A third-level student recently mailed Sound Advice. They were applying to volunteer in a developing country to further their studies but had some concerns about their hearing, and keeping their aids working.
This student did not know where to post their questions or to seek advice, so Sound Advice‘s Caroline Carswell is responding on the basis of her experience of backpacking, camping and volunteering overseas with digital hearing-aids.
My advice is not to let your concerns put you off volunteering overseas, if it’s your dream. Letting these concerns stop you taking the trip might leave you with regrets at a later stage!
Small steps are the best approach to addressing issues that may arise. The essential tricks are to show the host organisation (1) your ability (2) that you really want to do this trip and (3) you believe in yourself.
Once you’re prepared on those fronts, the interviewer will believe in you! (this is my own experience – try it)
Before your interview with the organisation, prepare these points:
* what to say if you’re asked a question like, “will your hearing put you at risk on this trip?” You might say, “it hasn’t stopped me so far, but at the same time, I don’t knowingly put myself – or others – at risk.”
* examples of work-arounds if any, you’ve used before (how you handled a challenging situation, or how your aids were kept safe during sports activities)
* a recent copy of your audiogram (to show on request only)
* certificates or letters of reference for similar activities/work you’ve done (produce only if requested)
Now, to travelling with & keeping hearing-aids safe when away.
Before leaving, do this:
- have the aids serviced, and buy a pile of batteries for your trip – have you a battery tester? (this can tell you if the fault’s with the battery/aid)
- ask your clinic for 5-10 new earmould tubes. Learn to change the tubes yourself (in any heat, they may harden faster & hurt your ears)
- if you’re concerned your aid/s might fall off during activities, get ‘retainer bands’ to keep them in place while they’re worn
- ask the clinic for a dry-box to store your aids at night/or in emergencies (this protects them from dust/damp/humidity & knocks)
- buy a small, waterproof wallet-holder (put the aids in their drybox in this when showering, at the beach or caught in torrential rain)
- get a soft, padded travel wallet to put your aids into at night (best if waterproof holder also fits into this) – when sleeping, this travel-wallet can go inside your pillowcase, or somewhere you feel is really safe.
- take some plastic zip-lock bags, wrap your batteries in these & put into different travel bags – this way, you always have a battery supply
- before packing, line your empty backpack with a big strong plastic bag that wraps over the top – this keeps everything dry while travelling!
- pack nail-scissors, sellotape, dental floss and masking tape for minor repairs of gear – on one extended trip my Vibralite alarm watch was taped to my wrist every night after the strap broke.
When you’re away and meeting new people, or dealing with airports, border or customs controls, it’s good to be upfront about your hearing at the outset. In my experience, saying “I don’t hear well” rather than “I’m deaf”, can be better-received by strangers. Translate this phrasing to the local language as relevant – this worked for me in French and Spanish, in different countries.
Plan for emergencies, such as asking room-mates to alert you if a fire alarm sounds, and think what you’d do if you got into a potentially tricky situation.
Above all, give the application process for this trip, your best shot. If you don’t try, you won’t know and might miss a big opportunity!