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Ellie Klein from Spain reflects on how volunteerism abroad, parallels and diverges from volunteerism in the U.S.


~March 2012~

Making Yourself Do Good

beach footprints


I recently had my first volunteer experience here in Spain. After literally months of paperwork, interviews and interruptions of vacation breaks, I am finally a volunteer at Cruz Roja (the Red Cross). I act as a senior companion to an older man, Jose*. The other day as I was heading towards Jose’s house, I felt reluctant. I had had a stressful day at work, I was exhausted and I knew, since I live in Spain and people here speak Spanish, I would have to use my Spanish skills to communicate with Jose. I would undoubtedly mess up, struggle to understand exactly what he was saying and have difficulty expressing my own needs. Despite my reservations, I went anyways. I made a commitment and I had to go. I stopped by the office first to see if someone could assist me in getting Jose down his front stairs in his wheelchair so we could go for a walk. It was a nice day and I knew that Jose didn’t get out of the house much.

wheel chair

I went in with two volunteers, got him out, and started walking down the street. I told him we could go wherever he wanted and he directed me. As we walked for an hour, he led me to a part of Adra I had never seen before. We went on back roads, up hills and past beautiful little houses I did not even know existed. By the end, I was feeling much better than I had been earlier that day. Jose seemed content too. When we returned home and told his family where we had been they were stunned. They said they never took Jose up there as it was too difficult with the wheelchair. They instructed me that next time I was only to go on the main street so I didn’t get so tired. I smiled and said okay, but that I wasn’t tired, I was happy. Jose smiled at me and they all laughed. What seemed like an annoyance to Jose’s family, was a wonderful outing for me and for Jose.

We often don’t want to do the things we know are best for us. Exercising, eating right, volunteering…we know that these things will make us feel better, studies prove it and our experience shows it, but sometimes after a hard day, when you’re tired, frustrated, and just have too much on your mind, all you want to do is crawl into bed and ignore what you know. It’s still a lesson I am teaching myself, but the times you feel your worst is when you absolutely need to get up, get out, and do the best for yourself.

*name changed

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ellie on beach


Ellie Klein graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA in May of 2010 with a degree in Media Studies. Last year she served with the Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps team as a tutor at a local high school and volunteer at the Westway After School Program. She is currently in Andalusia, the southern region of Spain, to teach English at a high school in the Mediterranean coastal town of Adra.


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