Travel writer Jessica Makepeace encourages others to volunteer abroad

Written by Jess Makepeace
Images by Jessica Makepeace


In June this year, I completed a 4-week mental health placement with the organisation SLV.Global in Bali, Indonesia. I found this such an invaluable experience and am now an ambassador for SLV so I can spread the good word and hopefully encourage more people to volunteer abroad!

International work experience can bring you so much – of course there are the practical things, like how great it looks on your CV, but spending some time working or volunteering abroad really can bring you so much more than that. First of all, it challenges your ideas by immersing you in a completely new culture. As a student in the UK, we are taught about Western practices and ideas but there is so much more we can learn from different cultures. I am a third-year Psychology student, and as much as I love studying the subject and exploring different areas of psychology, sometimes within Western culture we do tend to stick to learning solely about Western theory and it can be easy to quickly adopt the ‘West is best’ attitude. However, after my time in Bali I feel as though I have a wider understanding of mental health in a global setting. It is so refreshing to step out of the classroom and broaden your ideas about psychology as well as learn more about the benefits of holistic and creative practices. As well as this, volunteering in another country with a culture and language so different to your own teaches you cultural sensitivity and non-verbal communication skills – something I believe many people would benefit from!

As well as seeing how psychology is growing in a developing country, it is so important to experience what it is like to work with individuals who have the conditions that you learn about on your course. Particularly in psychology, but I am sure this also applies to other degrees, we learn so much about mental health and the mechanisms behind why an individual may have a mental health condition, but it can be difficult to get your foot in the door and gain hands-on clinical experience. We are all familiar with the never-ending cycle of ‘experience necessary’ when looking for a job, and even with the best grades it can be challenging to find somewhere who will consider your application without practical experience. Since working with SLV, more doors have already been opened for me, as my experience with vulnerable adults and children within a clinical setting has helped me get a part time job as a support worker for adults with disabilities, something that will help me when applying for a masters and grad jobs. But you do not need to be a psychology student to work with SLV or abroad in general. The other lovely volunteers I met on my placement had a diverse background of knowledge, some from other healthcare professions such as occupational therapy, others from non-healthcare related degrees such as English or humanities. As long as you have a passion for helping others and an open mind, you are already halfway there.

As a student in the UK, we are taught about Western practices and ideas but there is so much more we can learn from different cultures

Volunteering abroad can have an extensive list of benefits, both to yourself and the people you will be working with in the country you visit. However, before you apply for your next adventure you should be aware of organisations that promote voluntourism, a practice that often causes more harm than good. I would recommend educating yourself on this issue and look for an organisation whose ethics are in line with yours.

A Month in Bali

There is no doubt some beautiful pictures of Bali have popped up on your social media recently – it truly is a picture-perfect tropical island. My trip to Bali was my first time visiting Asia, and I certainly was not disappointed. As well as the amazing sunsets, beaches and nasi goreng, the people of Bali were some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. At first, I was quite taken aback by how friendly the Balinese people are as walking down the street there is always someone shouting ‘Hello! How are you?’. As a reserved Brit, my first reaction was to awkwardly smile and carry on walking – they must have wanted to sell me something for sure. However, I quickly realised that this is just the loving culture that they have, and by day three my friend and I were chatting with the locals and learning more about the island and the people.

When I first arrived in Bali, I had arranged to stay in Canggu as it was close to the airport. I would have to say the Canggu was my favourite area of Bali that I stayed in; it is surrounded by rice paddies and has a reputation for surfing – exactly what you picture when you think of the island. It also has a good nightlife, with several restaurants and bars to cater to all. If you do visit Canggu, I would highly recommend spending some time at ‘The Lawn’. It is a beachside restaurant and bar with live music and a lovely atmosphere. Although a little more expensive than other places in Bali, it still costs a fraction of what you would pay in the UK for that quality of food and drinks.

As I was volunteering with SLV, I was working Monday-Friday and had the weekends and evenings off to explore the island. On the first weekend on placement, my friend and I spent some time in Ubud, seeing the famous monkey forest and bustling markets. As an animal lover it was great to see wild monkeys swinging around you in their natural habitat. They were amusing to watch, and the forest itself is like a mini paradise in the middle of a busy city.

If you are looking for an adventure, a sunrise mountain trek is one hundred percent worth the early rise. You will be picked up by a driver in the early hours (usually around 3am) and they will drive you to Mt Batur.

Then, armed with torches and layers of clothes, as it is surprisingly chilly, you trek up the mountain and reach the top just before sunrise. It is such a surreal experience watching the sun come up from such a high point and makes for some incredible Instagram pictures. As well as this, you can choose to then go to a nearby hot springs, where you can relax in front of the beautiful Batur Lake and rest your legs. However, if hiking isn’t your thing, there is so much more to do. From chilling on beaches, super cheap spa days, releasing baby turtles, coffee tasting, yoga retreats, exploring rice fields…the list is endless!

If you do visit Bali, as always try and be as environmentally friendly as you can. The tap water there is not drinkable, but often restaurants and hostels will have large water dispensers, so you can fill up your bottle to try and reduce waste. There are also lots of little things you can do that will make a big difference to keep the beaches clean.