This post is close to my heart, because it's about my sweet, brave, beautiful sister. This year, she made the choice to quit her job as a financial consultant at one of the "Big Four", and make the move to Arusha, Tanzania. She had stability, a lovely apartment, and expendable income to travel as she pleased- what many people might view as "making it". After leaving it all behind, she has since found joy and fulfillment like never before. Read my interview with her below to find out why and how!
1. What made you decide to leave your job in finance, and explore something new?
It was a hard decision for someone like me who loves plans and security. Taking the blind leap of faith in myself was terrifying. What ultimately pushed me to make my decision was the fear that I would wake up in 10 years at the same job still dreading going to work that morning. Some people say it's better to work at a job you may not love in order to make enough money to retire early and travel then, but I decided I wanted to be happy in my daily life now instead of waiting.
2. How did you discover the program you are working with?
I spent more hours than I could count sitting at my computer looking through volunteer program sites, reviews, blogs, and anything vaguely related to the subject of volunteering abroad. In the end I narrowed it down based on the company's transparency of where your money is going, the company's involvement when you are onsite in your chosen country, sustainability the volunteer program provides in the local community, and of course affordability for me. IVHQ (International Volunteer Headquarters) was the best answer for me and from my experience so far I highly recommend them. They send volunteers to over 30 countries around the world and partner with local volunteer programs that have a positive and sustainable impact on their communities. They visit each site at least once a year to continue to ensure they are maintaining the quality IVHQ requires.
3. What has been the most unexpected challenge so far?
This is a complicated question because many things in daily life in Arusha would be considered huge challenges by most people at home. At a very first world level my biggest unforeseen challenge is that I don't have the privacy and comfort of my car on the way to work. Instead I have a journey that takes over an hour consisting of a little hike up the rocky road we live off of to the dala dala stop (the main form of public transportation that are just vans that cram as many people as possible in, so say goodbye to your personal space at the door), take 1 dala to town, then switch dalas through a crowd of screaming condas (the dala conductors are in charge of filling the vans and collecting money) trying to pull you (and I mean literally pull you) into their van, finally take the next dala to the stop closest to my school, and then a 20 minute walk to the school itself. It doesn't matter if it's 100 degrees or raining, you have to do it. My best way of coping is to not see this, or any of the other daily struggles, as a challenge and try to acclimate to it as daily life. I try to keep in mind that even when our power has been out for 20 hours and we have no water, hot or cold, we still have it better than most around us.
4. What has been your favorite moment since you've arrived in Arusha?
Impossible to choose. This has been the craziest and most unique travel experience I have ever been on full of heart melting children, unreal animal interactions, and new friendships with the most amazing people from all over the world. I would have to say every day with the kids is the top of my the list. Even when I am exhausted or at my wits end from trying to teach the same thing 8 different ways, they are full of endless smiles and joy, always eager to learn and play. They are so happy with so little and are so grateful for their lives that we call "underprivileged." If I had to choose a moment outside of volunteering, it was in Zanzibar where I was kissed on the face by a real live cheetah. It was a moment of sheer joy and adrenaline and I don't think I have ever been so happy.
5. Is there anything you miss about your life pre-Africa?
Food. The food here is really really delicious and I am very happy most of the time but sometimes I have the most random cravings of foods from home. No matter how hard you try to find an equivalent it is never the same. And at the risk of my whole family hating me, I miss my puppy most of all!
6. A lot of people would call you brave for what you're doing! Do you think this type of adventure is possible for most people?
YES. Believe me much smaller jumps than this out of my comfort zone have scared the bejesus out of me. But honestly I would recommend volunteering abroad to anyone and everyone. I have seen people of all ages and different backgrounds come through the program. My timeline or location might not be ideal for everyone, but being able to take the time to really immerse yourself in a culture and commit your time and energy to the community is an amazing life experience. Don't get me wrong daily life isn't glamorous and it's not all fun and smiles, but I wouldn't change a moment of it.
Follow Kristen's travels on her Instagram at @kaymay620