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Insiders view on what it's like volunteering abroad 🇬🇷😸

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to volunteer abroad? We did a Q&A with Nila Marino, who has spent the last few years doing various work exchange programs and is currently volunteering on a Greek island at a cat sanctuary. Here you'll find an insider's view of what it's like and Nila's advice for those who want to follow suit.

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About Nila Marino:

Nila Marino is a 27-year-old who was born in London and stayed there until she was 11-years-old when she moved to Cape Town with her family. Nila's love and passion for travelling inspired her to start doing volunteer work in 2022. Since, she has volunteered in Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. Nila plans to continue volunteering for another year as her goal is to see as much of the world as possible whilst inspiring others by sharing her experience, and taking people along her journey.

Scroll down to read our interview with Nila!

Can you tell us about your overall experience using Worldpackers and Workaway to find volunteer work? How did you discover these platforms and what motivated you to give them a try?

I first heard about Worldpackers and Workaway through other travellers I follow on social media. I have only used Workaway once, but it's how I found my current volunteer position in Greece. My passion for travel motivated me to find a way to save money while travelling, and the opportunities on both these platforms allowed for me to have that option. Being able to stay in places long term and make lifetime friends while I am at it. For the most part, my experience has been pretty good! Especially as I love slow travel and really getting to know a place well. Rather than only spending a week or so travelling, and not getting the true feel of a destination's culture and what it feels like to live like a ‘local’ rather than a tourist.

You’re currently doing a work exchange in Greece at a cat sanctuary. What has your overall experience been like since starting your journey and what motivated you to volunteer at a cat sanctuary?

Volunteering at this cat sanctuary in Greece has been a dream come true! I've always wanted to work with cats, so when I found this opportunity on Workaway, I knew it was perfect for me. It has been fulfilling and wholesome, and I would highly recommend it to any animal lover.

Also since quite a lot of people have been asking, the island I am volunteering on is Syros, and the cat sanctuary is called Syros Cats.

What kind of work do you do at the cat sanctuary. What is your schedule like in terms of work-life-balance?

We feed the cats, clean their cages and sheds, give them medicine and lots of love of course. We work during the morning for around 4 hours and then in the evening we feed them again. I would say the schedule is quite relaxed, and there is a lot of free time to explore the island or go lay in the sun on the beach.

What were your expectations before embarking on your work exchange journey? Were they met?

I didn't have many expectations initially. I knew that work exchanges can vary, so I went in with an open mind. Some experiences were better than others. It largely depends on the people managing the volunteers and the dynamics among the volunteers. Which is something you can never truly be sure of until you are there. It's important to adjust your expectations and find the right place for you.

Could you share a memorable experience or project you worked on during your time as a volunteer? How did it contribute to your personal and professional growth?

Working here at the cat sanctuary has been the most memorable project for me and is definitely my favourite so far. It has been so fulfilling and wholesome on a personal level. I've also had success sharing my content on social media about the cats at the sanctuary, which is amazing!

Did you face any challenges or difficulties during your volunteer work? How did you overcome them?

I had one work exchange experience that didn't go well. I didn't click with the small group of volunteers, and the job wasn't a good fit for me. I made the decision to leave early, which was a great decision as I then found a much better work exchange where I stayed for six weeks! It's important to recognize when an experience isn't right for you and have the courage to move on.

How would you describe the level of support and communication from the hosts and platforms throughout your volunteer experience?

The support and communication varied depending on the hosts. Some were excellent at communicating and were very supportive, while others were not as great and sometimes took advantage of volunteers. It’s never been bad enough that I’ve needed to reach out Worldpackers for support so I can’t say.

Did you find the accommodation and living arrangements provided by the hosts satisfactory? Were there any instances where your expectations differed from reality?

I’ve been quite happy with most of the accommodations that were provided, but some are better than others, especially when you have your own room! Which isn’t always the case, it’s luck of the draw really.

In terms of safety and security, how did you feel during your work exchange? Did you encounter any uncomfortable or unsafe situations?

I always felt safe and comfortable during my work exchanges and have never encountered any situations that made me feel unsafe.

Did you have the opportunity to connect with other volunteers or locals during your work exchange? How did this social aspect enhance your overall experience?

Yes, I have made amazing friends during my work exchanges. Spending a significant amount of time together really gives you the opportunity to get close to people and make real connections. The social aspect of work exchanges has been one of my favourite parts and has enhanced my overall experience!

Can you discuss the impact these work exchange experiences had on your personal development, skills, and future career aspirations? How have they influenced your perspective on travel and cultural exchange?

I feel like doing work exchanges has really given me a lot more life experience and changed my perspective on travel in many ways. I’ve been able to live like a local in many countries as well as learn loads about diverse cultures. It’s an incredible way to see the world and I feel like I always learn so much from each work exchange that I do.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to someone considering using Worldpackers / or any other platforms for work exchange? What should they keep in mind and how can they make the most of their experience?

I’d say go for it! It will totally change your life in so many ways. This is a new way to travel and has so many benefits. You’ll make lifelong friends, get to know countries and cities really well, learn tons about different cultures and best of all be able to travel on a low budget! I think you need to go in with an open mind and remember that after giving it a chance, if it’s not the right place for you you can always leave early and look for something better fitted! And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Also do your research and read all the reviews of the job first to make sure it sounds like a good place to volunteer; this is super important. Be brave and take the leap, you won’t regret it!

Don't forget to give Nila a follow on her socials if you want to get more insights into what it's like doing work exchange programs!

TikTok: @nila.marino

Instagram: @nilaamarino

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