Why I Stopped Volunteering Abroad

Where have I been? That is an excellent question.

About ten months ago I finished up my volunteer trip early, spent two and a half weeks traveling Thailand, flew back home, found a job, moved to San Francisco, and pretty much abandoned this blog. My life turned upside-down, inside out, and became very different and busy.

Is that why I stopped blogging? Yes and no. The blog stopped because the inspiration did. While my time in Cambodia gave me what I needed (empowerment, personal growth, a chance to re-evaluate my life), it also began to take a toll on me. I enjoyed and appreciated my new life there, but about twelve weeks in, after all the friends I made when I started the trip had moved on to other things, I felt lonely and lost and Cambodia did not feel like home anymore. I started many blog posts that I never finished, and it slowly went to the back burner. Then when I left Cambodia to travel Thailand, and then went home, returning to the blog felt daunting because I dreaded not just explaining what had happened over the last ten months, but also the inevitable explanation of why I decided to cut my trip short. I also did not know where I was in my  life, what I wanted, and where it was going to go. Needless to say, it was a confusing time of a quarter life crisis, and the last thing on my mind was maintaining my blog.

But let’s delve into a little bit of what has been going on, shall we? I hope to eventually write posts to catch up on everything noteworthy that has happened since I last posted, but let’s start with why I decided to cut my trip short.

I originally went to Cambodia to find myself. Before I began my trip, I felt depressed and incredibly lost. I had a vague vision of what I wanted my life to look like, but I no longer knew if I had the ability or nerve to actually go out and take it. I felt like I was yet another clog in the machine that was “America” and I wanted out. I needed a shock to the system, I needed to experience something different, and I needed to do something more related to the career and person I wanted to be, to help me believe that I could achieve it. So I hoped on a flight to Phnom Penh and volunteered teaching English and working in a NGO for five months.

And it was incredible. I learned a lot about myself. I learned how to be fiercely independent, I learned how to handle situations that were beyond my control, I learned how to surrender, I learned how to be patient, and I learned how to love and accept myself. Despite all my initial struggles and worries that I wasn’t going to make it, I did and I am so happy that I challenged myself in the ways that I did.

However, as time went on, I started to feel a little disillusioned with my volunteer program. I loved my life and work in Cambodia, but the organization I chose to complete my program with left a lot to be desired. I started growing weary of living in accommodation where the staff were not helpful, where cockroaches roamed around my food, and where red ants crawled out of my bed to nibble on my legs at night. I knew I was living in a country where the things I was frustrated with were privileges. I knew that I should be grateful for what I had. And I was. I started to feel disappointed in myself for feeling the way that I was, even though I knew I had every right to be since I had invested a lot of money into a program that promised certain things and now was not delivering them. My feelings spiraled, and eventually I reached a precipice: either I leave Cambodia while I could still honestly say that I loved it, or I could stubbornly trudge on and risk ruining my experience.

Needless to say I chose the former, and I regret nothing.

I spent a lot of time feeling self-conscious about my decision. I felt like a failure for not making it the full six months. I felt like an imposture for being frustrated by things like insects and lack of staff support. However, I know that those feelings are false. Whatever my original intention, I was away from home and normalcy and living it up in South East Asia for five whole months. That is an accomplishment. That is something that I am proud of. And that is something that changed me for the better. No one can take it away from me.

I am incredibly proud of the things that I did in Cambodia. I am proud of the person I became and still am due to my experiences there. And I am also proud that I grew to be confident enough in myself, that I had the courage to not do something. I could have easily stayed the remaining time in Cambodia, and I most likely would have been miserable. But I didn’t, I chose instead to do something that made me happy, and I saw a whole other country in the process (blog post and pictures of Thailand definitely to come).

Not that I am a guru or someone old enough to offer any kind of legitimate advice, but I am going to give some anyway. There is nothing wrong with deciding not to do something. It doesn’t indicate weakness or inability. If it is not something that will further happiness, then don’t do it. Stubbornly doing something that results in misery is not as noble as it may seem. In my opinion, it is far better to step away from toxicity and instead go after things that yield happiness, even if it means “being a quitter” in some people’s eyes.

There is no shame in walking away from something that no longer serves you. You are valuable, you are worthy, you are enough, and you are deserving of happiness. If you have the ability, the privilege, and the luck of birth to make the decision to not do something, in exchange for doing something that will bring you happiness, then why not do it? So many people in the world do not have that luxury. Do not give up yours for fear of what other people may think of you. Do not give it up for fear of what you may think of yourself.

I know that to some people I will look like a quitter for leaving my program early. Fine, call me a quitter then. I quit my job, I quit my volunteer program, and every so often I quit this blog. But I also quit depression, I quit panic attacks, and I quit doing things that made me unhappy. In that sense, I am proud to call myself one.

So, hello. I’m Myriah, and I’m a quitter. Nice to meet you.


The Travelsmith

2 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Volunteering Abroad

  1. Anonymous says:

    Way to go Myriah,, am very proud of you for all the world experience you got all over the world.
    That way I knew Sonoma County was the best place in the world..to live.


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