Komal Mirani has a knack for helping those in need. Hailing from Mumbai, India, she spends her days working at a digital marketing agency, but uses her spare time to help organizations such as Saturday Art Class, which aids roughly 200 students from low-income families with personality development programs.

Pairing her skills with children and her desire to travel, Komal headed to Bali, Indonesia, to volunteer at a kindergarten school in Ubud. We caught up with Komal to learn more about her trip!

How did you hear about this opportunity?

While at university, a friend told me about International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ). She knew somebody who had volunteered in Cambodia for a month and loved it. I began exploring their programs, which provide aid to over 40 destinations across 2000+ projects! I decided that, once I graduated and moved back home, I would make an IVHQ trip happen.

Can you share some insight into the company you chose to volunteer with?

IVHQ is a world leader in volunteer travel. Their aim is to empower travelers to make a difference in communities around the world. Their programs allow you to practice global awareness and cultural understanding through the skills and expertise you already have, with the hopes of taking new skills and experiences back to your home country. The programs are designed to provide culturally immersive experiences, achieved by living and working with local people, communities, and organizations.

Was this your first time volunteering abroad?

It was my first international volunteering experience as well as my first solo trip. However, I  volunteer locally with underprivileged children. So, while I did have experience in terms of teaching children, it was my first cultural experience that included staying with volunteers from all across the world and living in the local community of Ubud in Bali. Of course, having the prior experience working with children provided me with confidence while conducting classes in Ubud, but diving into a foreign culture and community while volunteering was a new experience.

How does volunteer travel compare to independent travel?

Being an avid traveler, I always took pride in the fact that I’ve seen so many different cities and beautiful countries. However, the comfort, luxury, and ease of traveling is stripped off when it’s a volunteering experience — which, in fact, is the best part.

While in Bali, I was introduced to a completely new culture. I lived in the local community and met volunteers from all around the world, learning about their countries and cultures while sharing my own. Before this, to me, travel was limited to observing — experiencing a new place in terms of its food, architecture, landscapes, and everything it had to offer to a traveler. But this trip expanded the experience to include actual involvement and community engagement, like living where the locals do and teaching in a village’s school. It showed me that you could visit a place and slowly erase that barrier between traveler and local. It completely changed my perception of travel.

What do you think the biggest misconception about volunteer travel is?

A lot of people think of volunteering as the sole purpose of the trip, but it’s also about experiencing the culture and lifestyle of the location. For me, coming from India, it would be common for people to think that there are so many places to volunteer within India itself that I shouldn’t be going elsewhere to do it. However, I wanted to learn from a new culture. Each country has something unique to offer — whether it’s the behavior of the children, the way you would teach, it’s all different. These elements make the experience that much more remarkable and unique.

What did the volunteering entail?

We taught for two hours each morning, but I opted to volunteer for two more in the afternoons at Green Lion, an organization that also has a school there and partners with IVHQ. My classroom included the teacher, me, and two other girls. We would plan our lessons in the free time we had during the day before each class, ensuring the lessons were creative, colorful, and fun since the children were between five and seven. A typical lesson would usually include worksheets based on the topic to be covered that week, followed by arts and crafts, and ending with nursery rhymes and games. We covered topics such as parts of the body, the five senses, shapes and patterns, farm animals, and space. The children also got a break after the first hour of class, which usually included us playing with them on the playground.

Apart from the four hours of teaching, we also had activities with the other volunteers, which helped us bond. Our orientation week (before the volunteering began) included visits to the local Balinese temples, traditional markets, waterfalls, and optional weekend trips to places around Bali.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome while there?

I was confident and prepared for the teaching aspect, but the initial days of orientation were slightly difficult. Diving right in and having to put yourself out there from day one took more effort than I anticipated. Additionally, most people were from the UK, Canada, Australia, and the U.S., which was a little intimidating. They seemed familiar with one another’s lifestyle and general culture. As the only Indian in the group, I had to introduce them to so many aspects of mine, which was a great opportunity for me, but I did find it hard at first.

What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?

I learned that there’s this great community of people all around the world that is so willing to help others, and it creates an extremely special bond between all of the volunteers involved. Also, realizing that what you’re doing has the ability to positively affect families, dreams, and future generations is an unparalleled feeling. From my time in Bali, I now know that I want to keep volunteering. It means so much to me — it’s hard to put into words.

Is there one moment that will always stick with you?

One of my favorite moments occurred on my first day (though it continued to happen during every class). There’s a special practice in Balinese culture in which each child comes up to you, takes your hand in both of theirs, and touches it to their forehead. There were about 40 children in the classroom, and each and every class ended with them coming to the teachers and doing this. I was so overwhelmed and touched. I absolutely fell in love with all of them, right there and then.

What’s some advice you would give someone thinking about doing something like this?

I would tell them to dive right in, to make sure they utilize their time well and step out of their comfort zone. Also, while people do come with a friend, I’d say experiencing something like this by yourself is a great feeling. It changes the way you feel about traveling and shows you that there are others like you.

To learn more about international volunteer opportunities, visit volunteerhq.org.