If you are planning on volunteering with a group of people, you will definitely need to be prepared for spending a lot of time with each other. While some NGO’s might provide you with your own living space, others will give you a great opportunity to get to know your co-volunteers even better by making you share a room. Either way, you will be spending a lot of time together, and we’ll give you some tips to survive this debacle.
Get to know each other, learn about each other’s habits and tell if something is wrong. If your roommate keeps having loud phone calls while you are sleeping, you have got to tell them. Spending a month volunteering and not getting enough sleep is no fun at all. It’s better to bring it up early before you turn in an insomniac ghost who lashes out when frustration builds up.
Roommates that clean together, stay together. Every group has a neat freak and a messy monster. It’s unlikely that you’ll share all the same values, but it’s best to try and balance it out. It will save you a lot of pent-up irritations, and it’s nice to learn from one another.
If you are the neat freak, good for you! Clean whatever you like, tidy up your room and go on. Just be careful of forcing your mindset upon your co-volunteer. I agree that this person should clean his own mess, but try to encourage it in a nice way. Give a clear description of what needs to be cleaned and in what time you would like it to be done (but be realistic). It helps if you guide the messy monster in the cleaning, maybe you’ll teach them something.
If you are the messy one (like me), try to contain it. Make your mess in a drawer instead of on the floor. Accept that cleaning is part of life and that if you don’t, creepy foreign bugs will make a home in your mess and give birth to yet more creepy bugs. When the neat freak expects too much of you, tell them in a nice way and be ready to compromise. They might need to accept that it isn’t always necessary to clean something within 1 minute of using it. Sometimes it is great to just sit and process your dinner before washing the dishes right?
Work together and you’ll probably find a way to work it out. It is okay to be annoyed by someone else, it happens in every relationship. We promise you that it only makes you stronger.
3. Watch out (or wash out?)
BE CAREFUL WITH THE LAUNDRY! Capital letters for this tip. One time, I tried to be nice by taking care of both of our dirty clothes. This didn’t go as I’d hoped and some white Tshirts ended up in the dark wash. As a result, the white shirts were dyed a dirty greyish colour. Combine this with a hectic day (including some unwanted male attention), and you can imagine she wasn’t really happy with me. Luckily I thought of an emergency plan and found some Vanish Oxi White in a local supermarket, the problem was solved and we lived happily ever after. If you are not sure of your laundry capabilities, don’t try to surprise your roommate by doing theirs. If you think you are capable, and something goes wrong, try to fix it before it dries. Once your laundry has dried the mistake will be permanent. If you have internet, just check google, there are lots of wise grandmothers out there ready to pass on their knowledge.
When you travel around you’ll find that different people have different ways of travelling. Some like to plan ahead, others just freewheel and see what comes their way. There’s no easy way of saying this, but it might be good to take some time apart. You can take your time to read into the local public transport, taxi fares or safe ways of hitchhiking. In the meantime, the freewheeler can prepare… or just have some time to chill. When you start your journey you can bore your partner with the fun facts you found in the hours of research you’ve been doing. On the other hand, your partner can point out things you might miss with your head buried in the guidebook.
Find a daily routine. No matter what your situation is like regarding your co-volunteers, you’ll find that you are best off when you are feeling a bit at home. If you like soft light in the living room, invest in some lamps. If you like to do some stretches in the morning, do it! Having a routine makes life less stressful, and you’ll have enough other things to stress about.
Secondly, if you’re living together with a co-volunteer, try to combine your routines. Figure out where each one of you is good at, and what they do or don’t like to do. It took me and Amber a few days to find our own routine together. But after a few days of struggling, we are getting really good at it. Luckily we wake up around the same time, I struggle waking up, so she makes the coffee and once I’ve woken up a bit I’ll make us breakfast. This works for us and helps us start the day in a nice way, again, saving us some stress!
After all, if everything goes well, your volunteers could end up being your best friends or even business partners. Try to make the most out of your time together, it will definitely improve your trip! If you need help overcoming language barriers concerning your fellow native English speaking volunteers, check out “Being a non-native English speaker (surrounded by native speakers)” for help.