How volunteering in Zambia helped me find a new direction

Lauren Owens is a returned International Citizen Service (ICS)  volunteer from Zambia. In this personal account, she explains her journey from feeling  like a lost graduate stuck in a 9-5 job to a passionate and motivated individual with her heart set on a career in international development. If you are interested in volunteering overseas, find out more here.

I had just completed my degree in History and American Studies and if I am honest, although I enjoyed my time at university, I had lost my passion and desire for the subject and didn’t want a job to do with it.  I was leaving university with no idea what I actually wanted to do – just  that I did not want to get stuck in a 9-5 job.  I wanted to do something worthwhile first.

I have always been interested in volunteering abroad and had looked at various charities. However, none of them had particularly caught my eye as they were either extortionately priced for just two to four weeks or the work they were doing was questionable and unsustainable.

Later in the summer  a family friend highly recommended ICS and said that it would be a great opportunity. When I looked into it, it was exactly what I had been looking for and the fact it was government back filled me with confidence that the work the charities were doing on the ground was worthwhile and having a long-term impact.  As summer was quickly coming to an end, it was a now or never moment and I applied.

As I waited for approval, I had to  take a full time job as a Sales Advisor. I hated it but I hoped that it would be short term and that I’d soon be away with ICS.  The longer I worked there, the more I realised that I wanted a career where I helped people and had a positive impact on their lives. Luckily I was selected. I was to depart in February to Zambia and the  more I read about ICS and Restless, the more I was motivated to fundraise. I couldn’t wait.

When I returned in May, I was a different person to the person that had left in February. The reverse culture shock was massive. I hadn’t really experienced a huge culture shock when arriving in placement as I found that when you are there you just get on with it as you have no choice. The moment I was first taken aback on my return was when I got to Kings Cross station waiting for the train up to Newcastle. People were just frantically rushing about, stress levels were high when there was no need, and the sheer volume of people was too much.

When I got home, I had  a shower, grabbed some food and went to bed feeling overwhelmed at the whole situation. The next difficulty was speaking to family and friends. Although they were interested and listened attentively, asking question after question, they didn’t fully comprehend the experience. Telling someone you had to walk to collect water, use a hole in the ground as a toilet and shower with a bucket of cold water is not something you can understand fully until  you have experienced it. I  would have been guilty of the same naivety before ICS.

I decided that I needed to get a job,  get into a routine and try to adjust back to UK life  and of course pay my bills and student debt. I was fortunate enough to find a job as a Technical Support Advisor (which I love, I’ve been there for four weeks now) but Zambia is always on my mind, everything I do, I relate it back.

Before I even got home I knew that I wanted to do my Action at Home focusing on education or health.  To raise awareness of the education and health facilities in Zambia, I plan to do make videos and present them in  schools as well as post across social media.

In the long term I plan to do a Masters in International Development, having shortlisted four or five universities that I’d be interested in attending. After the Masters I then want to forge a career in International Development. In the meantime, I hope to keep in good contact with Restless and hopefully become involved in a number of their campaigns.

Some might say that it is a honeymoon period and that I want to go into international development as it’s a new idea and I’m not long back. However, I’ve never felt so passionate about something. This experience  has changed my whole perspective of life – it really is the little things that are the big things. I’ve thrown myself into learning as much about international development as possible by subscribing to magazines and reading various blogs .

Before ICS, international development is not something I had ever considered. I was ignorant to it and naive about it all. However, I want to be able to change young people’s perspectives and show them what they can do. You really do fall in love with the community and country.

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How volunteering in Zambia helped me find a new direction

by wearerestless Reading time: 3 min