BaseCamp believes that volunteer training and volunteer support are essential components for a successful international volunteer experience. We know that international volunteer programs are most effective when volunteers first take the time to learn about the culture and customs of their host country and become familiar with how to navigate the country independently.
Without an intensive orientation and training program, volunteers are often overwhelmed by the challenges of living and working in total immersion. Thus for help with basic tasks, like taking the bus, going to the market and learning enough basic language in order to communicate with the local population, volunteers tend to rely heavily on the staff of the organization that they are there to assist. This distracts the staff of the organization from their duties and can quickly undermine the value of hosting a short-term international volunteer.
The Volunteer Abroad program's orientation begins the moment volunteers arrive. Our staff personally meet all volunteers at the airport and transfer with them back to the BaseCamp Volunteer Center for the initial briefing. This briefing covers important logistical and safety details before volunteers even check into their rooms.
The next two days of volunteer training focus on critical details that are important for all our volunteers. These include embassy registration, health and safety briefings, community tour and placement preparation. This volunteer training is required for all our volunteers.
The following five days provides volunteer training units on culture, etiquette, local transportation, bargaining and basic language training. While volunteers may choose to opt out of this extended training, it is highly recommended as we have found that without this foundation, many international volunteers find the transition to a home-stay family challenging.
BaseCamp's volunteer support and volunteer safety are always the first priority of our staff. From airport arrival to program end we are there to help. We know that getting off the plane in a foreign country can be an intimidating experience. That is why we provide volunteer support starting at the airport. Every volunteer on our program is met by one of our program staff. We are waiting with a Volunteer Abroad sign clearly visible to greet volunteers and transfer with them from the airport to the BaseCamp Volunteer Center.
Transportation from the airport to the center is included in the program fees, and varies from a BaseCamp van, a local taxi or a bus depending on the country and the number of volunteers arriving on the same flight. Our staff bring a snack and a bottle of water for each volunteer in an effort to make the transfer from the airport to the center as comfortable as possible.
The pre-departure information that each volunteer receives clearly outlines the procedures for clearing customs and meeting our staff at the airport. Volunteer support also includes providing the emergency contact details of our staff in-country so that if a volunteer's flight is changed en-route, or if the volunteer misses the connecting flight, the volunteer can easily reach a member of our team and update changes to arrival time.
As soon as volunteers arrive at the BaseCamp Center they take part in an initial briefing. This briefing affirms that volunteer support is always there when needed and provides volunteers with important information they need in order to feel comfortable and secure on their first night abroad.
The initial briefing includes: an introduction to our team at the center and any other volunteers who are presently living there, a tour of the house, the rules and regulations of the BaseCamp Center and an overview of various health and safety considerations.
After the initial briefing, volunteers settle into their rooms and get to know their housemates. Meals are provided three times a day in the house. If new volunteers arrive during the day, they will join the rest of the house for meals. If they arrive after dinner, a snack will be provided.
Volunteer safety is our first priority in the field and we have developed an extensive volunteer health and safety briefing that helps volunteers identify risks and learn how to mitigate them.
While we invest a great deal of time in ensuring that our placements and homestay families are thoroughly vetted, we know that an essential component of managing volunteer safety is to ensure that they understand how to look out for themselves as they travel the country.
The first day is focused mainly on a series of volunteer health and safety sessions and the processing of various documents for each volunteer. We also review program expectations and rules and we take a walking tour of the community surrounding the BaseCamp Volunteer Center. The day ends with a debriefing where volunteers can ask questions and raise any concerns they may have on their first full day overseas.
The group will take a walking tour of the surrounding community to learn where they can find a store, internet cafe, international calling center and safe bank machines.
Before dinner the group will take some time where any questions or concerns that have come up throughout the day can be addressed. Â Following the debriefing, the group will enjoy their first home cooked dinner in their new host country.
Day two of volunteer orientation focuses largely on units designed to help prepare volunteers for what they can expect at their volunteer placement.
Some units provide general tips that past volunteers have found useful in helping them contribute the most value to the organization while working at their volunteer placement. Other units focus on culture shock and other challenges to communication that can impact the effectiveness of international volunteers.
On day two of volunteer orientation we also conduct specific units focused on each volunteer placement category. In these sessions, volunteers who will be working in the same field take part in guided small group discussions regarding the specific challenges and expectations that they may have. These are designed to help volunteers gain an understanding of what they can expect in their work environment to facilitate a smooth transition to their first day on the job.
This is an interactive activity that helps to demonstrate how our culturally based opinions and prejudice are often difficult to distinguish from facts and objective truths. This activity is a great start to looking at how living and working in a new culture will require the suspension of many of our programmed responses.
A willingness to embrace new ways of viewing the world around us is critical for volunteers to be able to build the relationships they will need to develop to become useful members of the teams of the organizations that they have come to serve.
Our volunteer orientation unit on culture shock looks in detail at the phases of culture shock that volunteers can expect to experience. We have found that by identifying these various stages volunteers are better able to recognize the signs in their behaviour when and if they occur. Particularly if a volunteer is experiencing a hostile phase at their volunteer placement.
These volunteer orientation sessions can help volunteers access if there is a need to pull back and reflect on how and why they are reacting to a given situation in a negative manner. By being able to identify and reflect on these stages, volunteers are more successful at staying open to their new cultural setting and are better able to stay focused on their job as opposed to becoming distracted by their emotional reactions to their new surroundings.
We coordinate weekend excursions for volunteers so that they are able to travel and explore the country. These excursions are an awesome way for volunteers to have some time away from their volunteer placement and explore with other international volunteers. This volunteer orientation session reviews each of the weekend excursions, the costs of these excursions, what is involved and creates sign-up lists for each excursion.
