What to Watch Out For When Volunteering Abroad
WorkingAbroad blog writer Tristan Ledger, who is currently volunteering in France, writes about things to look out for during a volunteering trip overseas.
June 27th 2019
As I left mainland Grenada I wondered whether or not Carriacou would be as beautiful and I was not disappointed. After spending a night in the lovely and comfortable Sea Breeze Hotel and taking the morning ferry over to Carriacou it was instantly obvious that this was another beautiful location, that I look forward to exploring over the next two weeks.
In Carriacou I will be learning how to scuba dive something which was a daunting task at the start of the week, considering I have no prior experience with scuba gear, or going any deeper than a couple of metres when snorkelling! I should also get the chance to participate in coral reef conservation and Lion Fish containment in my second week. Despite being somewhat nervous about learning to dive, I was quickly put at ease by Reef Buddy’s Caitlin and Matt who welcomed me to Carriacou upon my arrival and took me back to the hotel in which I will be spending the duration of my stay here in. The hotel itself houses all the Reef Buddy volunteers (six currently), with shared and single rooms being perfectly acceptable, if not a little small. The food at the hotel is excellent however, with breakfast and dinner both provided as part of the project cost. Dinner has currently involved lots of chicken and fish dishes, while breakfast has often been a little more ‘adventurous’ for want of a better word. I’ve already had chicken nuggets, doughnuts and fish fritters on separate occasions at breakfast, which is a little bit different to what I’m used to, to say the least, but all of it has been incredibly tasty!
Anyone expecting a similar experience and feel to the project, as to that of Ocean Spirits, should be aware that this has a somewhat different feel. Meals are eaten together so there is some chance for socialising, but with us being in the hotel we are more separated than we were in the shared Ocean Spirits house. For some this may be more appealing, however as someone who likes to meet new people and socialise, more effort is needed to do so at meal times as well as during training events, or trips out. Furthermore, unlike Ocean Spirits project, Reef Buddy and learning to dive feels much more like going back into education, there are long days of learning and practicing skills, so anyone looking into this course should be aware that the first week is very learning heavy. Nevertheless this is very necessary as scuba diving is a dangerous sport, while all the tutors and dive professionals I’ve met so far have been very warm, welcoming and helpful. A few days prior to arrival you are set up on the SSI (PADI equivalent) online training portal, where you can start to learn the course content for the scuba sessions. You should again be aware that there is a lot of content to go through if you are a novice like myself, all of which needs to have been read, with review sections completed before you can start getting in the water. However if you are already a qualified diver, like a couple of the new volunteers starting with me, you can fun dive and get stuck in almost straight away with exploring the beautiful coral reef systems surrounding Carriacou!
My first full day was spent from 9am-4pm doing theoretical learning in the dive centre with my instructor and two other learners, while my second was similar in length. To some that may sound daunting but for me it was very interesting to learn all about diving and the time flew by, it’s also very important knowledge to have in order to be safe. My second day also saw me do my theory test, as well as get in the water and start to get used to the scuba gear for the first time, while I also had to complete a couple of relatively easy fitness tests (10 minute float and 200m swim). My third day was again long and involved finishing of my confined water (shallow water at the beach) skill learning. A few of these were quite difficult and may take some people who are less confident in the water some time to master, however the dive instructors are very willing, patient, calm and helpful. By my fourth full day I was going diving for real! So for those reading and feeling daunted by the long days of learning, it’s all worth it as you get to quickly train up and then see the amazing marine life the Caribbean has to offer!
For anyone who says jumping into the deep blue ocean from a boat, in order to breath from a tank of air at depth for the first time, isn’t daunting or nerve-racking, is probably fibbing! But once I was in it was amazing! For my first dive I went to a depth of ten metres and saw stingrays straight away, something I had never seen before and a pretty wonderful experience to view. On these Open Water course training dives, you get the chance to view the wildlife, but you also have to do your skills that were practiced in the ‘confined’ sessions. Two dives are done on each boat trip out and my second saw me go a little bit deeper and reach a depth of twelve metres. The last day of this week then saw me do my final two Open Water dives. My confidence was slowly built up and we got down to the depth of 16 metres! Not only that but we encountered Eagle Rays and Nurse Sharks on these dives, two truly amazing and graceful ocean beasts, creating an amazing experience. Now that my four open water training dives are complete it means I’m qualified to dive anywhere in the world after just five days, making those few long training days all the more worth it.
In the little spare time I did have in this first intensive weeks training I took a long walk up to the beautiful Anse La Roche beach (about a 45 minute walk each way), where there’s snorkelling opportunities as well as a lot of huge Iguanas along the water’s edge! The beach near the hotel (only a minute walk away) is also amazing for sunsets as well as snorkelling, where there is the slim chance of seeing an octopus or eel. This weekend there is a planned trip to Carriacou’s Sandy Island for some snorkelling, while I and the other volunteers have decided to pay extra to organise a trip to Tobago Cays where if we are lucky we could see some baby sharks and turtles. The second week of volunteering will also see me dive more and have the chance to get more involved in the conservation work; recording fish species, taking coral pictures and culling Lionfish, so I’m very much looking forward to my last week in beautiful Grenada!
To find out more about our coral reef conservation volunteer project in Carriacou, please click here.
Article by WorkingAbroad Intern Jack Digman