I’ve now been volunteering overseas for over 2 years. During this time there have been many challenges and many amazing experiences, but by far the most difficult aspect is seeing people leave. Doing this kind of work you will almost inevitably make very close new friendships, your traditional support network of friends and family is thousands of miles away after all. For many volunteers, one of the best parts of a long-term placement is the friendships that they build during their time overseas.
For 2 years I have been experiencing the continuous cycle of developing really close friendships, seeing these friends leave to return home, developing similar friendships with new people and then seeing them leave too. This pattern gets more difficult each time, more exhausting and more likely to push me to the point where I think that it’s time to return home and regain some stability. There have already been a couple of occasions where I have thought ‘enough’, but each time I have changed my mind not long afterwards when I start to think about what I would be giving up.
What is the answer to this? Some people try and avoid the volunteer group altogether in favour of only spending time with local people. This is certainly an option, but I think that the shared experiences, culture and outlook on life that you see between volunteers means that these friendships tend to be closer and more important. Other people do all they can to be social with everybody but avoid becoming too close with anyone. Again though, I feel that this is too restrictive. I know that I would not have been able to spend this long in India if all the important people in my life were thousands of miles away.
For a while I have thought that the best option is to limit the eventual damage by avoiding making friendships with people staying for shorter periods, less than 3 months for example. Perhaps this is too limiting though, no doubt you will miss out on meeting great new people and maybe the positives of making these friendships outweigh the negatives of seeing them leave.
Maybe you just have to accept that this is negative side of what is overall an incredible lifestyle. Yes, every couple of months you’ll have to experience another person leaving, but surely this is worth it for the amazing experience of living and working overseas, particularly for such worthwhile causes. If you’re lucky then there will be other people staying for as long as you are. If not, then you just have to push yourself to meet new people and start again. Also, I guess there is always a bright side, think of all the countries that you can now visit without having to splash out on hotel rooms!
But to Jess, Kathryn, Rachel, Bhumi, Alpesh, Mohit, Tessa, Leo, Karima and Juliane, I miss you all and hope to see you again soon!