I don’t remember what I thought it was going to be like to serve as a volunteer, but it certainly wasn’t like the year I had. It started out horrible!

I missed my outgoing flight and ended up squished in the corner on a last-minute connection. Groggy, I arrived in the capital city in the middle of the night and woke up to pollution so thick, I thought my glasses were dirty. The train ride to my final destination wasn’t too bad, but the hike up the stairs to my sixth-floor apartment was. This is what my pampered North American self observed during my first day. My only saving grace is that my mother taught me enough manners not to say any of this. But think it I did, and as time went on, I found more and more to fuel my negative outlook.

When I started teaching, I was sure I’d been given the worst students on the planet. No matter what I did, they seemed to hate me. The first day of class, they took one look at me, screamed "Foreigner," and ran and hid. I have no recollection of what I taught. I just remember that I stayed until the end of class, and I felt proud of myself for doing so.

Things didn’t get better during the first month, and I considered going home. But ultimately, I have to admit, I had too much pride to leave. Plus, I’d committed to a year, and it’s important to me to keep my word. So I determined to stay the full year even if it killed me, which I was sure it would.

Somehow I survived the first month. And then another. And another. The chaos kept coming, but I gradually began to notice the positive side of my experience: like my roommates, two amazing girls from different parts of the world who blessed me with warm friendship. My adopted “mommy” who picked me up for church each Sabbath morning. The teacher from my school who treated me to homemade dinners and made her home a second home for me. And my students who eventually warmed up to me, sitting on my lap with their arms wrapped around my neck, telling me about their weekend adventures.

If you’re interested in being a volunteer, please visit AdventistVolunteers.org.

At some point between the first and second semester, this trip that began as a disaster became an adventure, and this place that at first felt horrible began to feel like home.

God is funny sometimes. When I think about how things started out for me here, I feel like it was a test. It was like He was asking, “Are you really willing to do this? If you are, I’ll be here for you 100 percent, but you have to commit.” And God was there for me even in the most difficult times. I can see that now even though I couldn’t see it then: the people He allowed me to meet, the path of peace He cleared for me in difficult times, and the occasions when He tapped me on the shoulder and told me to do something that later served as a huge benefit. All these things and more tell me that He was always by my side.

Being a volunteer has been one of the best experiences of my life, an experience I'm glad I didn't run away from. This may be an experience God is calling you to as well. If He is, it will change your life forever.

Originally from the United States, the author served as a volunteer in a restricted-access country, teaching English to kindergarten and primary school students.