When travelling the world as a tourist, you see some amazing things. There’s the wildlife and landscape, local foods and drinks, modes of transport, traditions, clothing… the list goes on and on. It’s an incredibly mind-blowing thing, to step into the unknown with a passport and a money belt, filled with confusing foreign currencies, and experience something completely new.

This is something I’d done before and loved. For me there are few things as exciting as returning home filled with interesting stories and memories of the people I’d met and things I’d seen. However, one week after arriving in Malawi, I have come to discover the unique nature of an ICS placement. Compared to tourism, volunteering is a whole other kettle of fish (which FYI, you can expect a lot of on a trip to the marketplace)! There are two distinguishing factors that stand out for me:

1. The pursuit of service

2. Being part of the community

There’s something special about coming to a country with the intention to serve it. You are no longer an observer, but an agent of change. You become part of the community, and increasingly aware of the role you are playing in assisting in its development. 

Living with a host family is another significant aspect for me. Sitting around a dinner table with my Malawian family, talking about my day and clumsily eating nsima with my fingers is something I never thought would be possible. But being surrounded by such warmth and generosity, it’s impossible to not feel at home. As the days go by, showering with a bucket starts feeling more natural, and you realise eating with your hands is actually pretty fun. I for one am so grateful to be living with a family who help me heat my shower water over the fire, or cook me meals filled with love (not to mention generous portions of beans and maize).

These are but two of the many reasons why being a volunteer is a wonderful way to see the world.

I’m not a tourist. I’m a part of a community.

And tonight, I’m not staying in a hostel. I’m going home.

Written by ICS volunteer Ingrid Johnson