by Sally Haw
A lot of people find the idea of living and working in a developing country a bit daunting. Working abroad anywhere takes us out of our comfort zone to a certain degree – but working somewhere where the quality of life is profoundly different to that which we are used to is undeniably a scary prospect. However, getting out of your comfort zone is no bad thing, and working in a developing country, while often an eye opening experience, is not the guilt-inducing gauntlet of horrors which many fear it will be. In fact, it is frequently joyful, inspiring, and fulfilling.
Here’s a quick guide to what you can expect:
The most perpetual shock to the system when working in a developing country is the lessened infrastructure. The rest you can acclimatise to pretty quickly – but infrastructure problems present an interesting and constant challenge. Public transport, communications, even road networks are the kind of things we take for granted back in Oz, which makes it all the more interesting when you go somewhere deficient in them. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that, where infrastructures do not exist (or are deficient), the kinds of things that go with those infrastructures – i.e. legislation and so forth. Probably best to get any insurance details fixed down in Australia before you head out! Working out how to get from one place to another, how to contact other people, and all the kinds of things that are reasonably easy due to Australia’s infrastructure take time to work out in a developing country. The upside of this, however, is that you get to experience how life changes when things like travel and comms are an uncertain consideration. The pace of life is slower when it’s not assumed that people can make appointments by a certain time. Humans take time to figure things out, and your mental and physical health will experience a distinct uptick from walking more and facebooking less! It’s incredible the amount of pressure which is lifted when infrastructures aren’t what they should be…
One of the things many people assume about working in a developing country is that they’ll see a lot of suffering, and feel guilty about their own, comfortable lives back home in comparison. While working in a medical facility does more or less guarantee a certain amount of suffering witnessed wherever you are, and medical issues in a developing country are often of the kind which you would not see in a developed country, ‘guilt’ is usually secondary to gratitude for volunteers working here. Working in a developing country will give you a valuable insight into what people actually need to live happy, fulfilled lives – and how what we want and what we need are frequently quite different. You’ll get a valuable sense of perspective on what you consider ‘essential’ for happiness, and what actually is essential. Not only will this help you to feel grateful for what is available to you back home, it will also give you a privileged insight into humanity, and perhaps help you from falling into some of the many traps with which developed society – despite all its relative wealth and privilege – makes people unhappy.
In a developing area, there is usually a strong set of social and community bonds. For a number of reasons, people tend to help out and rely on one another far more than they do in a developed nation. Yes, desperation can lead to crime – but (due to the aforementioned infrastructure issues) living and working close to one another, communicating face-to-face, and having extensive knowledge of one another usually leads to a greater rather than a lesser sense of social cohesion. In an increasingly alienated world, the kind of community spirit and human kindness which can be found easily in developing countries can be an eye opener. It’s worth noting that this human kindness probably does exist everywhere – it’s just that people in developed nations rarely have to rely on others the way that people in developing nations do, and so that kindness remains buried. Humans are social animals. Getting a reminder of the social, helpful, communal side of human nature can be very empowering and uplifting.