#5: Living & Volunteering in Nepal – why ICS? | Application Process

10th January 2020.

So far, the longest flight I’ve ever been on was probably to Cyprus and the longest time I’ve been away from home on my own was for 7 days.

Now it’s 21 days until I catch a ~13-hour flight from London to Kathmandu, and my return flight home won’t be until 3 months later.


Panoramiv view of Muri, nepali traditional village, in Annapurna region, Himalaya. Dhaulagiri circuit trek, Nepal.

Last September I was researching different things I could do on my gap year and all I knew for certain was how badly I wanted to travel and volunteer. At some point I came across ICS – the International Citizen Service – and I thought 3 months sounded like a long time and that living with a host family for all that time seemed daunting, but I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity. That night I applied online, and 3 days later I received an email asking me to call them so that we could move my application forward. I found out I had been passed onto Raleigh (as I didn’t have a preference as to which of the ICS organisations I went with) and just 3 days after that, I got an email inviting me to one of three assessment days at the Raleigh International office in London three weeks later. (3 really must be the magic number…)

The assessment day was great – not very formal, plenty of time to chat to the other applicants and a pretty friendly atmosphere. It’s important to know that you’re not in ‘competition’ with the others, because even if everyone got accepted, there would be enough spaces on the programme. We were split into two groups of about 12. The half that I was in did our interviews in the morning (which I was happy to get done and dusted) and then assessed group activities after lunch. We were there for just under 7 hours altogether, which sounds long but it was absolutely fine. The interview was pretty long in itself, but I felt like it flew by so fast! The assessed activities that we did in groups were more fun than you’d think and the thought of doing a presentation in front of everyone seems much worse in your head than in practice.

My assessment day was on a Tuesday, and on the Thursday of that week I received the email to say I had been successful! Amazing feeling. This was also when they let me know that I was on the Nepal placement – and since they were mainly recruiting for Tanzania, Nepal was an unexpected surprise.

The next step was the 3-day pre-departure training event (PDT) which was based in Conisbrough near Doncaster. It was a stressful journey for everyone to get there because it was the peak of the floods – but we made it. The activities weren’t bad at all – some pretty thought-provoking – and even the presentations were quite relaxed. I didn’t find them the easiest few days, but the times when I felt really comfortable and at ease made up for any low moments I had there. I met people that I got along with really well and the whole weekend was scattered with ‘energiser’ games and group discussions which, even in the moments where none of us felt we had the energy, always helped us get going again. A few standout moments were exploring the whole activity centre one evening, having a laugh doing a yoga session and having to open up to each other about pretty deep things (which proved to me how freeing it feels to be even just a little bit vulnerable)!


That was in November last year. Now we’re here in January, frantically fundraising and trying to tick things off the kit list and fitting in the last couple of vaccinations. And, of course, getting more and more excited by the day! Living with a host family in rural Nepal for 3 months and working with the community on a water sanitation & hygiene project is one of those things you can only imagine – because no matter the amount of preparation, I won’t truly have a clue what it’s like until I’m there in the thick of it. I can’t wait to be in discovery mode now!


Image result for raleigh ics


#4: To Travel, Set Goals.

photo of woman walking on seashore
Photo by Darya Chervatyuk on Pexels.com

This week marked the end of my exams! I’ll be honest, it’s been a long time coming. And yet, the last few days have been OK – they haven’t been euphoric. No, they haven’t been constant celebration and no, I haven’t actually felt much more free than I felt with my head in a textbook.

Suddenly exams come to a halt and so does revision and, if you’re not careful, goals.

It’s made me realise the importance of continuously having goals. That’s not to say we should go overkill and each week bury ourselves under the weight of a strict deadline – I’ve had my fair share of those during exam season and need some down time – but having something to work towards every day is invaluable. Have nothing to aim for and it’s natural that you’re probably going to default into couch potato mode if you’re anything like me.

You have to find a middle-ground.

