Welcome to Volunteering Abroad. In this series I’ll introduce you to some inspiring friends I’ve met on the road — friends who at some stage in their life have undertaken a long-term volunteer placement abroad. When we lived in Sucre, Bolivia, we met Adrien who at the time was volunteering with CUSO International, a Canadian development organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of skilled volunteers. Today Adrien will tell us what it was like to volunteer with CUSO International.

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Adrien in the beautiful countryside surrounding Sucre


What’s your name, how old are you and where are you from?

My name is Adrien Friesen, I am 28, and I am from Toronto, Canada.

Why did you decide to become a CUSO International volunteer?

I applied for a CUSO placement as I was interested in development work, Latin America, I had relevant education, and the job market within Canada was difficult to enter.

1. What did you do before you became a CUSO volunteer?

I was a volunteer with MEDA in Nicaragua; working in M&E (monitoring & evaluation).

2. What criteria did you need to fulfil to become a CUSO volunteer?

Post-Secondary education was preferred (Masters), and so were demonstrated language capacities.

3. Where were you based during your placement and what was your role?

I was based in Sucre, Bolivia, and my role was to work with a local government association in promoting and developing effective tools for equitable and good governance.

4. Did you receive any training from CUSO to prepare you for your placement?

Yes, I (along with other volunteers) underwent a week-long training orientation in Ottawa prior to arriving at our placement.

5. What was the best part of being a CUSO International volunteer?

The best part of being a CUSO volunteer was that there were usually other volunteers nearby that you could maintain contact and get together with. Although this was not the case for some volunteers in remote areas, those that did have this option could benefit from some downtime with a familiar face from training on weekends, or after work hours.

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Adrien with some fellow CUSO International volunteers

6. What was the hardest part of being a CUSO volunteer?

The hardest part of being a CUSO International volunteer (at least for my particular situation) was having to bridge communication and desires from both sides: CUSO Canada, and my local organization in Sucre. There was little communication between the two, and I felt that I was often stuck in the middle trying to appease both of them.

7. Did you ever feel like quitting and going back to Canada?

I realized that there were some difficult times I encountered, both mentally and emotionally, but I also knew that it was only a six-month contract, and that in the grand scheme of things it was not that long. I had also lived abroad before and was not uncomfortable with the culture and living arrangements.

8. When you finished your placement, did you feel you made a difference to the community you were working in?

In reality, I am afraid that I did not make a huge difference in the community/area I was working in. A combination of the short time span, lack of trust from the local partner, and lack of communication from the partner to me, as well as with CUSO International directly, hindered much advancement for the project I was supposed to be working on.

9. What should people consider before signing up with CUSO?

Consider that there are many examples of easier, well-organized, and joyous internships; while there are also many hardships, difficulties, and severe lack of communication instances. Each and every experience is different and these differences are vast. Sometimes the placement will be what you make of it and you will need to simply adapt to the circumstances.

adrien CUSO International

10. What skills are useful to have as a CUSO volunteer?

A CUSO volunteer needs to be versatile, flexible, and easy-going. If some days it becomes really busy, while others there seems like there is little to do, and if that is the case the volunteer needs to be OK with that.

11. Is there anything you wish you had known beforehand?

I wish I had known that there would be such little knowledge on the receiving end of the project; the host organization had next to no knowledge of my purpose or who I was when I arrived.

12. And finally, would you recommend volunteering with CUSO?

As everyone’s experience is different, I would definitely recommend CUSO International for a placement. Even if one is not so lucky as to get the well-organized ones, the experience you make of it and the challenges you face are life changing and always enriching to your life in the long run.

Thanks so much Adrien for sharing your experience. To find out more about Adrien’s experience in Bolivia you can visit his blog The Rabid Llama, but for now give this guy some love in the comments section and let me know if you would consider a long-term volunteering placement like this?

About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

18 Thoughts on “Volunteering Abroad: What’s it like to volunteer with CUSO International?

  1. Very interesting and well balanced - thanks To Adrien for being so honest. The fact that you are positive about the experience despite challenges says a lot about the qualities needed in volunteering!

    • Tammyonthemove on March 19, 2022 at 1:58 pm said:

      I couldn’t have put it better Alison. A lot of people think volunteering is a bit of fun to feel better about yourself. Sadly most people don’t realize that volunteering is not about oneself, but about the community you are supporting.

  2. Is CUSO only available for Canadian citizens?
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    • Tammyonthemove on March 21, 2022 at 12:47 pm said:

      Yes it is. Where are you from, because the equivalent for other countries is Peace Corps (US), AVI (Oz) and VSO (UK). They are all government funded programs.

  3. International volunteers are definitely an inspiration. Anyone who gives up there time to help people of less developed countries by leaving there more luxurious life are just amazing people. I commend you for shining the light on them.

    • Tammyonthemove on April 1, 2022 at 3:17 am said:

      Thanks Rechito. International volunteering gets a lot of stick, but certain programs are really worthwhile.

  4. This is an awesome post. Glad to know more about the program! And I love the honesty that comes with it.
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    • Tammyonthemove on April 1, 2022 at 3:18 am said:

      Volunteering is not always sunshine and siestas, but a lot of people think that, so I am also glad about Adrien’s honesty.

  5. Very cool. Sounds like he had a lot of fun and got in with a great company. Maybe one day I will try something similar.

    • Tammyonthemove on April 1, 2022 at 3:19 am said:

      You should Holly. Volunteering can be one of the most frustrating things you can do, but also one of the most rewarding.

  6. Bolivia sounds so exotic and scary from where I sit. Ofcourse, where I sit sounds scary to others (India) so kudos on the great job!
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    • Tammyonthemove on April 1, 2022 at 3:21 am said:

      Bolivia is a wonderful country, but it gets a lot of bad press, just like India I guess. The country is always what you make of it. If you interact with locals, you will find that any country, no matter how scary it may seem, has got its good sides too.

  7. Bolivia seems so inviting, Tammy! Excellent post!

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