RESEARCH IS KEY If you don’t research your host company well, you can’t complain if they let you down. Many (such as Lattitude, with whom I travelled, Lattitude.org.za) provide some support, from hosts and coordinators both on this side of the world and in the destination country. Nonetheless, agency or no, when you do make contact with your coordinator or host, find out details – from exactly what sort of meals will be provided to the type of accommodation, transport, and support services they make available. Discovering that you need to travel the equivalent of Cape Town to Johannesburg on the roof of a Jeep (yes, this happened), is something which is best established at the outset.
In many respects, I skimped on the research: I had a vague notion that the town in which I was to work was on a mountainside (wrong – it was on top of a mountain) and was delighted to discover, via Wikipedia, that the seasonal temperatures were ‘moderate’ (it was freezing; below 5°C for three months). But in the end I was placed at a beautiful monastery on a picturesque Himalayan mountain, with a school full of eager, talented and curious children.
However, had I known prior to arriving that I would spend five months eating very dierent food to what I was used to, wearing at least four layers on most days, and teaching everything from basketball and grammar to how to draw a pig to 20 very, very small children, I’d have had a smoother time adjusting than I did.