It’s a little surreal to me that I’m now on my gap year. I suppose I had specific hopes for the person I would have become by now and for how I would feel upon starting my gap year, but I don’t precisely fit that mould of expectations as of yet.

I no longer have the same 5- or 10-year life plan I dreamt up when I was 16 – in fact, I no longer really have one at all. I have been setting myself some goals, such as figuring out travel plans, completing an online short-course in biochemistry and getting my Italian up to scratch, but the issue is that I need a bigger purpose behind such goals. I feel the need for a destination; an ultimate dream towards which these smaller goals will pose promisingly as stepping stones.

Take the plunge or build your confidence.

There are two ways to achieve goals that your comfort zone hasn’t yet expanded to. Imagine a scenario where there are two different people wanting to try solo travel, but whose fear has startled them and almost stopped them in their tracks. One person decides they need to stop overthinking and over-planning and books their flight to SE Asia before they change their mind. The other decides to do it in small steps: firstly travelling with someone else and tagging a couple days of solo travel onto the end of it, and then solo travelling to a couples of cities not too far from them for long weekends, before they take that step to travel solo to SE Asia.

They both got to where they wanted in the end and they both achieved their goal.

The difference is that the first person took one giant leap of faith, far out of their comfort zone. Perhaps this caused them a lot of anxiousness at first until they naturally adapted to the solo travel lifestyle, but because they had managed to muster up sufficient courage, they achieved their goal fast and with minimal hesitation.

The second person took a number of more manageable steps first, stretching & growing their comfort zone with each one, so that once the time came to jet off on the big solo trip, though still nerve-wracking, it was not miles out of their comfort zone like it would have been initially, so appeared less daunting.

So it won’t really matter if we step or if we leap; the key is that we don’t allow ourselves to get paralysed by the fear. Instead, we acknowledge the fear and move forward despite it.


#3: Most Unique Bucket List Destinations

Over the last few weeks, I found myself compiling yet another list on the Notes app of my phone; welcome to my ‘bucket list destinations’.

In fact, my goal is to squeeze all 25 places into the next 10 years of my life. (You can tell I’m an optimist.) So here’s a selection of 5 of the destinations – of which I’d be ecstatic to even just cross one or two off my list – that I hope to visit before turning 30.


Laos, South-East Asia

1. Laos: Less crowded than its neighbours (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam…), it boasts just as much natural beauty. It has numerous temples and the Vieng Xai caves to see, as well as zip-lining, night markets and the tumbling turquoise Tat Kuang Si waterfall. Added bonus: everyone comes back professing how the Laotians are the friendliest people on the planet.


Kiev, Ukraine

2. Ukraine: Differently to the rest of my heritage, although I know I am Ukrainian, I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether I feel such. Despite this – or maybe in spite of it – I have always felt a pull to that country, like a young puppy on a lead, so nothing would intrigue me more than to finally set off in the direction of Kiev, Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk. The latter was in fact awarded the 2018 PACE prize for the city most actively promoting the European ideal.


Melbourne, Australia

3. Australian east coast: Sydney is the second-furthest major city in the world from where I live in the UK. But why is it that I’d want to visit this coast even if it was only a 10-minute drive away? Cue the largest coral system in the world, mountains that see more snow annually than the Swiss Alps, top-notch Greek cuisine (as Melbourne’s home to the largest Greek population outside Greece itself) and dolphin-, whale- and penguin-watching in their natural habitats.


Belém, Portugal

4. Iberian peninsula: I was lucky enough to stay with a host family in Madrid when I was just 13, but Spain is so diverse that people can’t stop going back for more. Valencia, Barcelona and Girona have definitely caught my eye for future adventures. As for the other half of the Iberian peninsula, I plan to InterRail my way though Portugal in the near future and one day go to the beautiful Azores. Despite not even having visited yet, I think Lisbon will be one of the two cities (the second being lovely Copenhagen) where I would love to live for an extended period. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.


