Lauren Griffin - Tourism Assistant, Samoa 

What inspired you to volunteer/apply for the programme?

I thrive off change and challenge, and the thought of being placed in a place where you became the minority was really exciting to me. Hearing and seeing first-hand the experiences my two friends in Timor Leste were having as Univols when I visited them the year prior, inspired me to apply.

What did volunteering give you?

Volunteering gave me perspective & resilience. For me, my placement was on a beautiful island with no other VSA volunteers – a challenge in itself, but also a blessing as it allowed me to fully experience local life and scratch the surface slightly deeper than others. Volunteering also gave me an a rather large Samoan family!

What was your assignment highlight?

I was really lucky to have so many highlights on my assignment. One of my favourites was forging all of the friendships/relationships with people at my work, in my village, and on the other islands. One of these friendships helped me catch my first marlin in a game fishing tournament! Talk about a win win.

What did you find most challenging?

Being by myself was really challenging. I’m a very social person, so to not have someone (like a flatmate) to talk with after work (when everything shut on island) was really hard. And homesick is a real thing as much as I tried to fight it. 

Did your assignment change after you arrived? How?

The assignment definitely changed from the initial JD, however I was somewhat prepared for it. The timeframe between the initial ask for a volunteer, and getting someone to location can be up to a year (or maybe more!) and needs change in that time. Sometimes you may even see places for change which they have not recognised. At the end of the day you bring as much perspective to the situation as they do. 

What was it like working with the partner organisation?

My partner organisation was great! Very small due to the way it’s operated, but they were so excited to have a vol and made me feel valued at every moment. I learnt a lot from them. 

What is some advice you would give to future UniVols?

My advice is – it’ll feel scary once you arrive, but it will be one of the most rewarding experiences. Don’t be afraid to forge those connections, and don’t shy away from the local way of life for favour of the “expat” version. You dictate your own experiences… don’t take someone’s experience of something for face value, try it out and you may have a different opinion.