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ISV. International Student Volunteers. If you’re not a first year, then you’ll probably remember them as bouncy, Australian, high-speed talkers that invaded your lectures last year. If you’re a fresher, then you’ll probably meet them soon.
This time last year I felt like I was drifting at university, going through an endless cycle of lectures, seminars and Sugarhouse. If this sounds familiar to you, then a four-week trip to the other side of the world could be exactly what you need to get out of your rut.
ISV spans six continents with eight different destinations; Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Ecuador, South Africa and Eastern Europe (Bosnia, Croatia and Romania). Each location has a range of volunteer projects, based around conservation or community development, meaning there really is something for everyone. Whether you’re working with animals, saving the rainforest or building schools, your efforts will be truly appreciated. On my project in Costa Rica, ISV literally saved the village I stayed in by bringing money and jobs into the isolated community. As an ecological organisation, ISV practices sustainable, green living without compromising on fun. My host family only had electricity for three hours a day, but I honestly didn’t miss it – and I’m no eco-warrior!
If wildlife is your thing, then Costa Rica is your ideal destination, as one of the most bio diverse areas in the world. Some of the highlights of my trip were seeing a crocodile, holding a boa constrictor and spotting a baby spider monkey up in the rainforest canopy. Being woken up at 4am by the barking of a troop of howler monkeys did test my patience, though!
The adventure tour is also a vital part of the trip. While it is possible to just do the volunteer project, don’t miss out on this opportunity. As Costa Rica is so small, the tour criss-crosses the country, meaning you can get the full flavour of this Central American country. With activities along the way such as zip-lining, waterfall rappelling and surfing, you get the chance to test your nerve and try things you might otherwise get to do.
Unfortunately, it’s not all so amazing. The price is a huge sting in the pocket for students; the basic volunteering project and adventure tour costs £1695 (slightly more for Australia and New Zealand). What is generally not mentioned in the meetings, however, is all of the hidden extras. Plane fares, extra activities, Spanish and Latin dancing lessons…when you are paying so much already, it seems stupid not to add on the little extras. With flights alone costing almost £900 however, my trip ended up costing around £3000. I’ll be ordering tap water in bars this term.
ISV is, however, an incredible experience. Some people might ask why you’re paying to be able to volunteer, but the reality of it is so much more – not only the chance to make a difference, but also to have the trip of a lifetime. At the very least, you’ll meet loads of amazing people on an ISV tour, and with lots of American participants, there will always be a place to stay if you want to holiday in the US!
Of course, I can only talk for the Costa Rica experience. If you want to find out more about the other destinations, check out the website below or go along to one of the meetings later this term.