Cappadocia, Turkey

5. Turkey: Istanbul is a striking city, home to the cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum Hagia Sophia and to the internationally significant Bosphorus strait where Europe meets Asia. Izmir is the 3rd-largest city in the country; a slow-paced one with ancient ruins that will instantly take you back in time. There is one last place I’d love to go to in Turkey: if you’ve ever seen a picture of a breathtaking landscape dotted generously with hot air balloons, chances are it was Cappadocia.


Which places are on your bucket list? Will any of the above be making their way onto yours?



NB: All photos in this post are from free, non-copyrighted sources.

#2: Make The Most of your City Break: Top 7 Tips

Paris, France

I know the feeling: you arrive to a new city, take one walk around the centre to ‘get your bearings’ and then reach for the trusty guidebook once you find yourself back where you started.

If you have ever come home from a holiday feeling almost as unfamiliar with the city as you were at the start, you probably wonder how other people ‘do it’. How can you truly get to know a city in the few days you are there? How can you leave feeling like you fully experienced it? Here are my 7 ways to truly make the most of your short city break.

The traveler sees what he sees.  The tourist sees what he has come to see.

G.K. Chesterton
  1. Research the locals’ favourite spots! If you can trust anybody’s recommendations, it’s those of the locals. Plus, these places are usually void of tourists, which might sound like paradise to those of you who want to achieve a bit of peace and quiet while you’re away. But also…
  2. Do the sightseeing! There’s a reason the Unesco-listed Taj Mahal lures in an average of 8 million tourists a year, and the Eiffel Tower over 300 million in total since its opening. They are impressive and you’d be mad to miss out! (Set yourself an earlier alarm and you’ll avoid the mass crowds.)
  3. Plan your break! We’re not talking minute-by-minute spreadsheets here, but I’d highly advise making a note of what you want to see. If not, you risk missing out on things that require pre-booking (e.g. dome of the Reichstag, Berlin) or out-of-the-centre day trips that you didn’t realise require extra travel time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
  4. Figure out distances! Maybe an obvious one here, but going to Montmartre one afternoon, only to head to the very nearby Moulin Rouge 2 days later is a waste of your time (and your Metro ticket!). If you really want to make the most of a city break and you don’t have a lot of time there, explore sights that are near each other on the same day, and see another part of the city the next.
  5. Learn one word! People appreciate you speaking their language. It’s up to you how far you go with this one, but even finding out how to say one word in the language will make your experience better (“Hello” and “Thank you” are good ones that you’ll be able to use a lot). Plus, you’ll feel pretty good about yourself!
  6. Understand the city! Some of you might be happy to hear that you can learn in ways other than language to enrich your short city break. Entirely optional, but if you read about the city’s culture on the flight or have a walking tour for an hour to appreciate the city’s history, you’ll feel like you’re really getting to understand the city on a different level to most tourists.
  7. Get a taste of tradition! If you want to go a little deeper under the touristic surface of a city, don’t hesitate to involve yourself in a part of its tradition. There’s a myriad of ways to do this, depending on the country, but the most convenient (and tasty) way to do this is to find a traditional restaurant or a street food market and try some dishes you can barely even pronounce. If there’s a market stall a long line of locals are queuing up at, that’s the best sign!

But more so than those listed above, there’s one method that’s foolproof: do whatever you enjoy.


#1: The Journey Begins Here…

Currently with no idea what the upcoming couple of years of my life have in store for me, welcome to my gap year!

We have nothing to lose and a world to see. – Unknown

For the last couple of years, my mind’s been in wanderlust mode. It’s been generating countless ideas for me – some pretty modest, some daunting and some just ridiculous. Having thought up, bottled up and saved for later each one of those dreams, this next year (or more) of my life is dedicated to finally making them happen.

My readers are going to get the chance to live these adventures alongside me as I provide you with my experiences, clue you up on the do’s and don’ts in different countries and let you in on what the guidebooks don’t tell you – all while keeping your bank account happy.

There are a couple of things set on the agenda so far: another trip to Paris (expect tips on how to explore it like a local), an Italian summer getaway and then maybe further afield…

I cannot wait to get started and help you make the absolute most out of your ventures too.