Issy Hall - Youth Development Assistant (Health), Cook Islands

What inspired you to volunteer/apply for the programme?

I had a huge desire to travel alongside previous experience volunteering abroad when I was younger which was my primary motivation for studying International Studies. The ability to combine my love for travel with working in development using my newfound knowledge acquired from university was such an awesome opportunity.

What did volunteering give you?

Although the importance of the work achieved and the areas VSA works in around the Pacific is not to be diminished, the opportunity for personal growth through volunteering is unlike anything else you achieve elsewhere. Whether it’s gaining independence, confidence, or an additional perspective, spending that time in a completely different environment is imperative for (possibly) getting out of your comfort zone and personal growth!

What was your assignment highlight?

The highlight of my assignment was definitely the ability to be included on a regional and sometimes even global level in meetings and consultations with organisations such as UNICEF and IPPF surrounding development and the area in was working in - sexual and reproductive health which is now an area I hope to work in, in the future which I would not have thought about previously!

What did you find most challenging?

The most challenging thing for me was managing expectations around my assignment and experience. It’s important to remember that development occurs overtime and unfortunately that means that nothing will change overnight!

Did your assignment change after you arrived? How?

My assignment changed hugely upon my arrival. Preparedness and capacity of the partner organisation was a big one for me but that’s the nature of working in development on a local level, particularly in NGO/smaller organisations. Again on managing expectations - I had thoughts and ideas about what I may be able to assist with and potentially even accomplish, without actually having ever worked a day in the organisation or lived a day in the Cook Islands! It’s natural that your expectations won’t always live out in reality but it’s not bad, just different. It will also always be what you make of it.

How did the assignment help develop your personal and professional skills?

Although professionally it gave me confidence and passion for working in development through actually having the experience, I gained more personal skills whilst on assignment! Remember that although you can get professional experience in lots of places - home and abroad, the personal growth and skills you are able to acquire through volunteering and living abroad for 10 months, you literally can’t get anywhere else.

What is some advice you would give to future UniVols?

Getting out of your comfort zone is for everyone! Those who are most afraid of doing something like the UniVol programme will have the most to gain from it!