Before Departing

  1. Research properly before you go: is there anything you must or must not do when with people, going into their religious buildings etc. find out their religion, dress code, weather etc.
  2. Learn the language and dialect as no doubt national language could be different to what used to but also the villages may have a dialect too maybe amongst the women. Try to learn some words before you go and make a commitment to continue to learn it when there.


Once Arrived

  1. Be respectful towards what you witness don’t rush in with a comment or a reaction. Be ready to observe people and your surroundings 
  2. Spend sufficient time getting to know the place, people and customs once there. If a year then take 3 months before you complain, make any suggestions or criticise. Try to understand why the people do things in certain ways.
  3. Listen to locals more than you talk. Accept they know more than you.
  4. Be consistent with people and show that they are able to trust you and your reactions to things
  5. Don’t hang around with expats. Get to know locals and if you do talk with expats don’t just accept their views, find out for yourself as you are a different person to them and may not have the same experience. Don’t be known as someone who favours the expats. 
  6. Establish your boundaries; what will and won’t you accept in terms of behaviour and social aspects and be consistent with these views so if against child marriage, don’t go to a wedding. 
  7. Don’t rush into decision making as may regret it later, for example relationships, who you socialise with as this can be hard to get out of and may impact future life/ work
  8. Be ready to show through behaviour, reactions that there are different ways to do things, don’t just rush in and tell them they are doing something wrong
  9. Spend time with people. Don’t rush around. Show you care by getting to know them and their families and be ready to acknowledge them and events in their lives
  10. Attend festivals, events show support or simply join in
  11. Buy locally as much as you can to support local economy
  12. Smile and show you enjoy their country/ lifestyle 
  13. Don’t just throw money at a problem, locals need to be part of the solution and find a way forward which is sustainable and the solution as to be something which is wanted not just that you want to solve for others. Your viewpoint of a situation can be completely different from the locals who may not even see the situation as one which needs a solution.
  14. Be modest in your belongings, expenses and dress. Don’t highlight the difference (financial or otherwise) between you and locals.


By Alison Laycock

Alison volunteered in Africa with VSO for 2 years. She participated on projects in both Cameroon and Nepal within Education and the communities. 

If you would like a similar experience to Alison these pages will help find you an experience: