I came to volunteer with Greenpop. Not as a student like many interns, but as an individual with professional experience, looking to broaden their horizons. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not alone! Here are a few of the benefits of a volunteer work placement for professionals.
Variety is the spice of life
For the last six years, I’ve been earning a living riding horses. I live a nomadic lifestyle; traveling throughout the eastern states of America to prepare horses for competitions. I had thought for some time about branching out beyond my small world. I was curious to see what else what out there. The benefits of a volunteer work placement were way more than I could’ve anticipated!
Getting out of your comfort zone
I think I was looking for something different because I felt I had plateaued personally and professionally. I needed something to challenge myself. After deciding to volunteer with Greenpop, I had a lot of anxiety over the choice I made. I discovered that branching out would not be as easy as I had hoped. Trusting myself and being confident in my choice felt difficult.
I thought I was foolish to remove myself from a stable job – no pun intended. It seemed like a step backward to leave behind a paying job for a volunteer work placement. What if I was making an extraordinary mistake? In the end, it turned out to be an excellent opportunity for growth. I was challenged, but I managed to assimilate well. It was exciting for me to meet new people. I focused on work completely outside the realm I was used to. It felt confident to take the leap and find I could succeed. After all, “life begins the end of your comfort zone”.
Bringing my experience to a new workplace
One of the benefits of a volunteer work placement for professionals is being able to bring skills to the table. A fellow Greenpop intern brought her experience in PR and Marketing to volunteer with Greenpop. Charlotte Geurink hails from the Netherlands. Here, she works as the press secretary for the Public Dutch Broadcasting Corporation. Charlotte came to Cape Town on a sabbatical, looking to put her experience and knowledge to work for a worthy cause. It was a beneficial exchange for both parties. Greenpop gained an experienced intern and Charlotte fulfilled her desire to give back and learn about sustainability.
“It is a life-changing adventure where not only trees grow, but you also grow as a person. I learned a lot about getting active for our planet. Not only did I bring my media experience to Greenpop, but I will also bring a lot of newly found green experience back to the Netherlands!”
Charlotte Geurink, the Netherlands
My time volunteering abroad really stretched my communication skills. Prior to my trip, I did not have an appreciation for the language differences I encountered. I understood English was widely spoken and I assumed that would be enough. Instead, I discovered my English and my style of communication to be quite different. There were many variations on the accent that I had not anticipated. As well as words and phrases that my American ear still cannot find a breath of logic in.
I also observed the South Africans to be very verbose and gregarious people overall. I have always been a person of a few words, but I have never felt in such stark contrast with those around me as in Cape Town. Beyond the sheer volume of words, there was a depth and vulnerability in the way people communicate. Every thought and feeling was revealed in the most beautifully honest way. It was almost a cultural openness. That overwhelmed me initially, for my reserved nature, but I learned to lean into it and share myself a little more.
Experience different office cultures
I came from a barely structured work environment, into an organization with lots of emphasis on management strategy and team cooperation. I am used to working independently and with quite a lot of freedom. It was unnatural for me to adhere to the systemic framework but I learned to appreciate the value of it. Meetings took place constantly because it is essential that people are communicating and everyone is on the same page. With so many different departments, everyone needs to be informed.
Along the same line, an effort was actively made to connect the people in the office, beyond work. Again, something that felt out of the ordinary for me. I enjoyed being made to feel a part of the team despite my short stay. I could see the impact made from the inclusive atmosphere. Every workplace will function differently, especially when working abroad. I observed and learned a great deal from participating in this unique working climate.
See your life through a new perspective
Reflecting on my experience, I find it enlightening to consider my life through a different lens. It has helped me to see more clearly what really sparks interest in me and what fills my heart. I think there is a fine line between contentment and complacency. We must challenge ourselves and ask difficult questions to continue to grow. I have returned home after my internship and I have learned that there is more I want to be and more I want to see in life. I think my time in Africa has left me with more questions than answers, and I am excited to keep discovering. It is all about the journey after all. In the end, there is no going back to the person I was before I came to Cape Town.