10 Types of People You Meet While Volunteering Abroad

You come across a wide-range of personalities when you volunteer abroad. Everyone becomes a ‘voluntourist’ for their own different reasons and have their own set of expectations for what their experience will be. However, after volunteering in Cambodia for six weeks, I have found that there are 10 different archetypes that people tend to follow.

1. The Brangelina

This is the person who falls in love with all the local children and you’re pretty sure they are going to stuff one into their suitcase. Their heart is in a constant state of melting and they always have a new photo to show of their students being adorable. This isn’t actually an annoying attribute, however, because the children are admittedly very cute. The Brangelina is a sweetheart and much more tolerable than some of the others…

2. The Cultural Supremacist 

This is the volunteer who assumes that the developing country they are in should conform to the norms and standard of their home country. They are surprised when things are different and they show a clear distaste for the customs and practices of the country’s culture. They expect toilets to be clean, signs to be in English, and food to be Western. They leave you wondering, “why the hell did you even come here?” Avoid spending time with this type of volunteer. 

3. The Misery Guts 

This is the person who is always complaining, be it about the weather, the food, or the price of shampoo. They never have anything nice to say and they mope around from day to day, making them terrible company. They are similar to The Cultural Supremacist but more negative than ignorant. However, if you enjoy hearing about dry throats and sore muscles, you will love spending time with The Misery Guts. 

4. The Tightarse

This is the person who, while not necessarily poor, is terrified of spending more than $2 a day on ‘unnecessary’ expenses such as food or transport. The Tightarse is understandable yet also infuriating when it comes tot settling the bill. You can’t know for sure, but you strongly suspect that they just  took money out of the waiter’s tip. They suffer from ‘borrower’s amnesia’ meaning that they can’t remember that time when you loaned them money or when they said, “I’ll get the next round.” The Tightarse can get very old very fast. 

5. The Explosive Spender 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have The Explosive Spender, has no qualms about making it rain. They are the ones who order three meals at dinner because they don’t know what they feel like. They can be a lot of fun to be around because they are quite often generous, and hey, if they want to shout the whole bar a round of shots, who are we to stop them? Sometimes, however, their lack of thriftiness can make living in an incredibly poor country a little bit uncomfortable and make you feel like an entitled whitey. 

6. The Walking Lonely Planet 

This person is the know-it-all that you hate to come to for travel advice. They have either been here before or been in the country for a long time, so they are automatically the authority on all things ‘local.’ You mention a cool café you just discovered, they will give you five reasons why another cafe is better. You mention how you got lost on your way home, they will sit you down for two hours and draw you a map. Basically, they are well-meaning but insufferable. Sometimes, you just want to discover things for yourself. 

7. The Loose Cannon

This is the person that is only volunteering so that they have something decent to tell their parents. They have come to the country to volunteer but they have also come to get loose. You usually find them wasted, in the process of getting wasted, or recovering from being wasted.  They are the ones that convince the rest to go out drinking on a school night. They are the ones that order you a vodka redbull while you’re explaining to them why it would be a good idea to go home. The Loose Canon is a lot of fun to be around, but be warned, once you get sucked into their rabbit hole of looseness, it can be very hard to crawl back out. 

8. The Wanderer

This is the volunteer who has forgotten what their home looks like. They have been travelling for months or years at a time and their return ticket is not yet booked. You admire them but you also find their existence exhausting. You can’t quite tell if they are ‘lost’ or just plain cool. Sure signs that you have come across a Wanderer: they have hippie-length hair tied back with an Aztec print headband, they have an inspiring travel quote freshly tattooed on their hip, and they have bracelets up to their elbows. 

9. The Experimenter 

This person is up for anything. They are in a foreign country and they are determined to experience everything it has to offer. If this means eating a hot dog that may actually contain dog, they will do it. They are the ones that learn how to say more than just “hello” and “thank you” in the local language, which you respect but also fear makes you look bad. It is clear that they are having an amazing experience but their stomach isn’t happy about it.

10. The Eater, Prayer, Lover

This is the person looking for enlightenment in a foreign country but ends up trying to force it. You can tell that they think in voice-over and you can see them squirm while they try to meditate at temples. Get one drink into them and their peaceful façade will crack as they wail about their most recent breakup. They are here to get through some stuff and you can’t blame them for that. However, some distance from them is necessary before you punch them for recounting their “life-changing lunch.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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