
9774
Gaga For Ghana!
67
9745
An Unforgettable Adventure In Nanjing
68
9792
Rolling With The Punches In Seoul
69
10188
Now Or Never In Colombia
70
11904
Enthusiasm, Education and Experience in Greece
71
9807
Fast Friendship In Korea
72
9790
Design And Dining In Korea
73
9758
Learning The Local Ways Of Addis Ababa
74
10163
English Teaching In Eastern Europe
75
9768
Going Solo In Spain!
76
14483
Finding Home, By Teaching Abroad
77
9743
Hooked On Volunteering!
78
10153
China, South Africa And Beyond!
79
14088
An Eye-Opening Experience Teaching in South Korea
80
9751
A Canadian Globe-Trotter Visits The US
81
9737
Passionate About Panama
82
10192
Out And About In Paris
83
9780
A Year In Marvelous Mexico!
84
9763
A Professional Visit To Vietnam
85
9764
Do It Yourself! A Proactive Intern In Rome
86
10143
A Warm Welcome In Mexico
87
9756
Springtime In Spain
88
9782
Making The Most Of Milano
89
9761
Communicating Creatively In Spain
90
9767
All Job Boards
461
All NGOs
1433
Au Pair Resources
39
Awards And Grants Resources
53
Business Directories
17
Canadian Federal, Provincial And Territorial Government Profiles
60
Canadian Government Resources
28
Children And Families Abroad
16
Consulting, Economic And Finance Job Boards
63
Country Guides
73
Cross-cultural Skills
79
Engineering Job Boards
59
Engineering Resources
81
Expatriate Networking Sites
32
Foreign Students Working in the US
9
Freelancing Abroad
27
General Job Search Books
15
Global Education And Social Action
44
Health And Medicine Job Boards
48
Health Career Resources
67
International Associations With Clubs on Campus
44
International Development Career Resources
75
International Internship Organizations
272
International Internships And Student Programs With Canadian Governments
31
International Internships With The US Government
37
International Job Hunting Resources
13
International Law Careers Resources
113
International Law Job Boards
26
International Student Exchanges
2
International Studies In The US And Canada
13
International Trade Resources
25
International Volunteer Organizations
490
Internship Directories And Advice
41
Internships With The UN And Other IGOs
156
Language Careers
30
Learn A Language
106
Licensed Teacher Abroad Job Boards
29
Licensed Teacher Abroad Resources
31
Loans for Studying Abroad
18
Low-cost Travel
63
NGO Directories
33
NGO Job Boards
47
Re-entry
12
Regional Job Boards
102
Relocating Abroad
27
Resources For International Students Studying In The US Or Canada
48
Stories From Abroad
90
Study Abroad Resources
184
Teach English Abroad Job Boards
100
Teach English Abroad Resources
64
Tools for Travelers
73
Top International Blogs & Podcasts
84
Travel Health And Safety
39
UN and Other IGOs
266
UN And Other IGOs Job Boards
26
UN And Other IGOs Resources
73
US Government Profiles
76
US Government Resources
36
Visas and Passports
25
Volunteer Directories And Advice
50
Women Living And Working Overseas
18
Working Holiday Resources
74