Volunteering is unique and rewarding, no matter your traditions, background, language, or culture.

By: Sloane Katleman, Greenheart Work and Travel Partner Relations Assistant

Attending February’s job fair in Sofia, Bulgaria was one of my coolest international experiences yet. The food, the buildings, the history, the language – everything was new, unique, and exciting. When I arrived, I began to learn Bulgarian customs. For example, after meeting with our sending agency, I learned that when Bulgarians shake their heads from side to side, they mean yes and when they nod their head up and down, they mean no. While I found this amusing, given my American roots and the opposite meaning I am accustomed to, it made me think about the various ways different cultures may interpret and communicate ideas based on social norms, history, and language.

Something I was excited to do in Bulgaria was our Greenheart Project. I was curious to see how the idea of volunteering can be translated across different cultures. During the Greenheart Project in Sofia, I realized that there is not one correct way to volunteer. Our Bulgarian partner organized a Tabata Training that was attended by Greenheart staff, Bulgarian staff, and any participants interested in coming. I learned that Tabata Training is a new high-intensity interval training designed to get your heart rate up for short periods of time.

At this point, you may be wondering: how does exercising qualify as volunteering? Up until my travels to Bulgaria, the only type of volunteering I had experienced was painting a school, rebuilding a library, planting trees, and cleaning a beach. It turns out that our partner had organized a donation fund for people signed up to attend the Tabata Training, and proceeds from this fund would support a local Bulgarian girl in need of a kidney transplant.

Exercising and being active for a cause is an alternative way of volunteering, and is as valid as cleaning up graffiti or painting a school. After working up a sweat for a cause, I realized something important: volunteering is unique and rewarding, no matter your traditions, background, language, or culture. Seeing how our Bulgarian partner interpreted the concept of volunteering taught me another way that cultural exchange is a gift. It opens your eyes to new and exciting opportunities.

Curious to explore other cultures through cultural exchange? Check out your opportunities through Greenheart here!