Two-thirds of a year have already passed since I began traveling around the world. I have been volunteering in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand for over a month now and it’s been awesome! It’s a much different pace than my first 3 months here in which I drove and camped all over the country.

Volunteering has allowed me the opportunity to really connect with the local community, learn about the people’s social concerns, and adapt to the general way of life here. I am enjoying giving back to the local community for a while before I decide to venture off again.  

What I’ve been up to this last month

Although I’ve slowed down quite a bit in my travel activities this last month, I’ve still managed to see and do many things:

Items update

I haven’t given an update on my gear since February! Soon I will post about my updated packing list. You’ll get to see how the things in my bag have changed since I left on September 1, 2014.

For now, I've updated the chart I've kept on lost/damaged/stolen items. Here it is, with two additions:

Yeah, yeah, so all of my technology has broken on this trip. Go figure! My phone had been malfunctioning since Thailand (!). It was becoming unmanageable so I took advantage of having a consistent mailing address and started the process of getting a replacement. With my phone under its 1-year warranty for just a few more weeks, I sent it home and had Verizon send me a new one. My wonderful parents acted as mediators and posted the new one to me here in New Zealand. It cost under $100 in postage to get the broken phone sent out and the new phone sent in its place. Totally worth it.

My Surface, on the other hand, is broken but still usable. I was writing up a blog post sitting on a park bench when it fell off my lap and crashed down onto the sidewalk below. You know the feeling when you go to pick up your device off the ground and turn it over hardly wanting to look? My heart sank when I saw it. Only the corner is cracked and the touch screen doesn’t respond to my finger as well anymore. The stylus pen still works, so it’s manageable until I go home and have the device replaced. Luckily, I have it covered under accident insurance through 2016.

Moral of this story: Warranties and insurance are so necessary!

Volunteering as a foreigner

Since late March, I have been volunteering at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) where I do client interviews, marketing outreach, graphic design, and other work for them.

CAB is a non-profit organization that started in England on the eve of WWII to provide succinct information to citizens about war-time regulations and the whereabouts of their family members fighting in the war. Later, the bureau became a place where people could get help adjusting to post-wartime life.

The bureau came to New Zealand in 1970 by which time it had become a place for immigrants and citizens to get help with a range of personal and social issues. When I tell people I am volunteering at CAB, they usually say something to the effect of, “Oh isn’t that funny. You’re a foreigner giving locals advice.”

I suppose working there as a foreigner does seem funny since part of my role is to identify and deliver local and state knowledge to clients. Inquiries range from “Where can I find a good phone repair shop in town?” to “I have a restraining order against me and I need to know my rights around sending legal documents to the person who placed the order.” What the hell do I know about these things as a newcomer to New Zealand?

At CAB, volunteers’ personal knowledge can certainly be helpful. But what I learned through my training is personal knowledge is irrelevant in the end. All volunteers are required to verify relevant information and then deliver the facts. Facts are provided to the client and then collated into a list of suggestions or routes through which the clients may decide to resolve their issues.

The primary skill I need to know how to do is research the facts. As it happens, I am a trained social psychology researcher. I can look up information practically in my sleep. Other aspects of the position, like interviewing skills, listening skills, building client rapport, writing up reports, maintaining confidentiality, etc., are all skills I gained from many years of undergraduate and graduate education.

 
 

Sometimes clients’ issues are very exclusive to New Zealand knowledge, but sometimes they are not. For example, just a few days ago a young entrepreneur came to the bureau trying to figure out how to make his e-books sold online tax exempt in the United States. My kiwi colleague automatically called me over to help out with that one.

So, yes. I am giving locals advice. The role sounds a bit funny for a foreigner, but I happen to be pretty good at it!

I also very much enjoy it. I get to learn a lot about the social and political structures here and how some of these systems are failing to support people. It's already been a great way to quickly learn about the social justice issues plaguing New Zealand. I otherwise would not have known about them as a common traveler.

It’s incredibly satisfying to be helping people make informed decisions to better their lives or reach a just outcome for their situation. Different from being a researcher stuck behind a computer screen and publishing in academic journals, I get to see the real and immediate impact of my efforts. I want to be a responsible traveler and give back whenever and wherever I can. I am glad to have the chance to do so at this point in my journey.

I’m looking forward to continuing in this role during my remaining time here. Stay tuned!