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Alumni Showcase Interview Session Two: Maddie Coburn

By Jenny Clark 2 years ago

In our exciting alumni showcase series, GVI will be sitting down with alumni volunteers who have been selected for one-on-one interviews that highlight a certain project, location, and volunteer experience, to give an insider’s view on the impact of a volunteer’s experience.

For our second session, I was able to talk with Maddie Coburn, from Freehold, New Jersey. Maddie graduated from the University of Delaware in 2013 with a degree in Elementary Education and worked as a 5th grade teacher in a special education inclusion classroom for three years. This past year, she signed up for GVI Cape Town and completed the internship program from September 2016 – March 2017.

While on project, she participated in the childcare, teaching, healthcare, and sports program, after which she became part of GVI Cape Town staff team, leading parts of both the healthcare and the sports program for the ACJ Primary school.

Read her transcript below to learn more about volunteering with GVI in Cape Town!

1. Why did you choose to participate on a volunteer abroad project?

Ever since I was in high school and started getting involved in community service, I had the idea in my head that I wanted to do volunteer work while traveling abroad. I made a bucket-list when I was 18 years old and made sure to include “volunteer to teach in another country” at the top of my list. Years later, after graduating university, working professionally, and saving up money, and I finally found myself willing and able to say ‘see ya later’ to my hometown and book my trip with GVI Cape Town. 

2. What about the experience was unexpected or challenging?

I didn’t expect to have so many modern amenities or ‘luxuries” so it was certainly a pleasant surprise to have a fully functioning cell phone and a hot shower every day. 

The most challenging part for me during the internship experience was unexpectedly taking on the ‘weight of the project’ so to speak. As a volunteer during my first three months, any problems or issues on project or at base were things that I could assess and react to on my own and in my own terms. Once I became a staff member, it became more of a burden to deal with the problems on base. 

volunteer in cape town

3. What advice would you give to others who are interested in volunteer work abroad? If you could tell your pre-volunteer self any one thing, what would it be?

My best advice to someone who is interested in doing volunteer work abroad would be: push aside any concerns you have about money, time, safety, homesickness or whatever might worry you, because it will be okay and it will all be worth it. Volunteering abroad is a rare meaningful experience that gives people the opportunity to grow in capacities they can’t fathom from where they’re standing at home.

Push aside any concerns you have about money, time, safety, homesickness or whatever might worry you, because it will be okay and it will all be worth it. Volunteering abroad is a rare meaningful experience that gives people the opportunity to grow in capacities they can’t fathom from where they’re standing at home.

I would tell pre-volunteer Maddie “don’t sweat the small stuff.” The petty drama, dislikes, and day-to-day problems will pale in comparison to all of the positive experiences. Enjoy every moment and remember why you’re there.

4.What is one strength you discovered during your experience? What is one weakness?

A strength that I discovered I had was my ability to excite and inspire others, to make them feel as enthusiastic or passionate about things as I am. I was told by many volunteers and friends from home that my positive attitude, loud and cheerful personality, and passion for what i was doing with my volunteer work made them feel comfortable, welcome, and inspired to do more (which was by far the most touching compliment I could ever receive).

My weakness would be my defensive, sarcastic instincts that seem to kick in when I disagree with people. Despite my kindness and understanding towards others, I have a tendency to make comments before I think it through. My comments are never meant to be offensive or rude, but I know that my sarcastic tone is not always appreciated.

community development in cape town

5. How do you think you can integrate this experience into your future life, either career-wise or personally? What about GVI aided you in your journey to make those discoveries?

When I signed up for GVI, I had left behind a teaching career back home. I loved my job teaching special education in New Jersey, but I knew that there was more to life – specifically, there was more to education. In pursuit of my bucket-list, I set out on a mission to see what it would be like to teach in other parts of the world. I wanted to experience different cultures, gain perspective in different communities, and expand my knowledge as an educator. GVI’s program gave me all of these things and I am sincerely grateful. Being able to teach in an environment that was originally outside of my comfort zone helped me to grow as a person and a teacher in so many ways. GVI helped by giving me a wide range of experiences and opportunities to teach in different capacities during my time as an intern. GVI also supported me during both my trials and triumphs, which provided me with the confidence to continue the journey I’m on. I’m currently in Australia to continue my journey of teaching and traveling abroad.

GVI helped by giving me a wide range of experiences and opportunities to teach in different capacities during my time as an intern. GVI also supported me during both my trials and triumphs, which provided me with the confidence to continue the journey I’m on.

Many thanks to Maddie for sharing more about her experiences in Cape Town! For more information about GVI’s projects in South Africa click here.

Feel ready to start making a difference? Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment, and conservation projects worldwide.