Right now Sarah Bousfield is preparing to come back to the UK after three months away volunteering in Peru. I thought Sarah was a really interesting person to feature in this series as she has not only got stuck into life in South America but she previously lived and worked in Australia for five years and has also spent time in the Netherlands. I wanted to find out more about her volunteer work, life in Australia and what drew her back to sunny Preston.Advertisement
Sarah Bousfield, 37, is due to fly home from Peru in a few days time, for the past three months she has been living and working in Huanchaco, volunteering with the Otra Cosa Network(OCN), a Non-Government Organisation.
“They support many community building & life improvement projects by providing skilled volunteers to work with the local community run partner projects. I am volunteering in the office as a ‘Network Office Volunteer’ which means that I am supporting OCN with its administrative functions,”she says. “I have also had many opportunities to get out of the office to help with projects such as helping paint a day nursery, arts & crafts with the local children and assisting with a community skate boarding event that OCN organised.”
I wondered why she wanted to get involved with the project.
“I wanted to feel like I had done something ‘meaningful and useful’, I have always worked in corporate business environments so as well as ‘giving something back’ I also wanted to have a break and see if the NGO industry was something that I might want to investigate working in further,” she says.
“I was relieved to find them as they offer ‘affordable’ opportunities whilst some volunteering options abroad are ridiculously expensive. They also have a very wide range of projects for people to get involved with which I found very appealing.”
Sarah is looking forward to coming back to the Preston, as she misses her family and partner Murray, “Peru whilst amazing and inspiring is a tough country to live in day to day so it has at times been very challenging.”
Eight years ago Sarah relocated her life to Australia, I asked her why?
“I was offered a very interesting role with a company I used to work for in the UK and I thought ‘why not’,” she says. “I figured that I had nothing to lose and could always come back. I was 28 at the time with no dependents so I only had to make the decision for myself.”
Last week I spoke to two other Prestonians, who have settled in Australia and enthused about the weather, leisure facilities and work opportunities the country has to offer. Sarah agrees there are many advantages to living and working in Australia, “You can be outdoors 90% of the time, there is lots of light and a great lifestyle. There is also good career progression as Australian work culture is far more likely to ‘give you a go’.”
“Health care is great as it is part state funded and part private so you do pay something but for a very good service. I think this is partly because Australian immigration is very strict so they have a lot of space and their infrastructure can support the number of people living in the country. Also I gained a great sense of self and a strong feeling of independence from being so far away from everything and everyone that I knew.”
“It was an amazing experience that I feel incredibly lucky to have had, I wouldn’t change it.”
All of the people from Preston I have interviewed so far in this series of articles have maintained that the biggest challenge is not seeing family and friends. What was the biggest challenge for Sarah whilst living in Australia?
“It is a long way away and I don’t just mean physical distance but the time difference can be challenging too. It also makes it very expensive for people to visit you and for you to visit them. For five years all of my leave from work was spent on holiday with family in Australia or the UK. The homesickness can be really tough too and the heartbreaking devastating goodbyes at the airport never seemed to get any easier, you really have to harden yourself to this as much as you can, it is one of the main reasons that I eventually came home.”
So what was it like settling back into Preston?
“It was tough settling back into the UK,” she says. “I chose Preston because my parents still live there. The lifestyles are very different as is the working culture and I had to re-adjust to both. Also after five years away my life and close friends were in Sydney and my close friends in the UK were all over the country so all of that had to be rebuilt. However, the initial excitement of being home certainly powered me through at least the first 6-9 months, but I did work in Holland for 3 of those!”
“I am glad now that I chose to come back to Preston, as well as meeting Murray again, there was something very comforting about coming back to the place I grew up in after being away for so long and Avenham Park is still my favourite park in the world, I love spending time there!”
So has she any advice for someone seeking to relocate to Australia or volunteer abroad?
“If you are motivated for the right reasons, i.e. you are not just running away from something, and you have good support networks and return strategies in place then do it! But be realistic, it takes time to settle into somewhere new and there will be big challenges to overcome potentially without your usual support network. To really succeed you must already be a resourceful and independent minded person.”
“Make sure that your finances are in check before you leave – it is hard to sort things out from abroad. Also, have strategies for keeping things like your ‘no claims bonus’ and ‘credit rating’ ticking over, I didn’t and paid the price when I came back.”
“If you have lots of people to keep in touch with start a blog for at least the early days when you will be busy finding your feet – it is a good way of helping family and friends still feel involved in your life.”
“If you are volunteering go prepared to work hard – if you need ‘holiday’ time make sure you factor this time in at the end of your trip.”
“If you are moving/going to a country where English is not the first language make a big effort to learn as much as you can before you go – you will be glad you did as it will make settling in and getting around a lot easier.”
Click here to learn more about the work the Otra Cosa Network(OCN) does and how to volunteer/donate.
Find out more about the work the OCN volunteers have carried out on their blog.