Day three of orientation focuses on volunteer transportation and volunteer training regarding bargaining skills at the market and elsewhere.
The volunteer transportation sessions help volunteers feel more comfortable travelling around the country alone using local transportation and is an important aspect of orientation. We also want to make sure that our volunteers feel comfortable exploring the markets on their own. To this end our volunteer training sessions on bargaining helps volunteers to understand culturally appropriate bargaining practices.
The third day of orientation is also the first day of language training.
The survival language course is designed to introduce volunteers to the local language and covers basic greetings, directions, courtesies and other useful expressions that will help volunteers at their placements.
Language volunteer training is generally taught in the morning and orientation sessions in the afternoon. The language volunteer training classes are broken into four 45 minute sessions each day.
During this outing, our Program Coordinator & Orientation Facilitators will take the group through the city explaining first-hand how various forms of local transportation work, what they cost, where they can be found and how to identify the safest forms of transportation.
The market visit allows volunteers to explore the markets with their Program Coordinator & Orientation Facilitators and practice the bargaining techniques they discussed in the workshop. Volunteers will have the opportunity to ask our staff for advice as they get used to how these interactions work.
Day 4 of BaseCamp's orientation program for our international volunteers involves volunteer training in politics, religion, history and current events of the host country.
We have found that much casual conversation both in the workplace and in the home revolves around these issues. We also know that international volunteers feel more comfortable and confident in these conversations if they have had volunteer training in regards to a basic understanding of the critical issues involved in their host country.
Building relationships with co-workers and home-stay families is vital for volunteers to be able to function as a part of the team at their organization.
The politics workshop explores the political history of the country. In many of our volunteer destinations, the political history is fascinating. It is also important background information to understanding the nuances of current issues and events. Many political discussions are quite polarized and often inspire considerable emotion; international volunteers who have a general understanding of the key issues are better able to navigate delicate political discussions in which they may be involved.
The role of religion in everyday life is often radically different than that to which many of our international volunteers are accustomed. It is important that volunteers have a general understanding of the dominant religions in their host country. The cultural journey is so much more fascinating when one has a general understanding of the religious context. As well, understanding basic religious practices helps international volunteers to ease into living and working alongside their hosts in-country.
The current events workshop provides an overview of current events in the country. Depending on the country and time of year, these may be regarding major festivals, holidays, elections or other major events that will be taking place. Festivals are particularly exciting as international volunteers are generally able to take part in the celebrations that often will shut down the city.
Day 5 of the international volunteers orientation and volunteer training program includes a visit to a local place of interest in the host country. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with some of the cultural and historical aspects of the country. This outing takes place in the afternoon of day 5 orientation.
As usual the morning begins with language training.
The cultural and historical outing in Costa Rica will provide international volunteers with the chance to spend time at the National Museum, which is over a 100 years old. The exhibits offer knowledge about the natural history, archaeology, anthropology and history of the country. In addition, volunteers will explore the current buildings of parliament and the president's residence.
International volunteers will have the opportunity to visit Old Town in Quito, which is a UNESCO heritage site. The activity will include a walking tour of the area followed by a visit to La Basilica Church and La Compania (the gold church) which provides insight into aspects of significance of religion in the history of Ecuador.
The international volunteers will offer mini-presentations to each other about a wide variety of topics important to Ghana (after being given specific reading material). This activity will be followed by a trip to Kwame Nkrumah Museum and a tour of the surrounding area. At the same time as the tour, volunteer training will include learning some of the history involving the first president of Ghana and how he gained independence for Ghana in the year 1957.
The activity in Nepal for the international volunteers will be a tour of Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple), which is a Buddhist temple, monastery and a UNESCO world heritage site. The temple is one of the oldest religious sites in Nepal and is revered by both the Buddhists and Hindus people. The whole tour takes roughly 3 hours from the house. It is a 20 minute walk to the base of the temple and then 365 steps to the top. The many steps are a challenge but every volunteer to date has been able to make it to the top.
The international volunteers will be offered the opportunity to conduct mini-presentation regarding local indigenous tribes and their cultural traditions. Following this activity, volunteers will visit the local Maasai cattle market.
Day 6 orientation involves volunteer cultural training and is titled, "Cross Cultural Communication". It is about volunteer training in perceptions and communication and is critical to the success of any project or volunteer placement.
After the morning language lessons, it's time for volunteer training about cultural do's and don't's as well as participation in a communication workshop. These workshops will provide volunteer training in different scenarios that will demonstrate ways and means to better communicate. The skills that you learn here will be useful in the field, as well as when you return home to your work or school.
Volunteer cultural training includes a workshop on the,"Cultural Do's and Don't's", which will help volunteers identify the various cultural norms within their host country. During this volunteer training, BaseCamp staff will provide a list of different types of etiquette to ensure volunteers are able to understand and be culturally appropriate in social interactions.
This session of volunteer training reviews several proven techniques for communicating effectively across cultural barriers. We also look at ways that volunteers can help to manage language barriers so that they are able to get the most benefit out of the time at their placements.
Day seven of your orientation has a final workshop called, "Now What?" This has been included in your volunteer training program to instil confidence in your ability to function on your own in your host country and also to bring forward any last minute concerns or difficulties you may be experiencing.
After morning language training volunteers will participate in Basecamp's famous version of the Amazing Race. We can't tell you in advance what the experience will include but we put you through the paces, so that you can apply some of the important data that you have learned during your volunteer training orientation.
The opportunity to show-off your newly acquired information and skills regarding your host country.