Over a decade on from her Expedition, Rebecca from Cornwall is reflecting on her 2012 Nicaragua Expedition, and the impact it had on her life. Having finished University, she decided she wanted to try something different and meet new people – she credits Raleigh with the life and career she has as a result.
Where did you go on your Raleigh Expedition, and what stage of life were you at?
“I went on a Raleigh Expedition to Nicaragua in 2012. I’d just finished at university, and I wanted to meet new people and do something different. I went to London for my interview, and ended up meeting other people who actually ended up being in Nicaragua with me!”
What type of work did you do on Expedition, and what impact did that have?
“We helped build a community centre, and the whole community came to greet us when we got there! We lived in the community, in their houses eating rice and beans and making food with them. The kids were so strong, and they were showing up us volunteers!
They wanted to use this community centre to hold events and bring the whole community together in one place – a real kind of epicentre for joy. They designed it and told us how they wanted us to build it. When we were there, they held celebration parties, and towards the end we all got together and had a little party there.”
“Seeing everyone being brought together, I just remember thinking wow, this is really such a joyful thing that’s been created and that can bring everyone together.”
How was your experience with your fellow volunteers, knowing that there are people from lots of different backgrounds?
“It was fantastic in terms of learning how to work together. Everyone had come from different backgrounds, within the UK but also the Nicaraguan volunteers as well. To begin with, the Nicaraguan volunteers were very fluid, but the UK volunteers were very structured, so there was a bit of friction because neither of us were used to each other’s culture and way of working! But as time went on and we were able to communicate more effectively, we learned how to work together well.
Even within the UK volunteers – we were all from different parts of the country. I come from Cornwall and others came from London, so we had completely different ways of life. It was amazing not having branded clothing, no makeup or jewellery, you’re just there with your personalities and then you work out who you are from that – you just have to learn each other’s identities through living and working together. We’d have daily debriefs and learn about each other and hear about how London life was compared to Cornwall and compared to Nicaragua.”
What about the friendships you made on Expedition, do you still have strong connections after all these years?
“It was a really challenging project because we went through a lot – there were lots of challenges and lots of hard times, so working through all of that really made us bond so much as a group. We still see each other multiple times a year, over 10 years later. I ended up living with one of the UK volunteers in London, and that’s how I started my career. I also see my team leader weekly and we go to a choir session together every week, so they’re all very much part of my life still.”
“The thing is with a Raleigh Expedition, it’s so unique. When you come back from Raleigh, there’s no one else in your life that can relate to that experience because it is so special. Hanging onto those friendships and being able to keep them for so many years is so special. No one else can imagine the experience or what you went through, the good and bad – they’re the only ones that will forever understand.”
How did your Raleigh Expedition change you, and your future?
“I think it helped me understand the resilience that I had. Having to overcome so many challenges gives you the confidence to think ‘I can get through life, and I can achieve things. I lived in a Nicaraguan jungle for 3 months not being able to speak their language’, and so I think it really it helps to increase resilience and confidence. It also shaped my career – I remember seeing whilst I was in Nicaragua that there’s less access to healthcare and I really wanted, particularly for the children, to try and get into healthcare or health and well-being to try and make a difference where I can.
I was able to use loads of examples from my time with Raleigh in my interview, and then I got the job! Because it’s such an intense experience and you’re thrown into this completely different situation, it helps you learn so much about yourself, about others, about the world. And I think it’s so valuable.”
How much influence did Raleigh have on you, and what would you say to others thinking about a Raleigh Expedition?
“It really shone a light on what I value. I found what I’m passionate about which is health and well-being and people and community. You come out of university and haven’t necessarily had proper job experience, so Raleigh added another layer – you can talk about working in a team and being a team leader.
“I would say, if you’re not sure about doing it, just do it anyway. Just go for it because you can’t imagine how impactful it will be.”
“No matter what happens you just rise to the challenge, because you have to, and you’re in the middle of nowhere! It really helps prove to yourself that you can probably cope with more than you think you can. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but then nothing great is easy.”