I never thought I would have the guts to go overseas by myself. At 17, I hadn't been away from home for more than 24 hours at one time, except for school camps.
I wanted to see the world, meet new people and, to be honest, I wanted an excuse to have a break from homework. But I was way too chicken to buy a plane ticket and fly off all by myself.
Plus I didn't want to just be a tourist. I wanted to really live in another country and do something meaningful while I was there.
And then Lattitude Global Volunteering came to speak to my school and everything sort of fell into place. Lattitude is an Australian non-for-profit organisation that sets up international volunteer placements for 17 to 25 year olds.
You pick the country you want to volunteer in and what you want to do, and they organise everything else: your flights, your travel insurance, your accommodation and food -everything!
So what did I do?
I volunteered to teach English to kindergarten kids for six months in a small town in Maremma Tuscany, Italy, called Manciano.
Although I set off with more than 10 others, I ended up being by myself - the only English-speaking Australian within a 60km radius.
I freaked. Actually, I more than freaked. I burst into uncontrollable tears and begged Lattitude to find me something closer to my fellow Australian.
I'll never forget my mentor saying to me, "If you're really unhappy, we'll find you another placement, but give it a chance. Your host family is so excited to have you and the children at the kindergarten can't wait to learn English."
So I stuck it out and I'm glad I did. I know I would regret it now if I hadn't.
At my volunteer placement
When I arrived in Manciano, I had never taught anyone before. Lattitude tries their best to prepare you for your volunteer placement. They give you a crash course before you go and make sure someone is always close by if you need support or advice.
Nothing can prepare you, however, for a class of three-year-olds who would very much prefer to cover themselves in paint than listen to you.
Or a crazed group of four-year-olds who have rebelled against your game of Simon Says and are now seeing who can climb out the window.
I'd studied Italian all through high school and thought I spoke it pretty well. I was wrong.
In my first week in Tuscany I had a bus driver make fun of my dodgy pronunciation. I had kids tell me I wasn't making sense. And I had developed a nervous habit of saying, "OK" after every sentence.
After that first nightmarish week at my placement
Teaching English in the beginning was pretty bad, but I quickly got the hangs of things. I learnt what worked and what didn't and was soon teaching my kids the works with a surprising amount of success, even if I do say so myself.
Living in a foreign country with a host family was a lot easier too. I was incredibly lucky to have a really loving family who, as corny as it sounds, treated me like a daughter.
I had the weekends off, so I had plenty of time to explore Italy and my host family was always willing to take me to see beautiful cities, local festivals and soccer games.
Once I'd gotten used to life in Tuscany I loved every minute of it. By living there for so long and teaching at the kindergarten, I had become one of the locals.
My Italian improved and I got see more than any tourist ever gets to see. I got to see how Tuscans really live. And not just see it, but live it too. When my six months were up, I didn't want to go home.
So what's so good about volunteering overseas?
There are heaps of other international volunteer organisations in Australia. I just chose Lattitude because they were the ones who came to my school.
But I know I would never have been able to travel to Europe by myself, let alone live and work there for so many months, if it hadn't been for them.
It was a massive comfort for me, and my parents, to know that I always had someone close at hand to help me if I had a problem.
I loved that I wasn't just seeing the sights but was also making a difference, really experiencing a foreign culture and making new friends.
If you're interested in international volunteer placement, you don't have to teach English or go to Italy. You can be a care assistant in Japan, a community worker in Argentina or an outdoor activities instructor in the UK.
The time you spend overseas also varies. So do the costs. With Lattitude, you pay for your flights, insurances, visas and other initial expenses, but after that food and accommodation is provided - and sometimes you even get pocket money!
Every single person who volunteers overseas with Lattitude always says the same thing. The experience is life-changing. It sounds so clichèd, I know. But it's absolutely true. There is nothing like it.
Articles Written by Elisa
The content of these stories and articles are provided for information and entertainment purposes only. The views expressed are those of our roving reporters/editorial team members and do not necessarily reflect those of the Victorian Government. While every endeavour is made to ensure the currency, accuracy and authenticity of content, it can not be guaranteed. The Victorian Government does not accept any liabilities for any loss, damage, cost or expense you or others might incur as a result of the information or advice (or the use of it) on this website or in the articles. People using the site should undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content.