In the months following my time volunteering in Zambia I have had a lot of conversations with people that are thinking about traveling there as well. A lot of their questions are very similar so I thought it would be helpful to write a post with the most frequently asked questions. I also love any excuse to talk about my time in Zambia because it was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
I had so many questions leading up to my trip and hopefully this will help!
The people in Zambia are the nicest people I have ever met in my life. Everyone there is caring and so thankful towards volunteers. Livingstone is a mix between rural and urban. The volunteer house is on a dirt road sort of out of the way of town but town is just a cab ride away and a lot of volunteers will walk into town which only takes like 45 minutes depending on where you’re going. Be prepared for things to be different than what you are used to. Time sort of slows down there and people aren’t in a rush to be somewhere. Try to enjoy not being a slave to a clock although it may take some time to get used to.
Did you feel safe while you were there?
I felt completely safe while I was there, the people in Livingstone are so nice! We took taxis a lot into town and stuff but we always felt safe walking into town (about 45 min walk from the house) as well. The only thing is that you shouldn’t walk at night but that’s the case for pretty much anywhere you travel.
Did you have a choice of staying with a host family or does everyone stay in the house?
I wasn’t given an option to stay with a family, we were all at the house. You can choose to go to the rural placement and I think then you would stay with a host family but I stayed at the volunteer house in Livingstone the entire time. Even though you’re not staying with a family, the staff at Sunbird become like a family to you, they are so sweet and will help you with pretty much anything you need!
What was the food like?
So the house staff will make breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday so if you’re tight on funds you’ll always have food. The people that work at the house are AWESOME and they work super hard but obviously everyone has different tastes so sometimes you might not love the food. However there’s a grocery store in town where you can buy snacks (for cheap) for those times where you might not love dinner. Also, there’s quite a few restaurants in town and usually there will be people willing to go out to dinner. Wednesday nights people usually go get pizza because one of the local places has a special on Wednesdays and on Fridays everyone goes to a bar and hangs there so you’ll definitely get a break from the food at the house. You won’t have a problem finding “westernized” food because you’re near a touristy spot so you’ll be just fine. But really, the food at the house is just fine! Try Cafe Zambezi that was one of our favorite spots!
I was in Zambia for four weeks and I was teaching. I absolutely LOVED it! I fell in love with the kids that I taught.
I would definitely say to go in with no expectations. For example, I had initially signed up for childcare but was placed in a third grade class while people that had signed up for teaching ended up in pre-schools. I was really happy with where I ended up and wouldn’t have changed it but just be prepared for things to be different than what you pictured.
Also, every school is going to have different needs. Even though you might be picturing your volunteer time in a certain way, be prepared for that to change. Some schools will need a full on teacher that will create lessons and teach an entire class, some schools might just need someone to assist the teacher. Be prepared for different scenarios.
Should you bring supplies for your school?
I brought erasers and pencils and things like that to my school and my kids went CRAZY!! They were so excited for them. I would suggest buying supplies for the school. You can even buy them in Zambia so that you save space in your luggage and support the local businesses. It’s also good because you can see what your school needs and get them that instead of bringing something they might already have. There’s a school supplies store in town that has a great selection, I went there on my last week so I could give my school a bunch of supplies on my last day.
Who did you fly with?!
I flew Virgin Atlantic from LA to London and London to Johannesburg (everyone flies into Joburg pretty much because the Livingstone airport is pretty small so they don’t have a lot of major international flights) and then from Joburg to Livingstone I flew British Airways. I just booked my flights on Expedia so my choice of airline was random.
Did you do direct or layovers?
I had a couple of layovers, I pretty much just went for the cheapest thing. It was a long travel day (38 hours to be exact) but it saved me like $400 in the end so it was worth it.
Spending Money/ Touristy Things:
How much spending money did you find yourself using each week?
For spending money it depends on how long you’re staying, what activities you do and how often you eat out. Stuff in Zambia is cheaper than America for the most part. I brought $800 USD with me and also took money out of the ATM from time to time. I was there for four weeks so that covered me. That all went towards activities, so the safari ($270) the lion, cheetah, elephant encounter ($140), the Falls ($25 on the Zambia side and $30 on the Zimbabwe side plus and extra $30 for a visa to enter Zimbabwe) and $80 for my Zambia visa. Whatever was leftover after all of that was my spending money for going out to eat, taxis and souvenirs.
Did you go on any excursions on the weekends?
At your orientation in Zambia they’ll give you a list of all of the activities available to you with a list of prices so you’ll have everything available to you.
I went on a few excursions while I was there. My first weekend I went to Botswana with some other volunteers for the Chobe overnight safari which I highly recommend. There’s almost always someone going so you’ll get a chance to go if you want and the Sunbird staff will help you book that along with anything else you want to do.
I also went to Zimbabwe for a day to see the other side of the Falls because Victoria Falls is split between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Also, if you happen to be in Zambia for the full moon make sure you go to the Falls at night because the moon creates a lunar rainbow which is awesome.
We also did an animal encounter thing where we did a lion and cheetah walk and rode elephants (which was kind of uncomfortable BUT you get to feed the elephants and hang with them for a bit which was really cool.)
Most excursions include transportation in the cost and if not it’s easy and cheap to get a cab. Another volunteer will usually want to come along with you so you won’t be alone!
What was going out like? Did you guys get dressed up/ wear makeup etc?
IVHQ asks that we don’t wear tank tops and short shorts out of respect for their culture but because of the location of the volunteer house people are used to Westerners so if you dress up a little on the weekends when you’re not working you’ll be just fine.
I brought makeup and like two dresses but honestly everyone just kind of wore what they were comfortable in. Some people wore jeans, others wore dresses but nothing fancy. It’s a super casual bar. The only time we got like dressed up was one night we went to dinner at one of the resorts and that we dressed up for. Makeup is totally up to you, I only wore it on the weekends if we were doing stuff but for school and stuff I didn’t bother.
Why did you choose IVHQ? How was their staff?
I chose IVHQ because I liked that you got a person to help you get through the planning once you had registered and they made me feel comfortable. I also had a random chance to talk to the founder of IVHQ before choosing them which sort of helped in my personal decision. The staff at the volunteer house are amazing and they will become your friends quickly. They work very hard and they are some of the sweetest people ever.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The best part of my trip was my kids. I taught 3rd grade and if I had to give up all of the things I did there and only have my kids I would. This trip changed my life and I will always be so thankful I went.
What didn’t you like about the trip?
The only think I didn’t like was occasional homesickness and then having to leave at the end. I cried when my plane took off to go home. You will meet incredible friends from all over the world and they’re all there to do something good and it’s amazing.
Did you print off all the curriculums from the IVHQ website before you got there? Or did you just wing it when you found out what age group you were teaching?
I kind of just went with the flow. The school gave me the books I needed to teach the kids and I have some experience working with kids so I kind of put that towards my work in the classroom. Every school has different books and stuff so it’s hard to prepare ahead of time. But if you feel like you might need some pointers then it wouldn’t hurt to print that stuff out.
Do you have any recommendations/suggestions?
Depending on when you’re planning on going be prepared for heat and bugs in the wet season! Bring bug spray and a mosquito net! You won’t regret it.
But honestly my biggest advice would be to just go. You will not regret it. Zambia is an amazing place and I miss it more and more every single day. I can’t wait until I can go back.
If you have any more questions feel free to ask! I will be adding new questions to this post as they come in but these are the most common ones I get!