It might be that there’s no farther point from the Cook Islands in the United States than Maine. But, that didn’t discourage University of Maine Honors College student Lucie Bonneville from traveling to the South Pacific with Global Volunteers. Undaunted by the 7,000 mile journey, she sought to help others in the global community and gain a personal perspective of new parts of the world. She shares here how her service program has expanded her global understanding.
How was the experience of traveling solo to the Cook Islands?
Being a young woman traveling alone from Maine to the Cook Islands, I was not sure what to expect. But from the first moment that I stepped off the plane and being greeted by James, the Country Manager of Global Volunteers, in the airport with a beautiful, fresh ‘ei (flower garland), I felt that my time in Rarotonga was going to be special—and it was.
What was the highlight of your service journey?
I have traveled a significant amount in my lifetime; however, my experience with Global Volunteers completely changed my perspective on travel. As a Global Volunteer, I was able to not only help local children improve their English literacy, but I also became a part of the school community. I bonded with students, teachers, and administrators, and was given local advice about traveling in Rarotonga–what’s worth seeing, and what to avoid. Without the integral relationships and conversations at my volunteer site, I doubt I would have had such an authentic experience of the Cook Islands. Being a volunteer while traveling can be beneficial to both the communities and the traveler.
“I have traveled a significant amount in my lifetime; however, my experience with Global Volunteers completely changed my perspective on travel.”
What has this service experience meant to you?
First and foremost, my service experience in the Cook Islands gave me the opportunity to form relationships with so many people. My fellow volunteers, the country coordinators, the children I worked with at St. Joseph’s school, the teachers/administrators, the bus drivers, and more. The list goes on and on. Each relationship formed affirmed the importance of the work in education and community empowerment that Global Volunteers does.
“Each relationship formed affirmed the importance of the work in education and community empowerment that Global Volunteers does.”
Can you share some of your memories?
Some of the most memorable moments of my time in the Cook Islands happened at my volunteer site, at St. Joseph’s school. From the instant that I was introduced to the students as a volunteer to the moment that I stepped foot out of St. Joseph’s threshold for the last time, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the love that I felt from the students. On a normal day as I walked down the hallway of St. Joseph’s, I would receive dozens of hugs from students, all of them yelling “Hi, Auntie Lucie!” and beaming smiles that never failed to brighten my day.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed by the love that I felt from the students.”
My favorite moments were those playing netball or football with the students, laughing and running around the field, or quickly sprinting back to the shelter of the roofed deck when the impressive afternoon rain hit; tired and wet, but overflowing with love for the students who embraced my presence in their lives with no hesitation. These relationships and experiences alone proved that cultural differences only obstruct understanding if you let them.
What do you feel you receive when you share your skills with people of other cultures?
Although I often feel very skeptical about the notion of “volunteer tourism,” I soon realized that Global Volunteers was a much different kind of volunteer program. It truly felt as though this program was a mutually beneficial relationship between the volunteers and the Cook Islanders. I was able to exchange my knowledge of English literacy with children who were equally as excited to teach me about the Maori language and culture, and teachers who were eager to share with me cultural customs and local advice.
“It truly felt as though this program was a mutually beneficial relationship between the volunteers and the Cook Islanders.”
My volunteer experience was very much a two-way street; my volunteerism felt completely welcomed by the community and I was reassured by the fact that Global Volunteers sends volunteers throughout the year to return to the same communities in order to establish local relationships and make true progress within the community. Through the sharing of my own knowledge and customs with locals, I was given the opportunity to learn first-hand about the culture and customs of the beautiful Cook Islands.
What is your advice to other people who may be considering a volunteer opportunity?
My advice to others who may be considering a volunteer experience is to take advantage of any opportunity that comes their way. Although I had never been to the Cook Islands and knew little about the culture before I arrived, my volunteer experience paved the way for me to learn language, uncover the culture, and discover one of the most amazing places on earth. Have no reservations, take advantage of all opportunities, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
What advice do you have to other people who are considering travel with Global Volunteers?
Global Volunteers was an amazing program that I would recommend to anyone considering a volunteer opportunity abroad. With each program having a country coordinator, you are welcomed into their lives and are guided through your volunteer journey. Having a coordinator to ask questions to, seek advice, and have open conversations about the volunteer experience was an incredibly useful aspect of my experience with Global Volunteers. It gave me the advantage of having local people teach me about the Cook Islands way of life, culture, language, and history. To anyone considering Global Volunteers, I would highly recommend the Cook Islands as your service project destination, but I also can say without a doubt that Global Volunteers ensures the same guidance and opportunities in any of the host countries.
“Global Volunteers was an amazing program that I would recommend to anyone considering a volunteer opportunity abroad.”